Traffic calming – City planning, OdessaJanuary 2, 2016
“I have not felt so much at home for a long time as I did when I “raised the hill” and stood in Odessa for the first time. It looked just like an American city; fine, broad streets, and straight as well; low houses, (two or three stories,) wide, neat, and free from any quaintness of architectural ornamentation; locust trees bordering the sidewalks (they call them acacias;) a stirring, business-look about the streets and the stores; fast walkers; a familiar new look about the houses and every thing; yea, and a driving and smothering cloud of dust that was so like a message from our own dear native land that we could hardly refrain from shedding a few grateful tears and execrations in the old time-honored American way. Look up the street or down the street, this way or that way, we saw only America!” – Mark Twain
Needless to say, no matter how sentimental the prose of Mark Twain upon first seeing and setting foot in Odessa, the quality of his wordsmithery is not the point to the above quote – his observations are.
Indeed the relevance to this entry is but “fine, broad streets, and straight as well“. A Twainian nod of appreciation to the designers of Odessa – and in particular the twice Prime Minister of France, Armand Emmanuel Sophie Septimanie de Vignerot du Plessis (the 5th Duke de Richelieu).
There is no denying that through an architectural and aesthetic lens the proportions of the wide city streets and low old buildings of the centre are pleasing to the eye (despite the requirement for local campaigners to continually battle with the city authorities to restrict the height of modern buildings in the historic city centre). Wide main streets, despite the exceptionally ugly, concrete, Communist apartment constructions outlying the historic centre, was a theme that continued as the city expanded for all main thoroughfares.
The noticeably broad width of the main roads in and around Odessa however, still fails to deal with the quantity of traffic at rush hour, despite affording two lanes of traffic, sometimes more, in any direction – plus tram and trolley-bus track.
Also any minor traffic accident, due to how they are dealt with in Ukraine, can cause serious delays. Whereby most sensible traffic policing would work on the priority system of COW – casualties, obstructions, witnesses – the speed at moving obstructions from the carriageway seems not to register, regardless of the often lengthy delays caused by leaving vehicles in situ far longer than it takes to mark the scene and move the vehicles to the curb to allow normal traffic flow once again.
The wide streets however, aside from rush hour congestion, also allow for drivers to drive as though they are piloting an exocet missile – aiming to find the gaps between fellow drivers at great speed with no consideration for the hazards – be they pedestrian, vehicular, road surface condition, or inclement weather.
The lack of, or complete disregard of, speed, environment and hazards has been somewhat unwittingly facilitated by the decision of Odessa to stop the use of “speed guns” by the police. The reason for doing so, which is entirely understandable, was to reduce corruption and bribery. If no drivers can be stopped for speeding (whether they were or were not), then no roadside soliciting of small bribes to avoid speeding protocols can be either offered or demanded. It is a decision that most definitely led to a very significant reduction in roadside bribes.
Sergey Dubenko, head of the Odessa City Council working group to improve traffic management group has now announced that Odessa will adopt “European norms” regarding the speed limits within the city. The maximum speed will be officially reduced from 60 kph (as used in Russia and Belarus) to 50 kph (as used by almost all of Europe). Mr Dubenko stating – “The speed limit of 60 kmh – is 1 km per minute. The standard distance for the residential districts of the city heading for the center is 10 km away, with straight roads, without traffic lights and traffic jams it takes 10 minutes. With a speed of 50 kmh, the same distance takes 12 minutes. Two minutes difference! Two minutes, due to which the number of traffic accidents is anticipated to drop by 30%, including pedestrians accidents! The time you are waiting in traffic jams, congestion and at traffic lights, we will adjust based on metered traffic.
In addition to the installation of speed limit signs will be used by the standard adopted worldwide traffic calming methods: narrowing of the road near the pedestrian crossings, traffic islands at pedestrian crossings, pedestrian crossings and lifting etc.”
Well bravo – sensible traffic calming measures and pedestrian protection.
However, considering the main streets of Odessa are so wide, is there any consideration for another “European norm” – such as dedicated bus/taxi lanes?
What of cycle lanes?
There is a something of a push among the cycling community in Europe and some political quarters in Odessa to officially extend the trans EU EuroVelo 6 (EV6) cycle route, adding a spur to the route that begins in France and currently ends in Romania, with an option to end in Odessa. A friend of this blog, and local politician, Peter Obyhov is currently involved at this end. There is a meeting in Brussels this month regarding the proposed “Odessa spur” to EV6 that seems unlikely to meet much resistance.
Are such issues, if not able to be financed now, at least planned for now, when adding the much desired traffic calming measures throughout the city?
Will fixed speed cameras appear at “hot spots” to prevent the return of the police officer with the speed gun soliciting bribes, if and when drivers that ignore the current 60 kph speed limit, also ignore the 50 khp limit? It will have to be enforceable somehow beyond the physical calming measures soon to begin appearing.
Nevertheless, a little bit of traffic calming in the city would appear to be only a welcome development – prima facie at least.