Dear Mr Mayor,
I am but a mere visitor to Odessa. It´s my third time here; a week in the summer of 2011, three weeks in December 2012 and January 2013 and almost six weeks this time around. I think it´s fair to say I know your city better than most people who doesn´t live here or originate from here. And I do like it – a lot. I have friends here. I have made friends here. And I could easily see myself living here one day.
The Ukraine of today is facing challenges and problems on many levels. For decision makers, it´ll always be a matter of deciding in which order to take these on. The problem that´s on my agenda is not one of the most serious ones facing neither the country nor the city. Far from it, in fact. But what does bother me about it is that it is an absolutely unnecessary problem, and it could be solved with a bit of firm decision-making but without spending much money. If implemented, I believe it would make Odessa a much more attractive city in the eyes of the visitors. The problem? The mental traffic situation.
I have traveled through megalopolis cities like Mexico City, Teheran and Rio de Janeiro. Traffic there is best described as mayhem. But as a visitor and pedestrian, I felt safer there than in the much, much smaller town of Odessa. I don´t remember having so little faith in drivers seeing me and respecting me in any of those cities, as I´ve experienced on every single visit in Odessa. This is due to the absolute lack of respect from drivers, on the sheer size and speed of many cars and on the way the sidewalks are used. My image of the traffic situation here is as follows.
I see broad and beautiful sidewalks being used as parking lots, making it difficult (sometimes almost impossible) to walk there. To start with, the sidewalks here are not always easy to walk on. They are not evenly paved and they are at times poorly maintained. Then, you add a lot of parked cars to that. On several occasions this have forced me to walk in the street instead of walking on the sidewalk! The concept of a sidewalk is to keep pedestrians and cars apart, not pushing pedestrians out among the cars. I assume that this concept also applies to Odessa. I consider myself a healthy middle-aged man. If I experience problems, what do you think the elderly or parents out walking with their children are experiencing?
I see cars that, while waiting for their turn to get the green light, pull up so far that although I have a green light I´m facing a wall of cars standing where I am suppose to cross the street! As a result, pedestrians (again) get pushed towards the traffic that’s moving.
I see cars driving 80 km/h or faster in the inner city area. A big part of the cars here, bigger than I have yet to see somewhere else, are SUV´s. In short: they are big. Two things when I see a hoard of big cars speeding down “my” street (Pushkinska): it´s dangerous and it´s unnecessary. It´s unnecessary because they don´t have to drive that fast. They just like it. And they are allowed to do it. It´s dangerous because while the drivers have their cars as protection, pedestrians have nothing. A pedestrian that gets hit by one of those cars will simply just die if something happens. The car might get scratched. You have to ask yourself if you want to protect the people or the cars.
All this tells me two things about Odessa. First, it is sign of weak (or absent) city government. Second, cars are considered more important than people. From my perspective, three things need to be done. The first step is banning all parking on sidewalks. Then, you put in a number of speed bumps (a few already exist) on every inner city street. Finally, you paint white stop lines for the cars and zebras (crossings) for the pedestrians. This would create a situation where cars won´t be able to do more than 40 km/h, where the cars would actually be on the streets (and not on the sidewalks) the whole time and create a more safe environment for everyone on the streets of Odessa. And then, if you truly are interested in turning downtown into a tourist friendly, no to a people friendly, area you turn Hretska, Deribasivska and Lanzheronivska into walking streets. All of them, all the way from start to end. There would be room for more activities, more restaurants and a much nicer environment downtown.
I have actually read the Odessa Economic and Social Development strategy 2022, a document you claim “determines the principal goal of the economic and social development: to transform Odessa to a city where one would like to live in” (http://omr.gov.ua/en/essential/60054/). Now, you talk about modernizing on many levels in your city. Traffic is sadly not one of them. It should be. It has to be. Without modernizing the traffic situation, your work in creating tourist clusters and attracting those groups you are talking about will never be taken seriously.
But no matter what you decide to do, it´s all about one fundamental question: Do you want to be mayor over a city that prioritizes its inhabitants over its cars or the cars over its inhabitants?
All the best, Tommy Nilsson