Big City Traffic Made Effective: from Paid Parking to Life-Hacks

5 August 2016, 0:00

Why test paid parking lots and make city centers pedestrian? How traffic simulations help save money on expensive junctions and highways? What are the life-hacks for using your car and why you shouldn’t drive every day? Residents of Technopark of ITMO University and specialists from the Institute of Design & Urban Studies tried to answer these questions in a set of lectures.

Paid parking: who needs it and why?

Mr. Sergei Ivanov, the head of the Laboratory of Urban Computing

The first attempt at decreasing the number of vehicles parked in the city center that comes to one’s mind is introduction of paid parking. This is practiced worldwide. Paid parking has been used in Moscow for quite a long time; it’s been a year since it was introduced in Saint Petersburg. The important question is where to make these zones? When should we pay and on which days? Obviously, it all comes down to costs. I’d like to mark out that making money for the budget is not the main goal of the introduction of paid parking. Paid parking is necessary to achieve something different: to make it so that only those who really need to leave their cars in the city center would do it.

In Saint Petersburg, only 8% of drivers leave their cars in the city center for more than 3 hours. Roughly speaking, the current prices for paid parking are inadequate, so people don’t want to use these services and prefer parking somewhere else.

The other essential thing is the dynamics of the workload of parking space. As we can see, from September 2015 to May 2016 it has been within the range of 30 to 40%. That is a bad result. I don’t want to say that it has been all done wrong: the attempt itself, to separate a part of the parking space and create a pilot paid parking is a great initiative. If we try looking at the extremities, a 100% workload is bad as well –  that would mean that we still can’t park in the city center. Such things happened in Moscow and in London, for instance. On the other hand, if we’ve got a low workload, say, under 50%, that means that we have too much free space that could be used. The understanding of the balance will come from studying the market. We should refer to Moscow’s experience: there are many paid parkings there, with different prices depending on their location. This data can be really important for assessment of prices, demand and balance. Recently, the workload of paid parking in Moscow has decreased to the optimal level of 65-70%. When we reach such a result, it would mean that we’ve provided an optimal infrastructure and a stable demand for it. What will come next is a question of the years to come.

Taking into account the experience of European cities, we will have to literally dig for space to remove cars from the streets. Of course, building surface parkings is possible as well, but they aren’t too good for the city’s appearance. There was a time when I believed that you can’t build underground parkings in St. Petersburg, as many specialists say, but, seeing how they easily dig under shopping centers, I’ve changed my opinion. This is only a question of costs. As of now, there is no general concept to this, but I am sure that all parking in the city center will become paid in the nearest future.

Transport simulations – what are they for?

Mr. Yaroslav Smirnov, chief executive of LLC “Optimal Drive”

What is the point of transport simulations within the context of social sciences? Transport is not always about engineering solutions. In a sense, it’s an attempt to find an ideal method to solve society’s problems. Expensive solutions are not necessarily the working ones. What we have to do is to bring maximum benefit at minimum costs.

There is a project of a highway along the Neva river, one that will have no traffic lights to slow the cars down. The project is almost approved: the costs are about 50 billion rubles. That’s 10 thousand rubles per every Saint-Petersburg’s citizen. How about that? If you’d ask me – am I ready to give 10 thousand for that, I would’ve said no. There are two ways to carry out such projects: one is to just build the road cause we like the idea, the other is to model the situation and choose the optimal decision.

There are numerous paradoxes to the field of transportation, including those like “the optimal decision for everyone leads to everyone’s death”. There is another rule that states that the more good roads there are, the more personal cars people use. It’s closely connected with another paradox: the speed of personal cars depends on the speed of offstreet public transport like the subway. If the speed of subway trains is low, more people would prefer driving and sitting in traffic jams. Thus, when we are talking about such projects, what we have to do is to answer such questions as how many people will be using these roads, how will their speed change, who will benefit from it, who won’t, and whether we actually need to spend money on it.

There was an interesting episode in Krasnoyarsk, when they wanted to build second six-lane bridge across the Yenisei river. We’ve created a model showing that without additional measures to provide access to the bridge, it won’t be used to its full extent – just for about a third of its possible workload. Just try to imagine, how expensive it would’ve become. In the end, a lot of money has been spent on the project, but the traffic situation did not improve. When we’re talking about sites that are to improve the life of citizens, those have to cover their outlay. There is a good indicator – “value of time” – the cost of one’s minute of life for the economics. Within this context, the bridge in Krasnoyarsk was a total waste of money.

In our work, we use multi-agent macro-modeling for cities with populations exceeding one million, and it works. To do that, we have to know, where from, when and where to did you go, and on what transport. Cause if you just ride the subway in circles, your time is of no importance. Naturally, we take into account different future variants of the city’s development, as well as the routes of public transportation. There is a great amount of useful data that can be acquired from mobile network operators, road cameras and detectors, as well as validation of electronic tickets in public transport. If we know your daily plan, we know what and when do you do. Using specific algorithms, we conclude that if you were using the subway, then you are generally using public transport. Finally, we define an optimal route for you, as a separate “agent”. In a model, when you are the only agent there, this is the optimal way. If there are many agents, the system becomes more complex, but we still try to find the optimum. After that, we can draw up a new subway line, road or bridge and calculate, how will the medial transportation time change for particular districts.

The efficiency of personal cars

Mr. Constantin Mitrichenko, deputy administrator for the eZWay company

Anyone can make life in the city more comfortable. The transport infrastructure of the city is comprised of two parts: personal and public transport – including taxi’s and carsharing services.  If everyone uses personal cars, no infrastructure will keep up. The more people use a road, the less people can use it effectively – we’ve heard as much from the previous presentations.

I’d like to mention a couple of things about the effectiveness of a personal car: just think, when you’re driving by yourself from a residential district to the city center during the rush hour, how efficiently do you use your transport? A car is something big and heavy. Even you have a small sedan, it weighs about 1200 kg. Let’s say you weight about 80 kilos, and move from point A to point B – you transport a mass 16 times higher than yourself. Consequently, you use 16 times more energy. Why is using a bike more preferable? It takes up less space, it’s a lot lighter, and is generally more effective. What is more – the efficiency factor for a car’s engine is about 20-30%. You need to park your car somewhere. A medial parking space is about 7 square meters, whereas a medial workplace takes up only 2. If we build an office building and its every employee will drive to work, this big site will require an even greater parking, something 35-floors tall. And this is only for the one’s place of work – there will be a need to park the car where you live. Cars are personal items –  so they are usually used by 1 or 2 people. 90% of the time the car is not being used. All this makes public transport and taxi’s a lot more efficient, because they transport people on a regular basis, being more rational from the view of occupying space, as well.

Life-hacks for using your car

  1. Make use of intercepting parking. If you are going from the suburbs to the city center, that’s a good way to avoid traffic jams and save money.
  2. Give lifts, when it’s possible. If you give lifts to your colleagues who live nearby, that would help relieve traffic congestion.
  3. Learn to use your car effectively. Fuel consumption largely depends on your driving style. Learn to drive surgeless, close the windows when you’re going at more than 60 km/h, don’t use the conditioning when not necessary, don’t warm up the car longer than it’s needed.
  4. Take passengers when you are going on long distances. Let’s say you are going to go to Moscow all by yourself. Make use of the blablacar service – it will help you find three or four passengers, who’ll compensate you about three-thirds of the fuel expenses.
  5. Choose a more compact and fuel-efficient car. Buy a hatchback instead of a big off-roader. If you have to transport something large, hire a minivan, this will prove cheaper than using more fuel every day.

Polina Poleshchuk

Editorial office, ITMO University