New Residential Areas Without Traffic Jams: Why Not Yet Possible

In Russia, about RUB 60 bn is spent every year on writing various documents intended to support the development of transport infrastructure and end-to-end mobility schemes. However, meager 10-20% of these projects are implemented. These figures were publicized by the Association of Transport Engineers in May 2021. The reasons for this bias lie in insufficient funding and poor skill levels of those who develop and implement these plans.

It may seem that planning is thus made pointless. However, a master plan envisages corridors accommodating future transport infrastructure, so that a road can be built to a residential area or inside an existing block. An exemplary case of mobility planning is Singapore, where they first build a railway or metro, and only then developers are granted permits to build residential houses, office centers and industrial sites. In addition, the transport infrastructure workload and passenger traffic intensity are calculated in advance.

In Russia, this approach is rarely practiced, though there have been some relatively successful attempts to do so. For example, the Ramenki district in south-western part of Moscow currently witnesses massive high-rise residential developments with concurrent construction of new road interchanges; also, the launch of the south-west section of the Greater Ring Metro Line is expected soon.

Residents of the Pavshinskaya Poyma district in Krasnogorsk on the outskirts of Moscow were held hostage in their new residences until a metro line and one of the Moscow Central Diameters were launched in that area. This dormitory area was initially built far from any metro station, so that residents could only rely on their personal transport, which inevitably led to huge traffic jams as people tried to leave the area and then return.

One way of avoiding a traffic collapse is to limit the number of parking spaces and minimize the use of personal cars.

Car-free development is a global trend in the development of densely populated areas, initially focused on public transport. This approach only works if it fully meets the mobility needs of residents.

One of the industry’s worst pain points is a very poor school of transport engineers. While design may be a area of strong skills in Russia, things are much worse planning-wise. There are hardly a dozen professional firms in the whole country. Most of the projects are carried out by unscrupulous and unqualified performers, as a “tick the box” exercise, simply to legitimize decisions already made by officials. A mathematical approach to planning is rarely used, planners follow the lead of the construction lobby, etc.

Another conflict is in finding a balance between drawing on the road infrastructure budget and investing in the development of public transport. The simplest solution is to tackle both ends in parallel. While this is more often than not how things go in Moscow, other cities lack the resources. Here again, the spotlight is on professional and responsible attitudes of transport planners who must provide their city with an optimal solution, rather than an ambitious and expensive one. For example, fine-tuning crossroads traffic signals may often do the trick, instead of widening the carriageway. Introduction of an adaptive or, even better, a self-adjusting system of traffic lights could relieve a city of most of its traffic congestions, as long as these are local, rather than systemic, issues.

Situation modeling is based on official statistics and opinion polls, data from geolocation systems and cellular operators. Then, a predictive model is built: where and how many residents will settle, where they will work, what roads will be needed, how to plan public transport routes.

The industry is split on whether the opinions of city dwellers should be taken into account. In the global planning community, there is even a saying, “Not in my backyard”, that reflects how the human factor might impact survey results. In practice, cooperation between planners and residents is most useful. In Moscow, there is a resource styled "Active Citizen", where new transport routes are often discussed.

Advocacy planning, while the term stems from the urban planning and architecture domain, has a place to fit in transport planning as well. For example, in a cycling infrastructure planning exercise in Murmansk, an interview with district residents shed light on the need for bicycle lanes in places that were totally counterintuitive for the planner.

The solution to the problem of traffic congestions in high-density areas lies in a rational approach, advance planning of transport corridors and development of public transport. High throughput transport types should be preferred. These are rail transport types, metro and high-speed tram. Unlike a bus, a tram may pull a train of several carriages, thus taking several times more passengers on board. While construction of tram lines requires more investment than setting up of bus routes, this investment will pay off through increased passenger traffic and longer service lives. Besides, unmanned trams of the future look much more realistic than buses.