From Public & Private Space to Social Space: An appeal for slowing down

I’ve recently read an interesting post on the World Streets: A New Mobilities Agenda blog where Eric Britton writes that we need to ‘move toward a new paradigm for transport in cities, and it all starts with… slowing down’. He expanded on an emerging paradigm for the development of our cities, a redefining of the view of space as public or private to the concept of social space. Eric, in his post, presented slides from Carlos Felipe Pardo’s talk at the Stuttgart Conference of Cities for Mobility which clearly demonstrated the reduced field of vision of a driver as he/she drives through streets at various increasing speeds. It culminated in a situation where the paths/sidewalks were not there for a driver at 50 KPH, clearly a recipe for tragedy and possible disaster.

This salient message to reduce speed got me thinking about the recent proposal for the redevelopment of the rather large roundabouts in Galway into more pedestrian and cycle-friendly traffic light systems, a proposal that has met with some strong opposition from certain quarters. The main objection appears to be that it is unwise to stop or slow down traffic in the city, even when these roundabouts are in built-up residential areas and have no safe crossing systems for walkers, joggers, or cyclists. I drive through these roundabouts from time to time and can testify that many drivers increase their speed whilst traversing these junctions in order to get the most beneficial exit lane and position. This has led to a situation where people literally ‘take their lives in their hands’ attempting to cross these horrendously dangerous intersections.

Galway is a beautiful city to live and visit and we should be rightly proud of what we have to offer. Visitors do not expect to drive unhindered through the heart of any urban area and it is in the interest of business and commerce that individuals slow down and stop occasionally to view their new surroundings and environment. God forbid, they might notice that ordinary people walk and cycle in our city, stop for a while and enjoy the beautiful walkways and ambience we have to offer and, maybe even purchase something. For those of us who live in the city, it is also important that we realise that our built environment is not solely the domain of the private motor vehicle and that other ‘strange’ people actually enjoy walking or cycling from place to place. We may even be tempted to walk or cycle a bit more ourselves, secure in the knowledge that we have a safe environment for such activity and, more importantly, we’re not alone. Indeed, the large tracts of urban space given over to the automobile may need to be reclaimed by everyone regardless of their mobility choice and become, once again, a social space for all.