How to solve transport problems of Baku

Jun 20,2019 - ARTICLES
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Almost every resident of a large city is confronted with transport since any movement of a person from point A to point B is a trip on a personal or public transport, or by walking and cycling. Therefore, it is necessary to discuss not just transport, but general problems of urban mobility.

Another feature of transport problems is that almost everyone has their own opinion about how to deal with them. People consider traffic jams, quality of roads, lack of parking spaces, poor quality of public transport as the main problems. Many of them see the solution in the expansion of roads, the construction of junctions and the creation of a large number of parking spaces. Many believe that the violation of town planning regulations in the last 15-20 years is also the cause of problems.

It should be noted that Baku is far from being unique in its problems, but due to well-known historical circumstances, these problems have become relevant only in the last 15 years. Baku (as well as other post-Soviet cities) has gone from a city with developed public transport infrastructure and with a low level of car ownership to a city with a degraded public transport with a rapidly growing number of cars. Here we must especially emphasize the mass motorization, with which the cities of the former Soviet Union and the countries of the socialist camp faced with a delay of 30-40 years. Thus, this phenomenon was observed in the USA already in the 30s-40s of the 20th century, and the countries of Western Europe fully felt the effect of mass motorization in the 1950s-60s, as they began to recover from the consequences of World War II.

Unfortunately, Baku began to repeat practically the same mistakes that were in the cities of the developed countries. Cities that were originally built not for cars, simply could not accommodate all the cars used in the streets every day. One should clearly understand that business and cultural activity is usually concentrated in the central part of cities, and at certain hours many people try to get there right away. The US and Western Europe tackled the consequences of motorization differently.

In the United States, the urban planning policy was aimed at meeting the need for mobility of the population travelling by car. In this situation, public transport is practically absent or inconvenient to use. Because of such transport and urban planning policy, many US cities have low density with growing suburbs also referred to as urban sprawl.

However, modern transport science considers such an approach erroneous and destructive for cities. In addition, in many large American cities recently began to develop public transport and apply restrictive measures against private car usage. It is understood that the cars occupy a lot of urban space and the modification of the city aimed to increase the ability to pass vehicles leads to the fact that it becomes inconvenient to move around without the car.

In Europe, after intensive construction of road infrastructure in the cities, they realized that this was a road to nowhere. The infinite expansion of the road network does not improve the road situation; on the contrary, the more roads are built, the more vehicles appear to fill them. The advantages of the new roads in the form of increased travel speed are fading away for several months, if not weeks. The solution to the problem was to reduce the attractiveness of personal vehicles.

Riding a car should stop being a daily way to travel from home to work. In order to make it work like that, it is necessary to simultaneously increase the attractiveness of public transport and reduce the attractiveness of using a car in the city by economic, infrastructural and administrative methods. This includes but is not limited to introduction paid parking, paid entry to the central areas of the city, the creation of pedestrian areas, etc. Moreover, alternative modes of transportation, which include walking and cycling, must be encouraged.

What should be the transport policy in Baku?

Conceptually, the answer is quite simple: one should do like modern transport science commands, according to the tested principles used in European countries. First of all, it is necessary to develop public transport and at the same time to take a number of measures in order to noticeably reduce the number of trips made with private cars, we also need to make it convenient and pleasant to walk around the city and ride a bicycle. We should build a city for people, not for cars.

It is useful to understand that traffic jams are a purely geometric problem; machines simply do not fit. "Motorized happiness" in Baku will never come. No, not because our drivers massively violate the rules of the road, not because in our city the organization of traffic is lamed in both legs, but because of the fact that there is not enough road space for everyone in Baku. The first two reasons, of course, are also very important, but by and large, they are partially generated by the limited resource of the road network.

Knowledgeable people will object to me: there are not so many cars in Baku, especially when compared with developed countries. Yes, partly it is true, now in Baku, there are about 250-300 cars per thousand people, which is not much less than this indicator in large European cities. However, the level is not that important, it only matters how a particular city is adapted to the mass motorization rate. In other words, a truly important indicator is the ratio of the area of ​​the road network to the number of cars, and if it is simpler to say: how much-asphalted space is there for one car in the city.

No attempt will help to optimize and locally increase the capacity of roads. It is also useful to understand that all attempts to increase the throughput of streets and avenues that we have seen in the last 10 years have a rather modest impact on the area of ​​the road network. Even if our traffic police in one day becomes perfectly efficient, starts to penalize all violators and ideally regulate traffic, this also will not solve the case. The temporary effect of such measures will be there, but subsequently, the congestion will return again to the streets of the city. More roads lead even more cars to the streets of the city. In science, this phenomenon is well studied and is called induced demand.

In order to optimize the city even to the current level of motorization, it is necessary to massively demolish the existing buildings of the urban centre. The real positive effect would have happened with the construction of completely new roads, such as, for example, the Baku Ring Highway or the Zikh highway. However, such projects are few, they are extremely expensive. To increase the number of such new roads, one would have had to pretty much destroy the city. I don’t claim that it is not necessary to build roads. It is necessary to build such a road infrastructure so that it is possible to divert the transit flow of cars from the city centre. In addition, it is necessary to improve the connectivity of the road network so that cars do not wind extra kilometres, loading the main arteries of the city.

Discouragement of private car use

The large share of trips made during peak hours is business trips from residential zones and suburbs to the central areas of the city (the so-called commuting). At the same time, there are parking difficulties in places where business centres are concentrated, which further aggravates the traffic situation.

There are many methods of discouraging trips made on a private car, of which the most effective are economic ones. In most large cities with developed transport, economic restrictive measures are limited to the introduction of paid street parking. Cities like London and Singapore add to the paid parking lots a paid entrance to the central areas, called congestion fee. It should be noted that such restrictions are introduced primarily not to collect money but in order to reduce the flow of cars entering the city centre. The money collected is most often spent on landscaping or financing public transport.

Improving pedestrian infrastructure

At the moment, it is inconvenient to walk around Baku, the city simply does not have access to hiking. We often see broken sidewalks, cars parked on sidewalks, high curbs, frequently underground and above-ground crossings, which are almost irresistible for people with disabilities or women travelling child strollers. We observe the collision of cars and people and often see cars win. We must take a whole range of measures, starting with creating a barrier-free environment, ending with a decrease in traffic on the streets, in order to create a desire for people to walk more in the city rather than drive a car even for short distances.