“Society should prioritize people over cars,” said Enrique Penalosa, the visiting former mayor of Bogota, Colombia, on Tuesday.
Penalosa, currently a guest lecturer at New York University and an urban development consultant for cities in Australia, Africa, South America, Europe and the United States, said that public health in the urban setting was closely linked to the management of transportation.
“Transportation is an odd sector,” he said. “The more good schools and hospitals there are, the worse the transportation system gets. The streets are all used up by cars,” he said in a seminar.
Penalosa is in Solo, Central Java, at the invitation of Mayor Joko Widodo, who has also expressed concern for urban public health.
Penalosa said that gas emission, noise and gridlock were stress-inducing factors undermining physical and psychological health.
“The children are raised in a traumatic atmosphere. No sooner do they step into the street, then someone yells at them, ‘Look out, there’s a car!’ The children get startled and start screaming in fear,” he said.
He said 250,000 children died every year from car accidents that killed pedestrians, not counting children who died as passengers of vehicles in crashes.
“Strangely, this is considered a common thing. When we’re talking about health, why do we often neglect to discuss the psychological safety and happiness of children?” Penalosa asked.
A good city is a kid-friendly city that allows them to play outdoors without fear of being run over by a car or motorcycle, he said, adding that a good city has lanes dedicated for buses.
The former mayor, who created bus rapid transit system that revolutionized urban transport in Bogota, showed a 25-kilometer long street in the Colombian capital dedicated to pedestrians and cyclists during the seminar.
He believes it is better to spend the city budget on parks, pedestrian lanes, houses, schools and hospitals rather than on overpasses and toll roads.
Penalosa reminded the audience that civilization has had cities for the past 2,000 years, but cars only made an appearance in the last 80.
“Will we preserve and save our cities or defend the incessant growth of cars? Should we return to walking and cycling, or do we all want to drive?” he asked.
“We need to prioritize and respect the people, not the cars. We have to give equal rights to the bikers and drivers.”
Joko said that urban transportation had become a complicated issue, especially with the rapid population growth in the city.
“The higher the residents’ mobility, the more they travel,” he said. “To solve transportation issues, especially traffic and public transport, we need to give it professional attention and management.”