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Low carbon transport part 3: allocate public road space democratically

N2 Bus lane

Here’s a picture of a democracy of space in action.

It’s a picture of what happens when public space on roads is democratically allocated on a same-space-per-person basis. The fifteen people in the minibus taxi have fifteen vehicle lengths of space allocated to them in the bus lane. These fifteen people are all inside the taxi and so the bus lane is free and the taxi can move speedily on. The people in the cars have the same amount of space per person as the taxi travellers. However, most of it is taken up by car carcases with a lot of fresh air inside of them, and so the car drivers are stuck in congestion.

Taxi use is really space (and energy) efficient. Bus lanes are one relatively simple way that public authorities can reward that space and energy efficiency. It’s such a no-brainer that you would imagine bus lanes all over the city, speeding whatever public transport vehicles we have on their way. And in lots of cities that is what has happened or is happening. The passengers are happy but also, crucially, the operators are also happy because faster trips means quicker turn around which means more profitable services. It also means more frequent services…more customers…and on and on in a virtuous circle.

It takes political and public official courage though, to commit to bus lanes even if it means taking space away from private vehicles. And it requires us to think of “roads” differently. Instead of links which are mainly about the easy movement of privately owned vehicles, can we rethink “roads” as public spaces, common spaces, with shared ownership, serving each of us fairly, regardless of what we earn or own?









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