In Poznan - street revolutions! However, the city is taking two paths in creating space "between buildings." On the one hand, it is quickly catching up and giving civilized shape to existing streets. On the other - it sometimes conducts renovations and investments kept in the old spirit.
This year's pandemic has changed city centers in many parts of the world. In order to make it possible to maintain social distance and movement on the streets, metropolises gave back part of the roadway to pedestrians, created temporary pedestrian areas, widened or painted new bicycle lanes, and calmed traffic, the volume of which was falling anyway. Some of the changes will remain permanent, while others are likely to be reversible.
Facilities for pedestrians and cyclists
A similar thing has happened in Poznań, albeit on a smaller scale. But even so, the effects are very favorable, although this is not just the result of a pandemic. A coincidence helped. Already late last year, Mariusz Wisniewski, one of the city's deputy mayors, more decisively announced the introduction of long-postponed amenities for pedestrians and cyclists, as well as - just as importantly - for public transportation. The pandemic circumstances, meanwhile, allowed the changes to set an even faster pace and shut the mouths of some residents resistant to the necessary changes in the center.
Earlier, yes, Mayor Jacek Jaskowiak had briefly enthused about a pedestrian and bicycle Copenhagen, but neither he nor the official directors, as well as councilors, were in a hurry to make Poznań more strongly resemble the Danish capital. Even if they did introduce favorable changes, it was in a rather abject, temporary and incomplete form, as in the case of 27 Grudnia Street and Marcinkowski Avenue , and - above all - in piecemeal fashion. There have also been major investments like the sensible (though not error-free) reconstruction of part of Swiety Marcin Street as part of the downtown renewal program, but all of these measures have failed to create a reasonably coherent system.
This year has been different. The main symbol of change is certainly Garbary Street. This long, historic thoroughfare connecting the eastern part of the strict Old City with the Citadel had for years been an urban and traffic sub-standard. Perpetually jammed, with sidewalks clogged by cars, without a trace of greenery, noisy and reeking of exhaust fumes. City buses were catching multi-minute delays here, and even so, three years ago councilors managed to block the introduction of a bus lane along the entire length of the street.
Simple and cheap changes on Garbary street have civilized the space of this street.
photo: Jakub Głaz
This year, a busway (allowing bicycles and cabs) was finally created, the sidewalks ceased to be a parking lot, bicycle racks, benches and tree pots were put in place, and the roadway was repaved. Some traffic lights were also turned off. Seemingly not much, but the street caught its breath - literally and figuratively. New cultural and - despite the pandemonium - gastronomic initiatives have sprung up here. With a relatively small outlay, it was possible to improve the functionality and aesthetics of the Old Town section, and to make public transportation and bicycling more efficient on the entire street. Community activists and neighborhood councilors had been pushing for this for a long time.
A smaller, but equally revolutionary change has taken place on Glogowska Street. Once a representative commercial thoroughfare next to the fair, and for several decades now - a pathetic traffic sewer cutting the Lazarus district in half. In addition: the scene of frequent fatal accidents involving pedestrians killed by speeding drivers. After more than eight years of efforts by community activists, the city decided on the central section to narrow the roadway to one lane each way and create bicycle lanes. There is still a lot missing to transform Glogowska into a decent street (there are even kishkes and non-normative streetcar stops waiting for urgent widening), but the first very important step has already been taken.
This year we also succeeded in making the first woonerf in Poznań. It became a section of Kwiatowa Street next to Półwiejska Street - one of Poznań's two (still only two!) pedestrian areas. This space has long cried out to be freed from parked cars and planted with trees. As of this autumn, even stone pavement lies here, trees are growing, there is low greenery. Finally, there is no shortage of space for gardens for the bars operating here.
Poznan's first woonerfin Kwiatowa Street. Until this spring, it was primarily a treeless parking lot.
Photo: Jakub Głaz
The abrupt change in the functionality of the space, however, came primarily through a number of smaller interventions as part of the so-called " mobility package" that the city adopted in the wake of the epidemic. Here the symbol is certainly the short section of the bicycle lane on Kosciuszko Street near the Old Brewery. For 17 (!) years, cyclists and pedestrians have been waiting for the elimination of the bicycle bottleneck, where signs ordered them to dismount their bicycles and run them a few dozen meters on the sidewalk, when next to them, in two lanes, cars were speeding, greatly exceeding the speed limit.
There are many more such heavily delayed but finally accomplished interventions. Missing sections of bicycle contraflow have finally been introduced on Kosciuszko, Taylor, Jezycka and Poznanska streets, among others, making it much easier to ride a bicycle through the wider downtown area. By the way, parking has been cleaned up, speed limits have been reduced, lanes have been narrowed, and pedestrian crossings have been added. Important bicycle paths have also been completed, either serving the entire district (for example, along Dolna Wilda Street) or connecting and crossing busy intersections. Finally, a residential zone has been introduced throughout the strict Old Town area. It's strange that it's only now, but let's hope it's a step toward converting some of the Old Town streets into pedestrian areas or woonerfs. Who knows how long we would have waited for sensible solutions if not for the epidemic.
At the intersection of Kosciuszko, Taczak and Taylor, asphalt still reigns.
photo: Jakub Głaz
Very importantly, each of these changes of a communicative nature benefits the street space. There is room for new trees and low greenery on the deconstructed sections. From wide sidewalks, the perception of architecture and the city in general is also different. Even the new trees in pots, although not a valid solution in principle, have had a beneficial effect on the atmosphere of the old city streets. We should also mention the new bus shelters being erected throughout the city. They are not only aesthetically pleasing, but also functional - with comfortable benches, illuminated inside, with clear and also illuminated timetables. Especially in more peripheral locations, they are becoming a kind of "ambassador of urbanity" a friendly point in space, the quality of which encourages the use of equally well-kept buses or streetcars.
New, discreet, comfortable and well-lit bus stops furnish the entire city. A bus stop on the Bernardine Square.
Photo: Jakub Głaz
Such bus shelters will soon stand along the streetcar route to Naramowice, which is finally under construction and has been awaited for years, the Rataje traffic circle, which is being rebuilt, or the modernized Wierzbięcice Street in Wilda. In the case of these major investments, however, one can feel a great insufficiency. The tramway to Naramowice is badly needed, but a scaled-down wide car route taken out alive from the Gierek era is being built along the tracks for a long stretch. The Rataje traffic circle, where it was once heralded that some car traffic would be introduced underground, will essentially be the same banal spatial breach as before the renovation. Both investments also mean hundreds of trees cut down, which will be replaced with plantings, but... in other places. Along the tramway and at the traffic circle, there won't be many of them. The chance to plant regular rows of trees along the relatively wide Wierzbięcice Street, which would have greatly improved the quality of the space, was also missed. Finally, although it would seem that those days are behind us, the residents of the Rataje district have to fight the cutting down of numerous trees supposedly necessary to rebuild the ruined viaduct over the so-called Katowice route.
Thanks to visualizations it is known what the "highway" section of the route to Naramowice will look like.
photo: Jakub Głaz
Looking at these two different approaches to shaping space, one has the impression that the city is managed by two competing magistrates. The truth, however, is more trivial: where road engineers have the leading voice, and the voice of architects and community workers is barely heard, there is still a cult of blunt pouring of concrete and a tendency not to hinder themselves with such faddishness as greenery or aesthetics. This is where the pandemic won't help anymore. For a change in thinking to take place here as well, apparently some new disaster is needed.