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EX-TRA (EXperimenting with city streets to TRAnsform urban mobility): an introduction

Street Life Festival, Munich

As cities across the globe radically reduce their dependency on automobility in exchange for other modes of transportation, experimenting with city streets has emerged as a way to ‘try-out’ new uses and forms viewing streets as ‘for people’ rather than for cars. This three-year research project, started in April of 2021, focuses on these so-called “city street experiments” in six test-bed cities (Amsterdam, Bologna, Milan, Ghent, Munich and London) in order to generate the following insights:

  1. possible combinations of physical design and regulation that increase the types of usage and inclusivity amongst users of city streets

  2. transport and land use conditions to enable and improve walking and cycling accessibility in city districts

  3. shared mobility platforms and micro-mobility and freight delivery options which complement attractive streets and accessible districts

  4. strategies of change that can accelerate the transition towards greater sustainability in urban mobility

What is urban mobility and why is it important?

Urban mobility refers to the ability of people and things to get from one place to another, using one or more modes of transport in cities. These different modes of transport include walking, cycling, public vehicular transport (such as buses, trams and trains) and private vehicular transport (such as cars). People’s daily lives are made up of a growing diversity of activities and locations, and mobility holds all of this together. While mobility is played out in city streets, these public spaces can take on multiple functions and host an array of interactions, acting as places for commerce, play, social interaction, leisure, creativity and politics.

Plaza Rossini, Bologna

What are city street experiments exactly?

City street experiments are intentional and temporary changes to the street use, regulation and or form, aimed at exploring change in urban mobility and public life. Successful city street experiments have proven to lead to a number of positive benefits, including increased physical activity and safer streets by way of alternative mobility options, and more social interaction as the result of convivial public spaces.

Experimenting with the use of a street before making permanent changes allows city-makers the opportunity to test possible solutions to urban mobility challenges with little risk and at a low-cost. City street experiments vary greatly in terms of form, use, location and length. Some examples include:

‘Re-marking streets’: Changing the function or adding additional functions to sections of a street by temporary altering the street road markings. For example, Initiators behind Department DIY’s guerrilla bike lanes took it upon themselves to spray paint cycling indicators on the road. Other examples include the designation of shared space in the famous ‘negen straatjes’ of Amsterdam during the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘School streets’: The temporary restriction of motorised traffic during school drop-off and pick-up times, to tackle air pollution and improve safety and provide room for playing

‘Parklets’: The temporary use of paid parking spaces into areas for sitting, socializing and playing games, like Groudplay SF (formerly known as ‘Pavement to Parks’).

‘Play streets’: The temporary closure of a residential street that children can play in front of their homes.

Hugo de Grootkade, Amsterdam

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