Section 9.1 Getting There Faster by Slowing Down

Appreciating life has much to do with slowing down. If we ride bikes we will do that and get there faster too then taking the car.

Increasingly, we have come to understanding, that by optimising our cities built for cars are provide poor quality of life for people living in them. We can do better, and it has been done in some European cities already.

Getting There Faster by Slowing Down – Australian Walking & Cycling Conference

For over a century, we’ve been told that Faster Is Better, but the evidence suggests otherwise. Associate Professor Paul Tranter goes as far to as to contend that over reliance on cars steals our time, money and health. Slowing down whole cities can improve public health, drop infrastructure costs and increase our sense of community.

Getting There Faster by Slowing Down – Australian Walking & Cycling Conference, accessed 17 March 2021


Interviewer 0:05
Trapped in your car. In this series, we explore different ways to step away from the car. In our fast paced world, we’re constantly hearing messages to slow down. We generally understand that advice to be for individuals. But what if we approach it collectively and look at slowing whole cities down? Associate Professor Paul Tranter, talks about cities that have done just that, and not looked back.

Paul Tranter 0:35
On Paul traitor. I’m from UNSW Canberra at the Australian Defence Force Academy. In 1989, I had to study leave in England, and I met some people who were doing some research on children’s independent mobility in England and in Germany. Children in England had lost their levels of ability dramatically from when they’d done similar research in 1971. But the German children still had very high levels of freedom. So I came back to Australia, the children weren’t doing very well, very low levels of freedom.

Interviewer 1:07
Is this to do with city design?

Paul Tranter 1:09
City design is certainly part of it. So if you design cities around high speed transport, then it makes it very hard for parents to let their children walk or cycle.

Interviewer 1:19
So how important is it that children keep this sense of active transport and a sense of play?

Paul Tranter 1:25
If you ask children, especially primary school children, how would they like to travel, and majority of them say we’d prefer to walk or cycle and also, it’s really good for their physical development, social connection, playful experiences with their peers, and also with other people in the community. And that’s really important for their mental health as well as the physical health,

Interviewer 1:47
You’re part of his push to slow areas of our cities down.

Paul Tranter 1:53
We’ve been told for about 100 years now that faster is better. And that speed will give us all these advantages. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out like that. When we increase speeds in the city, the city changes in response in particular, the city sprawls the shops, and schools and services are now spread further away. If we can start slowing down and slowing down means two things, slowing the speed of motorized traffic, especially in residential streets. The second thing is switching modes or getting more people to walk and soccer and use public transport. We can do that we can improve health in multiple ways we can improve human health, we can improve economic health, and environmental health in human health, if we can reduce the speed of traffic that makes the streets safer, and it also makes them more pleasant. Not only will it reduce road crashes, and reduce the severity of road crashes, but it also makes the streets feel safer and feel more pleasant. That means that more people are likely to walk in cycle, and more people are likely to let their children walk and cycle. If we can get more people walking and cycling, then they have a greater connection with each other. The level of social connection is a really important part of human health. Then there’s economic health. If you can survive in the slow modes of transport, you save a huge amount of money. Some recent research in Melbourne has shown that comparing a slow household that walks in cycles locally and uses public transport to go into the CBD. They’re spending about $25 a week on transport. For a two car household that never uses public transport, they could be spending $300 a week. The other economic benefits for individuals if you walk in soccer more your medical bills will likely be lower as the medical bills for the entire city. If you take a retailer’s and study after study has shown this, that retail is used to think, oh, we need parking right outside our shop. They don’t, they’re much better off with car parking. And with either street cafe or bicycle parking, they’ll do much better for entire cities, in terms of the amount of money that you spend on transport cities that are dominated by the fast modes, cars have to spend a lot more on infrastructure. And you can see that in the percentage of city income spent on transport, which in Australian cities is about 13%. In European cities, it’s about 8%. And interestingly, people spend less time traveling per day than in the high speed cities.

