Urban mobility: Chisinau adopts practices applied in Poland and UK

In Chisinau, like in many other Moldovan cities, the number of cars on the streets is constantly rising, making vehicle traffic increasingly difficult. As of August 1, there were 734,000 officially registered cars in Moldova, with the number increasing at a rate of 2,100 per month. The rate is lower than a year ago, but this is still a lot when we think about how many development projects are now in progress, competing for urban space with the cars. Fortunately, however, as of late Chisinau has started adopting European practices for urban mobility. There is also a Street Design Guide to help fix the matters.

The Street Design Guide

“The Guide, approved by the Chisinau Municipal Council, is the result of identifying a series of urban mobility issues that existed at that time (2019-2020). One of the problems is the partially degraded pedestrian infrastructure. Broadly speaking, in the post-Soviet period we’ve seen very little intervention in this department, if at all. The second problem is excessive traffic. The number of vehicles is constantly increasing. Statistics show that from 2017 till present, vehicle traffic in our country has increased eight times, including in Chisinau. This has led to an increase in traffic congestions and delays for both public and private transport. The third urban mobility problem is outdated infrastructure. Over the past three years, the Chisinau City Hall has been trying to solve these problems, and the first step was the Street Design Guide, which proposes the standardization of road infrastructure parameters”, says Dumitru Ceban, deputy head of the Public Transport Directorate.

The Guide helps in the planning of pedestrian and road infrastructure interventions and is expected to facilitate conditions for alternative transport solutions as well. One goal is to rationally delimit the space between private motor vehicles and non-motorized modes of transport. The recommended minimum width of sidewalks is 1.5-2 meters.

The City Hall is also working to modernize traffic lighting. Modern controllers are being installed, enabling the municipality to control and smooth vehicle traffic remotely. “We also intend to launch a project to set up a traffic monitoring center, where we will be able to further streamline traffic. There is a pressing need to streamline traffic in the Center and on the main thoroughfares in other sectors of the city. Traffic is concentrated in the Center during the day and disperses in the evening to the other sectors. Depending on the time of day, there is a need to streamline traffic in different directions. The problem exists in all sectors. Within the limits of the allocated funds, conventional traffic lights are being replaced with energy saving LED systems. As part of the road infrastructure modernization project, we are also modernizing pedestrian traffic lights as well as their poles”, says Dumitru Ceban.

Millions of euros are needed to create the traffic monitoring center. “Essentially, it will be a command center that will connect with the main traffic signals across the city, on the main arteries, with devices that read information from different segments of the road and convey it to the command center so that traffic can be streamlined and congestions can be reduced”, explained Dumitru Ceban.

Corridors of dedicated lanes

To reduce travel times for buses and trolleybuses from one city sector to another, the municipality uses corridors of dedicated lanes. These are road segments on which one traffic lane is designated to be exclusively used by public transport and emergency vehicles. One such corridor runs on Pan Hallippa Street, via Vasile Alecsandri Street, to Alexei Mateevici Street. In 2020-2021, these corridors were extended to the streets Pușkin, Bănulescu Bodoni and Grigore Vieru. This year, a Buicani-Botanica corridor has been introduced, running from Alba Iulia street – to Ion Creangă Street - to Ștefan cel Mare Boulevard – to Ciuflea Street - Viaduct - to Dacia Boulevard.

“On Dacia boulevard, which gets frequent traffic congestions, we will monitor the situation and expand these corridors depending on the critical traffic jam points”, says Dumitru Ceban.

By the end of 2022, the intention is to create dedicated corridors that will connect the Telecentru neighborhood to Ciocana sector. The streets Gheorghe Asachi, Alexandr Pushkin, Bănulescu Bodoni and Grigore Vieru will be included. The dedicated lanes will continue on Renașterii Boulevard, via the streets Bogdan Voievod and Alecu Russo, to Mircea cel Bătrân Boulevard. Segments on Calea Ieșilor Street will also be considered, to give priority to public transport at some intersections, with a potential expansion to merge the corridors together. The municipality is also considering implementing dedicated lanes near the Railway Station as well.

“Chisinau’s public transport, which is currently being modernized, must run without impediments, in a fast and comfortable manner, in line with the established timetables, so that people don’t waste precious time waiting at stops”, says Mayor Ion Ceban.

“We are investing a lot in the modernization of municipal bus and trolleybus fleets so that people can enjoy high-standard public transport”, declared the mayor in connection with the launch of a new dedicated lane.

Fleet renewal

In 2018, the municipality bought 31 buses, and 158 more in 2021. As a result, all the old buses were replaced with new ones. This year, it is planned to buy 50 buses, including 30 of medium capacity with up to 70 seats. “Generally, the number of trolleybuses and buses in circulation on the city’s streets has slightly increased. Last year, there were 90 buses on the urban routes, and today we have more than 120 buses”, says Lilian Copaci, department head at the Public Transport Directorate.  

Investments in the Urban Bus Company and the Electric Transport Company are made to provide safe and comfortable transport services. The privately operated rutieras, or minibuses, always full beyond capacity and notorious for creating accident hazards, are no longer part of urban mobility vision towards which Chisinau is striving. But while the minibuses have a lot of downsides, we cannot do without them completely. The number of minibuses in circulation has significantly decreased, but they will not permanently disappear from our city landscape, as there are neighborhoods with narrow streets that are impenetrable for larger vehicles. “This includes the Schinoasa neighborhood, Drumul Viilor Street, or the suburban residential areas in general, where the roads are typically narrow and see low passenger traffic”, exemplified Lilian Copaci.

