Back in the office after a long break

18 October

Back in the office after a long break, my colleague, joyful and full of energy, remarked that he had the impression that he was starting to live a more “normal life”. Just being able to get out of town, travel and visit friends and family, despite some constraints, had definitely made him feel like he was back in pre-covid times. Coming back home with the familiar traffic jam was also something he cherished all of a sudden.

Traffic is a strange thing, he said. Apparently urban planners use traffic as a tool to discourage people from using their cars to go to work. When I first heard it, I could not simply believe my ears but after reflecting a bit and putting myself in their shoes, I see their point of view. How can you reduce the use of cars if there are no queues, nor constraints?

This is how they think… he explained to me. Everybody wants the comfort, ease and convenience of a good life. The easiest way to get to work would seem to be to take your car and drive off. It might take ten minutes, whereas the bus ride may take 20 minutes in a crowded bus where you may not always be able to get a seat.

It’s only when the driving experience becomes a nightmare, because of the traffic jams and endless queues, that people might consider leaving the car at home and using public transportation. So, what do the urban planners do? They create constraints that make driving more and more onerous. Most people would not even think that this would be a plausible approach, but here we are, creating problems and constraints in order to create a change of perception.

However, my colleague said, what about the air pollution coming from these types of measures? Do they take that into consideration? I simply wonder if it wouldn’t be easier to undertake a major push to make public transport so attractive that it simply draws people out of their cars.

Geneva has tried this, and the only problem is that the public transport system is the victim of its own success. Every time the TPG increases service, extending hours and lines and adding new lines, the ridership goes up, which attracts more people. This, in turn, makes it necessary to increase service.

While the traffic is still heavy, the move into public transportation has reached dimensions undreamed of only ten years ago. The overall system is one of the densest in Europe and is slowly being extended well out beyond the Geneva area. The new train line under the city with the extension to Annecy is an example of this extension. Opened in January 2020, it was very slow to catch on owing to the pandemic confinement, but now it is acknowledged as a resounding success, with yet more extensions yet to come.

  Marit

As COP in Glasgow looms on the horizon and more and more countries are woefully behind in fulfilling their 2015 commitments to tackle global warming, the example of Geneva is worth keeping in mind. If one of the most motorized cities in the world can successfully challenge the automobile society, there is yet some hope of changing our habits to attenuate the harm being done and — one can hope even further! — even stop it.

Upon these notes we wish you a very pleasant day!