Coping with traffic congestion

The Prague Post

ECM’s CITY project offers a case study in how to plan for more cars

Traffic in Prague: The thought alone can cause a nervous tic in drivers. Narrow streets and too many people driving too fast make the simple act of getting from point A to point B a seemingly impossible task.

And traffic is growing. As new offices, residential buildings and shopping centers go up, they attract more people and hence, more traffic.

To learn how developers are dealing with the problem, The Prague Post talked with ECM Project Manager Ivan Tomásek and architect Petr Preininger from Atelier Duk, who are currently wrestling with a particularly knotty traffic problem at ECM’s new CITY project site in the Pankrác area of Prague 4.

The area is already a traffic snarl. “The fact that it is connected to 5. Kvetna, which is almost all the time heavily loaded with cars in both directions, makes this area difficult for traffic,” says Preininger, who designed the new traffic plan. “Secondly, the use of junctions and one-way streets basically makes it impossible to make simple movements within the area.”

“The large amount of traffic can be treated in two basic ways,” says Tomásek, who is in charge of managing traffic issues for ECM. “We can either make local alterations and improvements to existing roads, such as widening the road or adjusting the traffic lights, or redesign the traffic infrastructure on a major scale. On the Pankrác traffic project, we are doing a mixture of both.”

Complicated permits

By law, all new developments in Prague must include traffic plans. “Any new building cannot be occupied until traffic measures are [implemented],”” says Tomášek. “It is the developer’s responsibility to make the roads acceptable, and pay the costs.” In order to receive approval and the needed permits, developers must show that their plan is designed to meet current, as well as future, traffic needs. “We have to convince them it is the best way to regulate the traffic flow,” says Tomášek. “We use mathematical calculations and show them technical drawings to prove our case.”

Jan Heroudek, director of the Prague City Hall Transportation Section, notes that a variety of offices must grant approval for road construction projects: “Prague City Hall, the Prague district in which the construction will take place, and maybe the Transportation Ministry must grant their approval, as well as a variety of other concerned bodies of state administration, including the environmental protection section, the road administration office, the Prague Hygiene Station, the fire department and the state police,” he says. For some departments, like environmental protection, approval may be needed from both the main Prague office and the District City Hall division.

“The planning and permit process can take years,” notes Tomášek. While that can be painful and costly for developers, Heroudek says there are reasons the process is so complex.

“In Prague we have to bear in mind public interest and coordinate construction each year to prevent the accumulation of traffic and its general negative impact in the city,” he says. “That means every new construction project has to be included in the [overall] traffic coordination plan.”

After approval from the various authorities has been given, the developer must apply for a zoning permit. “Everyone affected by the traffic changes can comment and object during this process,” says Tomášek. “Landowners, community and environmental groups usually have something to say about the project.” Sometimes it’s not specifically the traffic changes that cause the most complaints. “Some people don’t want the new development in the area at all,” he adds.

Heroudek agrees. “There has been an appeal filed against the [CITY] plan by some nongovernmental organizations,” he says. “They are not against the proposed road construction solution as such, but are against further construction at Pankrác in general, and for this purpose they make use of issues like the planned road construction.” Heroudek says the final decision is up to the Regional Development Ministry, but state and local administration have no objections to the project. “The project will contribute to a more optimal traffic situation, and that means it’s beneficial,” he says.

Once the zoning permit has been granted, construction permits are applied for. “We will have about 20 building permits for this project,” says Tomášek. “You need different permits for each project, like putting in curbs or altering traffic lights.”

The construction phase can then begin. In the case of Pankrác, ECM officials anticipate it will commence in spring 2006. “We are working on the most-needed areas first, to accommodate current traffic,” says Tomášek, “and as the project continues and more development begins, to accommodate construction traffic as well.”

Detailed solutions

The first thing traffic planners like Tomášek and Preininger do when confronted with a new project is to assess the current traffic flow and future projections. They face two basic issues: traffic load and noise. “We have to supply an environmental impact assessment for approval,” says Preininger. “It describes and evaluates any risks or negative aspects of the changes, like air or noise pollution.”

Noise is an issue that mainly affects nearby residents. “We did a noise assessment study [at Pankrác], and based on those results have already installed soundproof windows in a block of flats, about 200 apartments,” says Tomášek. “Based on future noise assessments, we anticipate replacing more windows in flats facing the affected streets.”

A noise assessment is not a legal requirement, but smart developers do it anyway. “If the new development is close to residential buildings, then the development company usually has the noise assessed and takes appropriate measures based on the results,” says Tomášek.

Traffic load studies are done in phases. “In the first phase of the study, we calculate the likely capacity the project will need,” says Preininger. “In the second phase, we propose this expected traffic capacity to the Institute for Traffic Engineering, and they calculate the traffic load from an overall city perspective. Based on this calculation, we design roundabouts and traffic junctions.”

Those solutions are fine-tuned for each point on the planning grid. “We do a detailed study of each of the particular road crossings to make a proper design of curbs, traffic lanes, the length of the turning lanes, position of the pedestrian crossing and timing of the traffic lights in order to ensure smooth traffic flow through the road or crossing,” says Tomášek.

So what exactly will be happening in the Pankrác area? “It is similar to the roads that were changed in the shopping areas around Zlicín and Chodov,” says Preininger. “At both locations, new bypasses were built to increase capacity, new traffic lights installed and roundabouts built.”

At the CITY site, says Tomášek, “We will be making many alterations, including widening streets, adding turn lanes, expanding existing intersections, building roundabouts and adding a bypass from the freeway.”

Some of the changes are designed to correct existing problems. “Right now, many cars are routed into residential areas and out of their way to get to businesses, shops and the highway. But instead of doing all that, many drivers make illegal turns,” says Preininger. He hopes the proposed changes will alleviate that. “We have designed a bypass of the 5. Kvetna road and the lanes will be narrowed, which will lead to a reduction in speed and thus in noise and emissions. Two junctions in the area will get traffic lights, and another two will have their lanes widened. There will be new roundabouts made at two existing junctions, which will increase the safety of these spots.”

So far, Preininger is satisfied with the plan. “The final solution is optimal and fulfills all safety and other requirements,” he says.