MOVE IT like Lublin

“MOVE IT like Lublin” is an initiative for the sustainable development of Chisinau’s public transport, financed by the European Union and implemented under a partnership with the administration of the Polish city of Lublin. A sustainable urban mobility plan for Chisinau is one of the expected outcomes of this project. It will be developed within two years and will represent a strategic document with clear objectives.

“The project, to be completed by 2025, will provide support to transform the city’s public transport services into a more inclusive, safer, more resilient and sustainable transport system. The project aims to improve urban transport policies at the municipal level, increase the City Hall’s institutional capacities in accordance with European Union practices for urban mobility, and enhance the quality of public transport management through sustainable innovative solutions and technologies. Additionally, a modern Traffic Monitoring Center will be established and a Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan for Chisinau will be developed. Also, the project will digitize operations, such as electronic tickets and web applications for public transport, reflecting the best practices from European Union cities, including Lublin”, says Alina Procopciuc, senior specialist at the Chisinau City Hall.

The project has a total budget of €3,500,000, including €3,325,000 granted by the European Union and €175,000 contributed by the Chisinau City Hall.

Speed is key. Appropriate speed, that is

Ilie Bricicaru, director of the Technical University’s Road Safety Observatory, says that many Moldovan drivers inherited a Soviet mentality where the automobile represented all mobility, with everything revolving around motorists.

“It’s just that in the world this topic is much broader, because, in addition to cars, there are other road users, too: pedestrians, cyclists, mothers with children in strollers, or people with special needs. So, all these users must be treated equally when it comes to traffic. And if we talk about urban mobility, there are two sides to the problem: mobility and access. Not every street in a city has the same traffic needs. For example, Dacia Boulevard has a certain function, a certain need regarding traffic, and a street in the historical area of Chisinau has another need. So, these streets must be treated accordingly. And the first important factor is the speed at which vehicles travel: if a street gets a lot of pedestrians or, as we call them, vulnerable users, then the speed of vehicles must be low, so that the speed of those walking on foot approaches the speed of motorized vehilces”, says Bricicaru.

Promoting alternative transport is welcome, but solutions must also be considered here. Electric bicycles and scooters, if ridden recklessly and at high speeds, can be dangerous for pedestrians and other road users.

“There are scooters that are capable of speeds of up to 50 km/h, and at these speeds it is dangerous to let them on sidewalks, because a pedestrian can be only move at 10 km/h, tops, if we’re talking about young people, while children and the elderly move slower. All these mobility needs must be prioritized very well. Sadly, in Chisinau, but also in many other Moldovan towns and cities, we have not yet reached such a stage. In fact, we don’t have any city that does very well in terms of urban mobility. As far as I know, Edineț is the first city that is close to an urban mobility plan, but other cities, unfortunately, haven’t even started. As for the capital, the City Hall recently presented the project team that will develop the Urban Mobility Plan. We hope that in two years, which is the deadline this team has at its disposal, we too will have such a plan.? Mobility, essentially, is about the safety of moving around the city. And what is an urban mobility plan then? First of all, it shows the travel routes for different types of users, the development of the general scheme for transport: for cyclists separately, for pedestrian areas separately, and0 for the street hierarchy, from the point of view of vehicles, separately”, says Bricicaru.

In developing a Urban Mobility Plan, it should be taken into account that different streets have different types of needs. “On Dacia Boulevard, for example, it’s technically impossible, to place cyclists in traffic alongside motorized vehicles, they must be separated, because vehicle traffic speeds are high there. But if we take central Chisinau, Mihai Eminescu Street, for instance, I think cyclists could very easily fit into the same traffic, on the same lane as the public transport, because vehicle traffic speeds are lower here. Where there is heavy traffic, a cyclist can easily fit, and if the speed limit can be reduced to 30 km/h too, then the cyclists or scooter riders definitely don’t belong on sidewalks. All the cities that apply at least a modicum of mobility and access rules have 30 km/h zones, where anyone from a cyclist, to a scooter ride, to a motorist can fit in harmoniously”, said Ilie Bricicaru.

An urban mobility plan should also take into account that there are at least four types of cyclists. “Pros, who behave on the streets just like motorists: they know the traffic rules very well. Then we have children who ride bicycles, but in a different way. We also have people who use the bicycle to commute. And finally, there are people who ride a bicycle for leisure. All these bicycle users behave differently in the street. So, traffic conditions for them must be specific. Long-distance routes should be developed for pros. There should also be a well-established network of routes intended for cyclists who commute and who bike for active rest. One good example would be from one park to another, for instance from Ștefan cel Mare Garden to Valea Morilor Park. Usually cyclists are quite predictable, but research is needed. So if we do not know the facts, we risk make decisions that will later prove to be unprofitable”, added Bricicaru.

Chisinau could borrow the experience of several European cities on how to manage scooters so as to prevent accidents, says the expert. For example, in London or Lublin scooters are not allowed on public roads. In Poland, scooters are allowed only on sidewalks. In the UK, there are additional requirements. To ride on some streets of the city, the rider needs to get some sort of a license after passing a test. Basically, the movement of scooterists is restricted to avoid traffic accidents.

Daniela Morari, IPN

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