The concept of public space embraces both a symbolic and a physical dimension. Public space is the place where people meet others and thus, where the collective life takes place. It is also related to the physical places, like streets and places, where any person can freely transit or stand. As an extension of people dwellings, public space makes part of the habitat. It hosts most of the consecutive daily trips, which all start and end as walking trips.
Historically, roadway design standards have been a traffic engineering matter. Roads have been developed for the safety of motorists rather than for the safety of cyclists or pedestrians. As a result, an important part of road space is currently reserved to cars, most for parking, which occupies already scarce public space. At urban scale, in some cases less than 15% of the total available space is allocated to streets, less than 10% in informal settlements as shown by recent studies.
Knowing that at least 90% of the existent road network will remain the same at long term, it is essential to refocus the debate on how the existent road network is managed and how mobility can be optimised. First, it is imperative to establish a desired road hierarchy. The desired road hierarchy will define each roadway according to its function and appropriate design criteria for it.
Once the road hierarchy is defined, it is essential to adopt a multimodal approach for reallocating road space in order to fairly balance the travel needs of both motorized and non-motorized road users. Proper road space allocation allows diverse modes (public transport, private cars, pedestrians and cyclists) to share the space and to circulate in safe conditions. When the travel needs of road users are not balanced, dramatic effects on road safety can be expected, especially if the roads are close to trip attractors (school, bus stops, etc.).
Public space relies on rich networks, particularly pedestrian networks, which define the walkability of a city, and therefore its accessibility. Appropriate road design can encourage longer non-motorized trips and improve citizen’s insertion on its social environment. In Quito’s United Nations boulevard, for instance, parking space was re- allocated to pedestrian traffic and as a result, the street became a safer space for pedestrians’ daily activities.
Proper road space allocation has a significant role in "place-making". It turns roads into streets, encourages diversity in the public space and helps to create or recreate vibrant urban identities and social links. In that sense, resilient public spaces reveal themselves as a necessity in order to help cities to absorb shocks, whether these shocks are linked or not to traffic externalities.
Now that our country has suffered severe damages, we have the opportunity to do the right thing when planning and reconstructing our cities.
The points treated above are integrated on the "EASI conceptual framework (ENABLE, AVOID, SHIFT, IMPROVE) and illustrated by concrete examples (good practices and tools).