Thursday, July 12, 2013
As we make the final switch into the study of transportation, Europe is clearly far ahead of the United States. The different methods of transportation that exist in other countries are incredible. The planning that goes into it, and their implementation are very successful. Although we went to Basel last week to study the water systems, all of us who returned to Riva San Vitale were impressed by the various types of transportation that run simultaneously without any complications. Many of us are anticipating our trip to Freiburg, where we expect even greater infrastructure for transportation. Seeing the ease that people have with these systems illustrate that this is definitely something that could come to the United States and be successful.
Our first day studying transportation began with us looking at both pedestrian and cycling traffic in different countries throughout Europe, and how they compare to the United States. The statistics surprised a lot of us for how as to how little people walk and bike in the US compared to places like Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark. We were all amazed when we saw a couple of videos that explained how much technology and construction has been used to influence more people to bike, specifically in Copenhagen. In addition to having bike lanes as we know them, in some locations they have created an entirely separated bike network. One thing that many of us noticed in the video that we hadn’t considered before was the addition of small ramps along the stair stringers to make it easier to get a bike up or down by just rolling them alongside. Copenhagen is so far ahead of the curve that they have more congestion with bikes than they do with cars. We agreed that because is biking is inconvenient in the States right now, this kind of infrastructure would do a lot to help change public attitudes.
Following our study of the bicycle friendly cities, we studied techniques that can be implemented to make an area more “walkable.” This term includes factors that make it appealing for someone to walk somewhere rather than drive or using other forms of transportation. We soon realized that the concept encompasses a lot more than we originally thought – ranging from safety on the sidewalks to beautification efforts such as flowers or trees or fountains. There are many little aspects that go into putting together a walkable street.
By now we’ve walked the little streets of Riva San Vitale plenty of times – looking for a new place to hang out by the lake, or to get some gelato for a study break, or even running to catch a train – but never had we looked at it through the eye of walkability. For the last part of the day we attempted to create our own scorecard for judging the walkability of the local streets in Riva San Vitale. We divided into small groups and each group decided a couple of aspects that we wanted to assess in order to determine how walkable the surrounding streets are. Many of us studied similar streets, but the characteristics that we were looking at varied a lot. Some groups studied the relationship between cars and pedestrians in terms of speed and quantity. Others focused on pedestrian-to-pedestrian interactions on the sidewalk such as the ability to walk alongside each other. Almost all of the groups developed scales that had some tradeoffs between aesthetics and practicality, and so even though one street may have been weak in one category, they oftentimes made up for it in another category. Although each group only studied a couple of characteristics, it seems to me that everyone definitely started to get a grasp of how the small things like pedestrian signs can make an area much more friendly.
Guest Contributor: George Hajjar