The Bicycle of Troy Transition towards a sustainable mobility culture for Ghent and Environs Summary
In 2012, a group of 25 ‘front runners’ from the Ghent Climate Alliance (Gents Klimaatverbond), all with divergent backgrounds, came together into a so-called “transition arena”. These individuals were given the assignment to sketch out, from a transitional perspective, what they envisioned to be the mobility in Ghent by the year 2050. The sum total of their proposed solutions can be read in the account titled “The Bicycle of Troy”, of which the following pages are a brief summary. The Ghent mobility transition arena The transition arena was composed of 25 ‘front runners’ from diverse backgrounds. Front runners are individuals that already in the past have stuck out their necks to make their presence felt within their own enterprises, neighbourhood committees, municipalities or organisations in order to ‘get things done’. Moreover, all can boast of an extensive network of contacts they are able to call upon to assist in the realisation of projects. For five nights, the group was offered the necessary time and room to analyse the current mobility system, look for evidence of its possible failings and identify areas where failures are evident, work out a joint sustainable future scenario, and lay out a follow-up trajectory based on iconic projects. Ghent interconnectivity under pressure Ghent is often stamped as a city in balance. No single function predominates over any other. Today, it is seen as a sparkling mix of functions and the ideal site for different cultures and age categories to come and blend together. Moreover, the size of the City of Ghent is experienced and described as ideal by its many inhabitants and users of its multiple urban facilities. In the inner city, as in the neighbourhood districts and surrounding areas, often reigns a comforting, even cosy, village atmosphere while, at the same time, Ghent likewise feels very urban, “not too large and not too small”. This heady mix, however, has become severely strained. Because of a variety of developments, all obeying one overarching imperative, often at the edge of the city boundaries, this kind of interweave of sensibilities has over the past decades become the target of ever increasing pressures. In some places, this kind of attenuation has become very noticeable indeed. Social and societal life as experienced by increasing numbers of urban inhabitants is beginning to be played out within an environment that is gradually being “impoverished” or, in other words, starting to unravel. The price we pay for this is not only the time we need to move from one activity to another. This imposed commuting behaviour also exerts a serious impact on our general health, safety and feeling of security, the quality of our life, the ecology around us, and the way we make use of our environment. Moreover, fully expect that at a given moment the ever increasing price of oil (in all its applications) will make our present existence within this system impossible.
Time for change The current mobility system is geared towards keeping progressive Ghent mobile in step with the automobile and somehow eliminating the nefarious consequences of that union, even at the
expense of the quality of life as one would like to experience it within the city itself. The arena members firmly believe the time has come for change. To invest further in measures that merely continue attempts to eliminate these adverse consequences is, in the long term, to invest in more problems that are certain to haunt us in the future. How then are we to view the future of the City of Ghent should we opt for a mobility system that serves us as a catalyst for the kind of development that is meant to reinforce Ghent’s uniqueness as a city and that, moreover, aims at attaining lasting sustainability? Future visions The arena members engaged in the exercise of using the challenges related to mobility in order that the City’s unique interactive character might be enjoyed further in the future. They are convinced that, to that end, the following changes are necessary with an eye on what could be in the year 2050:
moving from a centrally oriented approach to mobility towards a sustainable mobility for the entire City of Ghent and its surrounding areas.
moving from policy decisions taken after there exists broad-based support for them to creating space for forerunners to test out sustainable initiatives.
moving from fossil fuels and the car as the basis of our mobility to the bicycle and electrical conveyances as the preferred transportation and commuting modes across the city.
moving from ever increasing long-distance travel to the proximity of near-by services and facilities.
moving from mobility that ever increasingly takes up more of our scarce breathing space to space for relaxation and casual encounters.
moving from a Ghent interactivity under stress to a new and relaxed Ghent societal interrelationship and interconnectivity.
Applying these changes to the scale that is apt for the City of Ghent, we arrive at three inspirational futuristic visions on street, neighbourhood district, and city level: The Livable Street In the year 2050, all children are again playing in the streets and it is pleasant for people to just sit and relax on a chair beside their doorstep. The livable streets, e.g., people streets, constitute a network of car-free zones concentrated around central (playgrounds) squares and clearings. Strong public transport, the bicycle, user-friendly car-pool systems and alternative transport systems have sharply reduced the number of cars on the roads. As a result, it has become possible to get cars to park together on neighbourhood lots specifically designed for the purpose. Streets not leading anywhere for through traffic are now ‘pedestrian only’. Parking a car in front of your door is only needed in case there is something to load or unload. The livable street is designed for children. In a star-shaped pattern, every city street leads to the playground or open square. Hence, children can come outside safely and ride to school. What’s good for the kids is also good for adults. More meeting space leads to new interaction at street level. Thanks to the livable street, street life becomes more intense and a more cohesive bond is
forged between neighbours. Within walking distance, there is access to a rapid transit bicycle network, a centrally located public transit stop, or one of the many ‘short-cuts’ that will quickly take you to your destination even on foot.
