The Perception of Street Space by Citizens

The Perception of Street Space by Citizens


L Dablanc, Inrets, SPLOT, FR; C Gallez, University of Paris Est, FR


This article presents the results of a cross analysis of debates on transport and street space issues led during meetings of Paris ?district councils'. It can contribute to the redesign of methods used by transport practitioners.


The perception of street space by the public

An analysis of local consultation processes in Paris

Consultation processes, today, are a full component of cities? policies. This is becoming particularly true for urban planning or transport policies. In this article, we present the results of an analysis we have led over meetings of ?district councils? (conseils de quartiers) in Paris. There are 121 district councils in Paris, whose members are either appointed by local mayors or drawn among volunteers. These councils meet between two and four times a year to discuss local issues on housing, transport, planning and in general any kind of local policy. District councils express non biding ?wishes? to the city?s central and local levels of administration. In our research, the minutes of three years of meetings from the 15th arrondissement of Paris have been examined and cross analysed in order to underline the different categories of public concerns over street space.
To what extent those public consultations contribute to the local policy-making process? Our central hypothesis was that public concerns refer to very different uses of street spaces, showing that transport and mobility are but one component of the use of public space in city streets. This possibly modifies or refutes more specialized approaches developed by the city?s technical services.
We made a specific focus on freight transport and delivery issues, which have gained importance within the City of Paris? transport and planning policies in recent years.
Several results come out of our analysis.
An important share of the discussions in district council meetings is devoted to street space uses. These discussions relate to a great variety of issues (traffic, parking, street use conflicts, accessibility, pollution, quality of life, deliveries, etc.). The confrontation of different stakeholders brings out three main types of discourses:
- Residents? positions regarding street spaces are based on all their local daily practices, not ? or not only - their transport needs.
- Technical staff or transport users? associations remain focused on network management approaches.
- Elected officials remain focused on political concerns over transport policy orientations or the jurisdiction and powers between local mayors and the central administration.
Several factors prevent a more global approach of street space planning.
- Some specific projects such as the introduction of dedicated bike or bus lanes are dominated by a purely technical approach.
- District councils are strictly focused on their jurisdiction and often ignore the impacts or the network dimension of projects out of their perimeter. Neighbouring councils poorly cooperate with each other on common issues.
- Some important stakeholders are not represented in the councils. This is particularly true for the business and freight sides.
Regarding freight more specifically, an intensive consultation process has taken place between the city of Paris and carriers?, retailers? and shippers? associations. It has culminated with the signature of a ?Delivery Charter? in 2006, in which the stakeholders commit to promoting the environment, working conditions, and the productivity of urban delivery activities. We analysed how district councils have acknowledged freight issues and how they have integrated the parallel work of freight consultation groups into their own discussions. We found that the perception of freight issues by district councils? members is quite not as controversial as we expected. However, in our paper, we discuss the fact that these freight partnerships are set up at a moment when they are becoming irrelevant or powerless: because of the way logistics decisions are taken today, freight transport is less and less locally determined, and the stakeholders representing freight issues in local assemblies such as Paris district councils are not the true decision-makers in the organization of freight transport and deliveries in cities.
The final conclusion of our research is that a better knowledge of the citizens? perception of street space issues in cities is very important for local transport decision-makers. These councils? discussions bring three types of potential benefits: they raise awareness and bring information to the members about on-going local projects; they bring forward new or ignored issues (speed regulation for example); they formalize the local political arena and oblige stakeholders to position themselves. These results can positively contribute to the redesign of tools and methods of analysis and evaluation used by transport practitioners.

This research has been supported by the City of Paris as part of the 2006 Paris Education Department?s Research Program.


Association for European Transport