Image: Wojciech Ogrodowczyk
Jihad Bitar. Ph.D.
Transport Planning Elements:
The main Transport Planning elements we need to integrate in the land Use strategy are; Public Transportation, Walking and Cycling, Parking Policy and Traffic Management.
· Public Transportation
It is necessary to develop a comprehensive public transportation policy that is embedded within the city’s vision, and integrating an accessible, safe, comfortable and clean transportation system.
Introducing a workable public transportation system is seriously needed if we want any Syrian city to have healthy growth and the ability to sustain that growth. This is the first step of many toward a sustainable urbanism in Syria.
The majority of our people already depend on public transportation, which means large volumes of transportation vehicles are needed in the streets to do the job. Yet, without any reduction of private car dependency, the outcome will end with even more pressure on an already maximized street capacity. A solution for this problem might be reducing car use while building high density, separated guideways for high speed and frequent service. This can be achieved by introducing several types of rapid transit including: the Subway system (Metro), Elevated system (Monorail/Skytrain) and Grade level system (Bus Rapid Transit BRT, Light Rail Transit LRT).
Thinking from a financial point of view, the BRT system might be the more affordable and more achievable system to adopt in the short-term for the Syrian cities.
Many cities around the world enjoy the BRT system: Curitiba, Brazil; Guangzhou, China; Ahmedabad, India; Johannesburg, South Africa; Tehran, Iran; and Istanbul, Turkey. If we provide this kind of high quality service that respects people’s dignity, they will use public transit more and help their city grow in a better way.
The ultimate goal however, should be a multimodal public transportation system (Subway and Elevated) for the long term if we decided to go full speed on improving public transportation.
To solve the many issues that our cities suffer from, including air pollution, pedestrian traffic, car dependency and traffic congestions, we must start with creating a reliable and sustainable public transportation system. Without it nothing can move forward not traffic nor development and definitely not the public spaces or aesthetic features we aspire for.
Additionally, let’s not forget the financial gain that public transportation introduces by creating new jobs, attracting private investments and promoting a new culture of urban development.
· Walking and cycling
“There’s no great urbanism without a walkable environment, without active streets, and without diverse communities.“3
Jan Gehl, the Danish urban designer, outlined in his latest book; “Cities For People”4,
that the first step in fixing our cities is to address the human dimension which has been overlooked and neglected in connection with urban development for the last 50 years and regardless of the city’s global location, economic viability and stage of development: “Making city life viable will require careful work with people’s conditions for walking, bicycling and using the city outdoor space” he wrote, and at the end of his book Ghel wrote this: “It is cheap, simple, healthy and sustainable to build cities for people” which I totally agree with.
The fact is walking and cycling have a valuable role to play in any integrated land use and transport planning strategy. These two activities are accessible to a large proportion of citizens and have positive social benefits yet minimal environmental impacts.
A pleasant walking and cycling environment needs to be created to encourage people to use these modes. By encouraging the culture of walking and cycling our society will receive tremendous health and environmental benefits. From a financial point of view, by reducing trip lengths and speed, people will start to notice, and will likely support, local businesses and services on their way to work, to school, or to where ever their daily activities takes them.
Walking in the streets of Damascus, for example, can be as stressful as driving. In this case, the problem is a combination of low quality pedestrian pavements with uneven surfaces and the absence of feeling safe. Vehicles are constantly taking over pedestrian spaces and there is a general lack of design standards that helps distinguish pedestrian pavements from the rest of the street.
Designated pedestrian networks are needed. A comprehensive study of how to give pedestrians dedicated routes for a safe and connected journey throughout the city must be introduced if we want to encourage people to walk and become less car-dependent. Many studies have proven that when people live in connected areas they use their cars less often. This is precisely what we need in Syrian cities.
While Damascus is not a mega city by international standards, it is compact and dense and yet somehow still a charming city, full of potential. Its surface area is still manageable, which makes possible the implementation of some simple and affordable ideas for pedestrian and public spaces.
Promoting cycling will be a challenge in the Syrian culture especially when the general view of cyclists does not go beyond the stereotypes of ‘the poor’ or ‘food delivery workers’. However, this image can easily change when people discover that modern cyclists in the city are often just the average high school or university student, the working youth and the average middle class educated citizen.
To encourage cycling to and from educational institutes and city centres, a good start could include building safe bike lanes around the university and the major schools and paralleled to the BRT roads. Doing these projects should not be seen as luxury but an evolution toward a healthier lifestyle and better environment. Bike culture is a green and healthy culture that is missing in our cities today and we need to begin introducing it.
Bike sharing and renting can also be implemented later in the second or third phase of the plan after a sound foundation of cycling networks has been laid.
Once introduced, to continue to grow this culture of walking and cycling we need to integrate the needs of pedestrians and cyclists into any new development and to ensure new developments are permeable for pedestrians and cyclists.
1- Interview with Calthorpe, Peter. Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change. February 08, 2011.
2- Gehl, Jan. Cities For People, Island Press, September 6, 2010.