The Prague ring road, the peak of autosocialism. Roads around cities do not solve anything at all

Yes, even in the city, your car could be the fastest and most convenient means of transport. One thing would be enough: that enough other residents had such good and affordable transport alternatives that they would leave their cars at home. You’ll be cursing in traffic jams before it is.

And if you’re looking forward to it being fixed when the outer and inner ring road is built around Prague, don’t look forward. It will do little to help the flow of traffic. On the contrary, because of the circuit, driving a car will become a necessity for even more people.

Direction Venezuela, direction Bucharest

Most urban planners believe that the city should have more bicycles and pedestrians. They do not meet with 100% understanding: Cycling is a seasonal thing for the young, public transport is for those who can’t save up for a car, and unruly pedestrians should not disturb the flow of traffic by wandering dangerously outside the designated areas.

So when other, more responsible politicians come to power in Prague, first of all, let them forget about the myth. Instead, they should finally build more roads, cancel unnecessary crossings, increase the speed limit, discipline pedestrians with fences and underpasses and make parking cheaper…

That somewhere else they drive cars out of cities and accommodate other types of transport? Deluded lunatics are leading their countries in the direction of Venezuela.

Paradoxically, it was in the capital of Venezuela, Caracas, that they did everything to allow cars to pass easily. They have built more roads than Hong Kong and Singapore combined, even though they have six times the population. But as long as the economy was going as it was, cars were parked on the streets of Caracas, one of the most congested cities in the world.

In short, in Venezuela, they have introduced socialism for cars in addition to socialism for people. But while the socialist approach of free to everyone according to his needs is almost universally considered bad, the policy of free to every car according to his needs is said to be responsible, reasonable, even right-wing. The parties that on some billboards pledge to keep the Czechia in the West, promise city circuits on others. Even if it’s a trip somewhere to Bucharest.

The not-so-picturesque Bucharest has two firsts with Moscow and Kyiv: the most extensive urban highways and the worst traffic jams in Europe.

There is no life without cars

There is a mode of transport that, despite its great capacity, is usually thought of somewhere at the very end when planning. It’s walking. In addition to being a monument, such a Charles Bridge is also a very serious piece of transport infrastructure. Under normal circumstances, a hundred thousand people cross it a day. If we wanted to get a hundred thousand people from one bank to the other according to today’s standards, it is automatically calculated that everyone will drive and that we need to build something like the Barrand bridge.

Google Maps – @2022 CNES/Airbus, GeoContent, Maxar Technologies, Map data @2022

While the Charles Bridge in the center of Prague transports a hundred thousand people a day from one bank to the other, for the same capacity in cars you need something like Barrandovský most

But Barrandďák would not fundamentally improve traffic in the area. It would transport only a slightly larger number of people, while its presence would significantly damage the surroundings. Dozens of buildings would have to be demolished for the construction, and there would be fewer people in the vicinity, for whom it is most practical to walk. That is why it is treacherous to think that “without cars there is no life”, as one Prague politician said.

Of course, cars fit into life and make it easier, but without regulation they create an environment that is mostly difficult to reconcile with other “car-free” uses. It can best be illustrated at Sovový mýny, a building that is close to the Charles Bridge, as we have already talked about it, and to which Jiří Pospíšil, the politician who spoke about the fact that a city without cars is dead, is close to it.

The qualitatively reconstructed gallery is located in the middle of the park, without parking and without an access road. Despite this – or rather because of this – there are still a large number of people in the park and the gallery. By today’s standards, however, without an access road and parking, such a building would not be possible at all. For the gallery alone, 30 to 100 parking spaces would have to be set up, right on the building’s property. So if Jiří Pospíšil insists that there is no life without cars in the city, he can try to bring them back to it first at his home in Kampa.

photo and illustration by Peter Bednár

Owl mills and parking by today’s standards

Prague cars and Prague public transport

Improving mobility in the city is expensive by building rush hour roads. It just hasn’t been proven for decades. Or it can be done cheaply, effectively, quite quickly, but controversially – by regulating entry, for example by tolls and raising the price of parking. Or more slowly, also controversially, but most reliably: with another type of construction.

Car-centric infrastructure creates a specific type of landscape with low population density and without the spaces and relationships we normally associate with quality of life. In settlements without parks, streets, squares, shops and work, it is usually necessary to go elsewhere, by car, for everything.

It is pointless to think about transport and forget about the use of the territory it touches. Roads designed for high speed and safe vehicular traffic require a branched road network with low population density and few destinations. Such territory is then inconvenient for trips without a car. Therefore, people are willing to pay premium prices for housing and rents in neighborhoods with complicated traffic and few cars, but comfortable for walking. Districts with a dense street network will only allow a smaller number of cars to pass more slowly, but a car is not necessary for short distances.

