The Right of the Fastest
How Traffic Has Become Increasingly Antisocial
A timely investigation into why personal transport is dictated by speed and efficiency and what we have lost in the process
Now people are spending more time at home, rethinking the way we design public space has become more urgent than ever. All over the world, initiatives are being launched to rearrange cities and streets. Bogota has imposed 50km/hr speed limits, built bike lanes and instigated car-free Sundays; part of Brussels has become a ‘home zone’ with restricted traffic; cars are being banished from the streets of Madrid, and in Great Britain a court case has been launched to stop building motorways with public money.
From traffic jams to bicycle highways, from sleeping policemen to shared cars, the way we move around has an enormous impact on the way our streets, our cities and our society are arranged. It even determines how we interact with each other. In The Right of The Fastest, Thalia Verkade argues for a new vision of public space and an infrastructure in which people, not machines, take centre stage.
Journalist Thalia Verkade’s journey begins with the ‘traffic jam issue’ in the Netherlands, a small, densely-populated country where the total length of traffic jams is reported on the daily news. Not self-driving cars but the bicycle, Holland’s USP, is the answer, she decides – and bicycle super-highways. When she seeks the advice of town planner (nick name: ‘bicycle professor’) Marco te Brömmelstroet, all her preconceptions are turned on their head. Why do people need to cycle as fast as possible? Why do you even need to travel in a straight line?
Following the automobile revolution in America, wide access to cars changed our lives. Cars began to take priority over other road users and the freedom they afforded became a kind of dependency. The idea that traffic must flow comes from nineteenth-century Paris – after a revolution, a cholera epidemic and economic problems, the city was streamlined, alleys were replaced with boulevards allowing faster passage, one-way-streets were created for safety. With the metaphor of a circulatory system (traffic as blood) came the belief in flow, and the concepts of blocked arteries and bypasses. And with this came haste and road rage.
Verkade learns that building new motorways doesn’t actually reduce traffic but increases the number of cars. Even as we commute faster and faster, we still arrive home at the same time. If you make offices easier to get to, people move further away. So how can we do things differently? The answer lies in reclaiming the streets as part of our natural habitat.