Feb 12, 2020 - Politics & Policy

How to build a safer city

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Traffic accidents did not kill a single pedestrian or cyclist last year in either Helsinki or Oslo.

The big picture: The main ingredient in these cities' successes should not surprise you: They made their streets a lot less accommodating to cars.

Denser cities have an inherent advantage in walkability, and older cities often have more rail infrastructure. But Helsinki also employed plenty of modern interventions that other cities can learn from, Streetsblog notes.

  • Wide sidewalks and narrow traffic lanes prioritize people over cars, and the city has almost 750 miles of protected bike lanes.
  • Helsinki also has gradually lowered its speed limits. Most local roads now have limits of about 20 mph, and major arterials are as low as 37.

Go deeper: In a study published in January, an international group of researchers studied the road and transit layouts of nearly 1,700 cities, breaking them down into nine types to analyze their safety.

  • Unsurprisingly, density, short blocks and the availability of mass transit all contributed to fewer injuries.

The bottom line: "The best approach is to get people out of cars in the first place, and to design cities in ways that people are using motor vehicles less," one of the study's authors told Fast Company.

Go deeper

Podcast: Building safer cities

Pedestrian and cyclist deaths are commonplace in American cities, but there weren't any last year in Oslo, Norway, or Helsinki, Finland. Dan and Axios' Sam Baker dig into what it would take to make our streets and sidewalks safer.

Cities' transportation ideas remain too small to deliver clear results

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Many cities are experimenting with innovative transportation ideas like scooters or autonomous shuttles, but their efforts are often too isolated or too small to deliver meaningful results, according to transportation experts.

Why it matters: Moving people and goods more efficiently is an urgent priority for many cities, which are grappling with issues like congestion, air pollution and accessibility while trying to raise money for necessary upgrades.

A small but growing number of cities are tackling climate change

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

13% of nearly 900 cities tracked by the nonprofit CDP get a top rating on climate change action — a fraction of the total population, but roughly double the number of cities on the organization's 2018 list.

Why it matters: Cities create more than 60% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions and consume 78% of the world’s energy. The 105 cities who received an "A" rating from CDP represent a combined population of 170 million.