The “slowness” of traffic will be most appreciated by shops and tradespeople, as a connected street network with enough intersections, comfortable sidewalks, trees and public transport will attract the best customers: pedestrians. Thus, instead of maintaining the speed of the fastest means, an ideal transport system should focus on creating the maximum number of destinations within about half an hour of travel.

As a result of previous political decisions, today there are two Pragues. In both, two-fifths of people use public transport, but while 60 percent of all journeys are made by car on the outskirts, less than a third is in the center. Like the number of people walking. These are two very different approaches to cities in terms of property prices, historic preservation, the number of parks, schools and the location and quality of shops.

And with the circuits, if they ever come, that part of Prague, which is 60 percent owned by cars, will grow again.


Perfect throttle

The Prague ring road plan assumes that journeys by car will be faster, because thanks to the rings there will be no reason to drive so often to the center. For example, because after their completion, many cars will stop somewhere in their vicinity and the drivers will move to public transport. But it is not clear why they would do it voluntarily. The circuits are not planned for a quick transfer to the metro, and they will only offer shuttle buses to the nearest stations.

Fortunately, it is not necessary to deal with how many such dedicated people there would be. The promised P+R garages will hardly ever be built. After all, the largest parking garage in the world, SeaTAC at the Seattle airport, with four floors and a capacity of twenty thousand cars, is as large as the whole of Hradčany. And even if it sounds like a big garage, almost a hundred thousand cars arrive in Prague every day from D1 alone.

To comfortably park a significant proportion of the current three hundred thousand arriving vehicles, we would need dozens of the largest garages in the world, each with the area of ​​Hradčany. Even if there were such free space somewhere in Prague, it is not clear who would pay for it. One parking space in the P+R garage costs almost a million crowns.

The completion of the inner circuit alone is expected to cost 160 billion. With that money, a complete bicycle network of Paris could be built. Twenty-five times. Or New York’s High Line, the most expensive park in the world, twenty thousand apartments or five pyramids could be built forty-five times. They wouldn’t solve traffic either, but it would still be something to look at. And we still don’t count the hundreds of billions for promised parking.

In the event that the circuits are ever actually built, some P+R will certainly arise. But it will be units rather than hundreds of thousands. Most of the cars, including the tens of thousands of new ones that the ring will attract, will continue to the center. Even the best city circuit in our country, the one around Hradec Králové by Josef Gočár, is an insensitive disaster for its surroundings, causing suburbanization and congestion. And this is to be solved in the future – a new circuit.

But in the past decades, one unpleasant feature of new roads in the city has almost always manifested itself: there are always more cars driving on them than expected. Therefore, car transport is sometimes compared to water, which needs a minimum width of pipes for flow, in practice it works more like an ideal gas: it perfectly fills any space available to it.

Socialist roads, socialist parking

Municipal elections await the Czechia in the fall. One of their main motives will be, as you can already guess, transport populism. Especially in larger cities, the various parties will try to damage as much as possible the legacy of the best of post-revolutionary urban development: modified centers with pedestrian zones, created mainly thanks to ODS mayors. Instead of building on the good work of their predecessors, the likely candidates promise to solve every city problem with more roads. Although it is proven not to work.

City rings are not saving the city from traffic. They have and in Prague they will probably have the opposite effect if they are completed. A number of cities that built circuits in the past chose not to finish them, partially demolished them, surrounded them with new houses, buried them very expensively underground or sent a tram along them. Circuits in German cities often have better tree lines, cycle paths and sidewalks than the best streets of our cities. That type of circuit could be useful, but no one is planning it.

Trying to ensure that everyone can drive their own car into the city for free and park anywhere for free is the fastest way to destroy what people come to the city for. An attractive environment full of job opportunities, people, interesting buildings, public spaces with different types of transport.

Solving congestion by increasing the capacity of the road is, without territory regulation and an alternative to cars, only a path to worse congestion next time. On the contrary, every narrowing, crossing, alley, bike path, canceled parking and big house in the center without garages is counterintuitive, controversial, but the right way to more reliable transport.

And surely that is social engineering. But government-subsidized car infrastructure is social engineering of a far greater caliber, perhaps the most radical in human history. Socialism for cars – free parking and road construction – makes quality new construction impossible, encourages housing slush, subsidizes those who don’t need it, and makes mobility worse for everyone, especially the poor, the elderly, children and the disabled. And last but not least, they make the traffic situation worse for those who think they will benefit the most from new investments – drivers.

Instead of today’s small traffic jams, there will be much bigger traffic jams tomorrow. Hundred billion for that.

Where now? Peter Bednár on Finmag:

The article is in Czech

Tags: Prague ring road peak autosocialism Roads cities solve

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