Home science At 30, pedestrians and bicycles reclaim public space

At 30, pedestrians and bicycles reclaim public space

At 30, pedestrians and bicycles reclaim public space

2024 has started in Bologna with the introduction of a 30 km/h limit. There was no shortage of protests, but no support for a measure that would radically change the city's landscape. A month before Bologna, also Amsterdam, becomes “City 30,” we spoke about it with Meredith Glaser, professor of urban planning and cycling at the universities of Amsterdam and Ghent, and CEO of the Urban Cycling Institute.

“Many of the crises we face every day in cities can be traced back to car dependence: congestion, air pollution, social inequality, and environmental problems.” “Cities are very special spaces, because of their density and because the space between buildings is precious and acquires political value,” Glaser explains. For over a thousand years, this space has been public and used for walking, social and economic exchanges, and play. However, it is the last century that has changed the paradigm, making what was once affordable to everyone, only available to cars. Just think of the amount of space that parking lots take up.

The editorial team recommends the following:

Città30subito, cyclists and pedestrians protest

Today, the car has become a symbol of progress and modernity, which is why going against the grain and imposing restrictions is seen as a challenge to our identity, rules and rituals. It is therefore quite natural that some people react harshly to car discount policies. “It would be strange if such a major change in the status quo, such as that of City 30, did not lead to a wave of protests.”

Meredith Glaser speaks to Manifesto from her office at the Social Sciences Campus of the University of Amsterdam, a city long known for its radical approach to the distribution of public space. In recent years, it has significantly reduced the number of parking lots, closed some central roads to traffic, imposed a 30 km/h speed limit, built an underground parking lot for 7,000 bicycles and much more. But even in Amsterdam, there was dissatisfaction with the city30.

Meredith Glaser

Reducing the number of cars and speed helps social cohesion and reduces inequality

“This anger comes from the way the changes are communicated. Reducing the space allocated to cars in the city affects not only traffic volume, air quality and the number of accidents. These measures give citizens space again, allow children to regain independence, and go to school near home by bike or on foot, without fear. They are measures that increase social cohesion, reduce inequality, and give us a different image of the city. But until that is communicated as well, people will struggle to understand the reasoning behind these choices. Instead of saying, “Cars will no longer be able to pass on this street because it is polluted,” we say, “Cars will no longer be able to pass on this street because it will become a safe place for children to play.” “The perception and therefore the audience’s reactions will be different.”

The editorial team recommends the following:

Cars are getting bigger and bigger

Meredith Glaser began her journey studying public health in the United States “Understanding the critical role that the city environment plays on human health prompted me to continue my studies in the field of urban planning, where I realized that active mobility must be a tool for our efforts. Communities. Many people do not have access to a car: children, the elderly, people with mobility or cognitive difficulties, and people with economic problems. These people also have the right to movement and to a safe and accessible space in the city in which to live their lives. As the mayor of Paris said, after the referendum that approved increasing the cost of four-wheel-drive parking, imposing restrictions on cars is not only a matter of environmental justice, but also social justice.

To make the city 30 effective, other measures must also be envisaged, such as increasing public transportation and its capacity and building safe bicycle paths. “The bicycle, for example, is a tool that can ensure widespread mobility for everyone.” “The hatred that some people feel toward cyclists stems from the natural tendency of humans to feel part of a group or tribe,” Glaser concludes. The bike thus becomes a threat to the status quo. It is important to study these dynamics, and to involve people from different disciplines in constructing the city space. “Not only urban planners, but also sociologists, political scientists and psychologists, to understand and resolve the tensions that shape our behavior in the city.”

Reducing the permitted speed in the city is a first step towards creating safer, less polluted spaces available to all citizens, without exception. Amsterdam has always been a city able to look to the future, and City 30 is only the latest in a series of changes that are radically changing urban space. The changes that made it a city on a human scale and not on a car scale.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here