Interviewer 4:29
How would you go about doing a transition to a slower city?

Paul Tranter 4:36
It’s a real challenge. We have been told for 100 years that speed is good. So getting around that is going to be incredibly difficult. One suggestion is to use a child friendly cities approach. When people think about the well being of their children. It helps them to think more collectively about what’s good for all children in Australia, and all A lot of particularly English speaking countries, there’s a, there’s a mindset that you have to protect your individual child. This is done in a very individualistic way. So you do it by driving your children to school to sport to ballet to their friends. So parents get caught in this trap. Whereas in other nations, particularly Switzerland, Finland, Germany, even Japan, children are much more likely to be allowed to walk and soccer school by themselves. One, the parents get their lives back. And two, the children get to have playful experiences on the way to and from school. One example I like to use is, Professor Karen Malone is an expert in child friendly cities, she visited Japan, and she was amazed to see groups of kindergarten children just walking to school without an adult. So she asked a Japanese colleague, why they’re now adults looking after the children. And the answer from the Japanese colleague was surprised they didn’t understand the question they said. But there’s heaps of people looking after the children. There’s the other bit of students, there’s a cyclist, there’s the shopkeepers we’re all looking at for children. Whereas in Australia, we haven’t got that collective responsibility for other people’s children. And I think we need to start thinking about how to improve the health of the whole community. Rather than thinking individually, how to get your own child safe, or how to give your own child the best opportunities of success in a consumers world. It sort of works both ways. If you can slow everything down, so that people can get out and walk around and talk to each other, you can develop a sense of local community. There’s an Australian researcher and thinker called David in which and he argues that there are three things you need to do to generate a strong local neighborhood based community, the first thing you need to do is go for a walk around your neighborhood. The second thing you need to do is go for a walk around your neighborhood. And you can probably guess what the third thing is. And what that does is the first time you go for a walk around your neighborhood, you might meet someone and nod to them. As you do that more and more, you get to know people. And pretty soon you start to get to know people in the local community that you wouldn’t even know existed if you drive through the neighborhood. And one of the reasons for that is that when you drive the faster you drive, the narrower is your field of vision, your zone of vision, if you’re driving at 25 kilometers an hour, you’re aware of people on the side of the road, once you start driving it, you know, 4050 kilometers an hour, your vision is very much concentrated on the road ahead. But when you’re walking or even cycling, there’s opportunity for some social connection, which is explained earlier is really important.

Interviewer 7:37
These cities that you were talking about in Europe, were they full of cars and have managed to change from there.

Paul Tranter 7:44
Most European cities up until the 1970s have followed the trend to increasing speed, more car based transport. A lot of European cities probably starting in about the 1970s decided that this wasn’t working, they started to introduce policies that would restrict the freedom of cars to drive at speed. And one of the most interesting examples comes from grants grsa ad grants in Austria, were in the early 1990s, the local government decided that they would introduce a blanket 30 kilometer per hour speed limit across the entire city. People didn’t want to do it. But the city government decided to do it anyway, on the argument that, how would they know whether they want it or not until I’ve experienced it. So they introduced it very carefully with a lot of community consultation. After two years, the majority of people including the majority of Madras, were in support of it. It made the streets more pleasant safer, more people walking in cycling, lowered pollution levels, lowered noise levels, it was accepted. More and more cities in Europe are doing that Introducing 30 kilometers per minutes across huge areas. When you do that 30 kilometer area becomes the norm. And the whole city saves time. Partly because they’re not using cars because cars steal our time our money and health. And very few people are aware that for the average driver you spend more time earning the money to pay for the car than driving the car.

Interviewer 9:13
Associate Professor Paul Tranter is a geology at uni New South Wales concerned about the dominance of speed in urban planning and its effect on children’s well being. You’ve been listening to step away from the car recorded at the 2019 Australian walking and cycling conference by Suzanne Reese and Nikki Paige and produced at Radio Adelaide.

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