A city is like the human body. The street network is the cardiovascular system of a city, that makes sure the city functions well when it comes to people, traffic and business and well, everything. When every aspect is in order (in other words, the body is healthy), there are no problems. When something is not right, the health problems start.

The stream of traffic is like the bloodstream in a human body

The streets of a city are like the blood veins of our body. Just like veins circulate blood within the body, bringing oxygen, the streets of a city circulate people and business – things that make the city ecosystem come alive and also keep it alive from day to day.

Streets allow goods, services and people to travel from one place to another, meet, do business and boost the economy. The less friction there is in moving from place A to place B, the better the body (in this case the city) feels, and the better it functions.

To maximize livability, accessibility and progress, street networks in cities need work well to allow a smooth flow of mobility. Below you see the constant flow of parkings in central Copenhagen, illustrating how a city is indeed a perpetual motion machine:

To manage the life of a city, and allow it to prosper, develop, and produce happy residents a city must be able to handle the stress on it’s street network every day of the year.

The bigger a city, the more it runs a risk of having CARdiovascular problems

So we know that one of the biggest health risks is clogged arteries. When blood can’t flow, the human body doesn’t survive.

When cities become bigger, the stress on the streets and transportation gets bigger. Public transportation is built and expanded, bigger highways and entrances into cities are built, and inner city networks are optimized in order to decrease the friction in traffic as much as possible.

It’s necessary because when streets get congested, the city struggles to survive. Mobility equals vitality for cities. People need to go to places, goods need to be transported to where they are needed and businesses rely on transport. Not to mention inbound and outbound traffic. Congestion for a city is what blocked veins are for a body – a major hazard.

Blocked traffic flow means trouble for the whole city

Just like a clogged artery doesn’t only affect its neighbouring cells but the whole body, dysfunctional traffic and bottlenecks impact the whole city and surrounding areas.  

The stop in mobility causes a city to stop functioning well, and just like the body, there are several symptoms that arise:

  • Cars on standby pollute the air and poison the environment.
  • Commands don’t work – in an emergency, an ambulance can’t make it in time because streets are congested and chaotic.
  • Energy goes to managing problems, not efforts that make the city prosper and grow.

Although dysfunctional traffic has immediate effects such as time waste, it also creates effects in the long run.

With poor management of traffic, the city slowly dies. Congestion slows down the flow of liveliness into city centers, and businesses slow down, people move away, and things just don’t work. When the (health) risks of a city are not attended to, the results are destructive in the long run.  

One major hazard is a bad parking system

It’s estimated that 30 % of city traffic consists of drivers going around looking for a vacant parking space. That’s a huge impact on the overall city traffic flow, and it ain’t good.

When car drivers are cruising for a parking spot, they:

  1. Block the way from the rest of the traffic, a cumulative effect on the whole network (pile-up effect)
  2. Cause a tremendous amount of emissions from starting and stopping constantly, and driving at a low speed
  3. Finally finding a spot, they hold on to it for as long as possible – preventing a natural change of cars and people reaching businesses
  4. With all the above, contribute to congestion and disrupt the overall mobility of a city – both short term and long term

The image below shows how parkings block the Helsinki city center (and this is a 500 000 resident city – so you can go ahead and imagine this 10 or 100-fold):

Heat map of Helsinki center shows traffic congestion
A heat map of central Helsinki shows traffic congestion

Just like in the bloodstream, it only takes one blockage to shut the whole system down. Parking is not the only thing causing congestion, but it’s one of those things that just needs to work, otherwise a city is facing major problems. The bigger the city, the bigger the problem. And the more pinning the need for a solution.

Cities should always aim for better mobility to stay alive and running

Just like the human body, a city is made up of countless components that together ensure the day-to-day life. If something as crucial as blood flow, or traffic flow, gets botched, the whole system stops working. Of course it’s not the whole big picture, but a significant factor in what makes cities function, pulse, breath and develop. Taking care of parking in an effective way eliminates one risk factor from the equation.

Cities need to always strive to make traffic better, smoother, easier and more flexible – that’s the way to keep cities healthy.

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Main photo byPeter Hershey from Unsplash/CC