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What is a ‘fair’ distribution of road space?

Questions related to the fair distribution of public space and amenities are central in just transition discussions. We came a cross this inspiring article by urban mobility researcher Samuel Nello-Deakin, which foregrounds some very interesting elements.


In recent years, several people have measured how street space is allocated among various transportation modes, mainly to emphasize the perceived unfairness in the current distribution patterns (e.g. the very famous Arrogance Of Space concept by @Copenhagenise). The paper illustrates these approaches and, while acknowledging their potential and intuitive appeal, it highlights their limits:

  1. "Pleas for a fair distribution of road space do not always advance a progressive transport agenda"

  2. "Different transport modes have fundamentally different characteristics"

  3. "Dividing road space between transport modes ignores the role of streets as shared public spaces"


Rather than (or in addition to) focusing on space distribution, the author makes a very interesting proposition: what about focusing on traffic speed as a complementary measure of urban transport fairness? Going from the highway, all the way to a pedestrian street: the reduction of the speed limits increases equity by allowing slower modes and mobilities to enter the scene, and safely coexist.


Two elements probably deserve further reflection and articulation

  • What about street functions  that are not related to mobility, such as greening, permanence, landscape? What is fair amount of street space that should 'NOT' be dedicated to mobility functions alone? what justice-based considerations can we make in this respect?

  • is it really appropriate to use the justice framework to distinguish between modes? this framework is typically used to evaluate the distribution of all sorts of  "things" between social groups. Using it to speak of pedestrians, cyclists, car-drivers and so on, risks to flatten identities against a single transport  mode, and to hide more problematic disparities (e.g. those based on socio-economic status, gender, age, abilities...).


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