The livable neighbourhood district In 2050, all neighbourhood districts in Ghent will feature a real central core. In the district, you will find an extensive gamut of services a mere stone’s throw away, either bicycling or walking. You are not afraid to again send your kids to school on their own, or to the store, or to the sports club. This proximity characteristic of the year 2050 enables people to spend more quality time with the family or to devote to hobbies. Since the neighbourhood centre is the confluence point for public transit, it also represents the heart of a true network that connects different districts. In 2050, large neighbourhood zones will be closed to cars. These pedestrian-only streets will ensure that the automobile is relegated to its place at the edge of the district and that new meeting places are created. In these ‘neighbourhood meeting spaces’ , together with the schools, beats the real heart of the neighbourhood. They serve multiple purposes and provide for pretty well everything to satisfy people’s needs. As such, the new Ghent interactivity has by 2050 been able to create a new vibrant vitality at the neighbourhood district level. The numerous decentralized workplaces and locally established small firms ensure that employees have a great deal of extra room for family involvement and relaxation. In 2050, the neighbourhood district is in a sustainable manner connected to the other districts within the City of Ghent. Streetcars call at every central square, while bicycle and/or pedestrian pathways are never far away. The livable street, the neighbourhood district, the public square, and the streetcar or bus stop form, as it were, the culmination of one inextricable, inseparably interwoven network of sustainable services for the people. The connected city The new Ghent interactivity in 2050 does not only manifest itself in the increased vibrancy and vitality of street life and an expansion of services offered in a district neighbourhood. Within the City, an extensive network of high quality public transit services, express bicycle paths and slower passage ways ensures a sustainable intertwined connection amongst all of the Ghent neighbourhood districts. Life doesn’t stop at the Ghent city limits. As a central city in 2050, Ghent can be reached readily and reliably from all suburban and peripheral municipalities . The need for tough choices The transitional methodology demonstrates that after a few years of experimentation there will be evidence of an acceleration towards a futuristic vision. In order to enable the change-over, the transition arena is convinced of the necessity of certain important changes within the coming five year period: 1. Street parking turns into neighbourhood parking In the neighbourhood, as on the street, the parked car takes up a lot of space. Moreover, everyone expects to park his car right in front of his door. By disallowing parking overload on the (residential)streets and shifting it to neighbourhood level (neighbourhood parking, shared usage of (private) parking), we will be able to again open up the public domain in function of quality of life
in the neighbourhood and on the street.
2. Every newly (appointed) residential street is a living street Discussions about zone 30 or home zone are herewith relegated to the past since, ultimately, they all started with the car as their point of departure in trying to figure out how to organize the available environmental space. By rearranging new residential streets in a standard manner without the presence of parked cars, the streets can revert to full unencumbered occupancy by their residents. 3. Ghent’s maximum thirty-minute travel limit The idea is that all areas in Ghent are to be interconnected and that the sustainable travel time from one location to another does not take more than one half hour at most. This is to be achieved by the use of fully qualitative public transit facilities and express bicycle paths 4. Creating a cooperative partnership with neighbouring municipalities In the future, mobility is to be the bond between Ghent and the surrounding municipalities. Cooperative partnerships may be concluded à la carte to ensure that, in time, a strong bottom-up culture of collaboration on the municipal-regional level be achieved and can grow. 5. Sustainable mobility culture as a guiding force in urban development “The streetcar comes first place, only afterwards the development”. If we want to divorce ourselves from a “damage control” policy, we need to take a sustainable mobility system as our yardstick for all following newly conceived urban developments. Experimenting with iconic projects in order to enable us to make tough choices In order to be able to make these tough choices, we need to experiment freely and fully. The transition arena hence calls on policy makers, politicians, entrepreneurs, experts, pioneers, and especially neighbourhood residents to participate during the coming years in iconic projects centred on new mobility. This way, all of us together can put the first steps into the direction of the newly conceived Ghent interconnectivity. Also in this manner we shall, well within the foreseeable future, find ourselves able to make effective use of our accumulated experiences, knowledge, and a broad support base in order to make these tough choices as one community acting in total concert.