Tbilisi unveils its first shared and pedestrian-friendly avenue
Chavchavadze Avenue is a busy road in Vake, a district of Tbilisi which boasts the most private cars per capita. It is also a major a black spot for road casualties with speeding offences and dangerous overtaking commonly reported by the police.
Until recently, there were few pedestrian crossings and several 40-year old underground subways which are derelict, unsafe, and inaccessible to anyone with reduced mobility. Pedestrians and disabled people were forced to dash across the road between fast moving traffic. The road user hierarchy prioritised car traffic. Parking on pavements and in pedestrian areas was standard, blocking access to buildings and businesses, and making these areas unsafe and unpleasant for anyone traveling outside of a vehicle.
Last week, however, this was turned on its head. Chavchavadze Avenue was unveiled as Tbilisi’s first shared and pedestrian friendly avenue. Safe and accessible spaces for pedestrians and cyclists are now the priority along with better public transport. The transformation has been remarkable. The speed limit has been reduced from 60km/h to 40km/h. Traffic lights and signalised pedestrian crossings have been installed with dropped curbs and audio-signalling to enable accessibility for people with disabilities and the elderly. New road signs have been installed along the road to warn drivers, and parking on pedestrian routes has been banned. To encourage public transport use, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines have also been introduced following the best international standards.
The transformation has been based on the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide. Translated and endorsed by EASST partner, Partnership for Road Safety, who also delivered training to city officials, the NACTO toolbox has been actively used by the Transport Development Agency of Tbilisi in redesigning its streets for the last couple of years, including the development of safe school zones across the city.
Partnership for Road Safety have played an active role the transformation, working closely with the media, local communities, and other key stakeholders to promote the benefits of pedestrian friendly and shared streets.
The scheme has undoubtedly faced some opposition from car drivers. Adapting will take some time, and it is hoped many will eventually switch to alternative means of transport. As with previous reforms, such as the introduction of seat belts or the formation of the patrol police, despite initial opposition, the greater public benefit was understood and people became more supportive of the changes.
Indeed, cities that prioritise non-motorised road users and public transport and ensure different types of transport are well integrated with each other are healthier, more dynamic, and more resilient places to live and work. For example, in New York City, when Mayor Mike Bloomberg blocked one of the city’s main streets for cars, the level of retail trade increased significantly, and cafes and businesses boomed. For local residents, the transformation of Chavchavadze Avenue has resulted in a quieter, safer street where children can walk and play, and where people can meet and gather socially.
This is the goal of Tbilisi’s new transport policy which envisages renewed public transport, and more green public spaces connected to each other by footpaths and bicycle lanes. Chavchavadze Avenue is the first, but other roads across the city have been marked out for similar transformations.