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The Case for Slower Cities

Lower speed limits make cities safer, more livable, and, in the long run, more functional.
August 22, 2019, 7am PDT | Camille Fink
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Richard Drdul

"The case for a fundamentally slower city has gained traction recently, especially in places where the rise of micromobility, the promise of autonomous vehicles, and the very-much-already-here problem of road congestion have converged, slowing drivers to a furious crawl," writes Andrew Small.

In the past, traffic jams were considered part of urban life, says Small, but drivers began to see speed as a right as cities changed and roads widened. Lately, however, a number of American cities have been moving back to lower speed limits, in response to both safety concerns and the diversifying of the mobility landscape.

"The most obvious immediate benefit to a fundamentally slower city is the safety boost it delivers. Reducing speeds is the best, easiest, and fastest way to quickly radically improve safety, for both drivers and anyone in front of them," says Small.

Technology, and the new modes that it has made possible, is also encouraging slower cities:

The micromobility revolution not only highlights a burgeoning need for more slow lanes: It can vividly illustrate the people-moving power of very modest speeds. When a dude on an electric scooter that rarely goes over 10 mph handily beats a BMW across town at rush hour, it’s easier to see how the scale of cities supports more-but-slower vehicles.

In addition, autonomous vehicles could help usher in a new era of slower-moving city streets. "If we can reconceptualize autonomous vehicles as low-speed machines trundling around downtown rather than interstate-eating robots tasked with making complex split-second driving decisions at highway velocities, everything gets less difficult," notes Small.

Full Story:
Published on Thursday, August 8, 2019 in CityLab
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