Wednesday 18 December 2013

All road users are NOT equal - motorists come near the bottom

Summary: Contrary to what you may think, all road users are not equal in the most liveable cities which have the safest and best functioning transport systems. All experts that have investigated human-centred cities and transport come to the same conclusion: that the most vulnerable users should be protected and prioritised; and that private motor vehicles have the lowest priority.


1. The natural hierarchy is based on the law of the jungle (survival & size)
 - The natural, self-interested response is to give way to those that are most dangerous (e.g. speeding trucks) and bully those that are most vulnerable (e.g. pedestrians). See: > 3-way Street video on NYC intersection

2. Instinctive human behaviour reflects a purely selfish hierarchy
For example, for motorists the hierarchy is:

1. Me (the motorist in question)
2. Other motor vehicles
3. Public transport
4. Motorbikes/Scooters
5. Cyclists, pedestrians

- Of course, as soon as the motorist is a pedestrian (or public transport user) their hierarchy is thrown out the window. Obviously all hierarchies based on selfishness will simply reflect the narrow, immediate priorities of each road user. A selfish cyclist's hierarchy (putting themselves and other cyclists at the top) is equally useless.

3. Conversely, a rational road user hierarchy based on human and social benefits orders by the most vulnerable (with concessions to public transport and light goods delivery)
- Clearly, neither the default "law of the jungle" or selfish human instincts will maximise human and social benefits and result in safer and more liveable cities. So we need to conscientiously change laws and cultural norms to obtain these benefits.

- To achieve this, governments, councils and transport departments need to promote and actually implement a human-centred road user hierarchy that clearly places private motor vehicles at the bottom. Something like the table below with the caveat that pedestrians and cyclists shouldn't hold up public transport:
Source: The Alternative Department for Transport

4. Implications for our cities of a human-centred road user hierarchy
If we move past the law of the jungle and selfish norms and try to implement a human-centred hierarchy to achieve safer, more liveable cities, there are obvious changes to our cities that need to occur. These include:

- Gradually closing more and more inner city roads to non-local motor traffic. Start with peak hour and extend to 24/7.

- Introduce and expand congestion taxes on city driving.

- Remove parking spaces from the inner city including new residential development.

- Remove lanes for motor traffic and replace with segregated cycling tracks.

- Introduce lower speed limits (30-40 km/hr) in the inner city, cycling routes and residential areas.

- Implement traffic calming infrastructure wherever streets are used by pedestrians and cyclists.

- Make motor vehicles go the long way round in the inner city. Allow other modes to take the most direct route.
E.g. Cyclists able to ride both way on one way streets.

- Provide ample parking for everything other than cars that connects up modes of transport. E.g. Train/tram/bus stations with parking for bicycles.

- Increase taxes on using cars, especially for inner-city ownership and use. E.g. Via permits,

- Introduce strict liability for accidents between motor vehicles and cyclists/pedestrians (especially children). This means that the motorist is always liable and forces motorists to slow down and give way to cyclists and pedestrians.