Jerom Theunissen Photography


July 16-18

City in Context

Geneva is a city of 198,979 inhabitants, and is the capital of the Republic and Canton of Geneva. After Zurich, it is the second most populous city in Switzerland with a large public transport network that even crosses borders into France.

The city of Geneva demonstrates a modal split of 30 percent private vehicles, 16 percent public transport, 47 percent walking and 7 percent cycling. The city center is moving towards sustainable mobility practices, such as reducing ticket prices to combat pollution and testing quick charging electric buses. However, the city still sees an increase year-on-year of individual modes of transport, especially from beyond the city's borders.

Its strategic approach to transport management is currently defined as part of the Urban Master Plan. The city of Geneva has worked with private companies, international organizations and public administrations in the implementation of mobility plans, as well as with local associations and public administrations in the implementation of traffic measures. The main goals of the current plan are to reduce traffic in the city, develop cycling and walking infrastructure and to strengthen the respective networks. It also aims to contribute to an increase in the modal share of public transport and to introduce park-and-ride facilities to facilitate intermodality.

Facilitating Cross-Border Travel in Geneva

There is a saying in Geneva that goes, “it’s a miracle that the roads between France and the canton join up”. Straddling two French departments and the cantons of Vaud and Geneva, Greater Geneva sometimes gives the impression that it is flourishing regardless of its mobility situation as a region. Greater Geneva has almost a million inhabitants and is experiencing high levels of car traffic and a housing shortage (the vacancy rate for housing in the central Geneva is a mere 0.45%). 

In Geneva, growth in the tram network flourished in the early 2000s, but has slowed since. The reconstruction of lines to the towns of Annemasse and Saint-Julien is expected for 2021 and 2023. To make matters worse, Geneva Public Transport (TPG) has had its budget reduced by the State following a series of votes in favor of cheaper transport. The commercial speed of buses and trams were 16.5 km/h in 2016 below the legal limit set by Swiss law of at least 18 km/h on main lines. To overcome the problem of automobile traffic, the Geneva region is seeking to expand its public transport network to reach areas currently underserved by public transport. The region is proposing 13 cross-border lines, covering 66 kilometers of French territory.

One such extension is the CEVA rail connection. This 16 kilometer line should come into service in 2019, linking the town of Annemasse (F) with Cornavin railway station. In particular, it will service the Champel district, located near the Canton’s hospital, where a majority of the nursing staff are French. The CEVA will offer an alternative to cross-border commuters, more than 80% of whom travel to work by car. A new network will be put into operation when it is launched, which will boast new railway stations. 

Plan for the CEVA Route

Source: Railway Technology

Visit to the World Health Organization

The highlight of my trip to Geneva was to visit a friend and fellow Vanderbilt alumni Kaitlyn Friedman. Working within the WHO's Unintentional Injury Prevention Unit, much of her global health work focuses on road safety. We had a discussion about the global trends in road traffic injuries and its implications on health and development, which directly impact the livability of the world's cities.

Our conversation began with an astounding figure - 1.4 million people. This is the number of people that die each year on the world's roads, making road traffic injuries a leading cause of death globally. Most of these deaths are inlow and middle-income countries, which experience rapid population and economic growth but largely have the same infrastructure and policies in place. What's more, current development paradigms indicate that greater economic growth leads is accompanied by increased motorization rates and more road traffic injuries. 

The scale of this problem and the need for solutions has seen the United Nations General Assembly adopt a resolution in 2010 that led to the establishment of the Decade of Action for Road Safety (2011–2020). This resolution called on Member States to take the necessary steps to make their roads safer, and for WHO to monitor the situation through its Global status report on road safety series. The latest version of the report, published in 2015, can be found here

To study this issue, much of Kaitlyn's work as a global health specialist is to evaluate interventions. Best processes and practices are rigorously evaluated based on empirical evidence (or rather, the lack thereof). She pointed to the rating system that the WHO employs to assess possible interventions. The lowest ranking with the least possibility of recommendation is the untested category, then promising, and finally proven.  This evidence-based approach to assessing and recommending interventionsglobally offers huge potential tomitigate future damage and save lives.

Two areas of intervention we discussed involved changing road user behavior and safe design of infrastructure. Encompassing these interventions in a holistic “Safe Systems” approach, which treats Adopting and enforcing good laws is effective in changing of changing road user behavior on key risk factors for road traffic injuries including speed, drunk–driving, and the failure to use helmets, seat-belts and child restraints properly or at all. Kaityln mentioned some examples of countries that have changed their laws, and critically, enforced them to reduce injuries. Kaitlyn also highlighted the important role of safe infrastructure in reducing road traffic injuries.  She argued that real,sustained successes at reducing global road traffic deaths will only happen when road design takes into consideration the needs of all road users. Numerous countries like the US are using a complete streets approach to make walking and cycling safer. These interventions, Kaitlyn said, also add value in terms of knock-on effects to reduce carbon emissions and increase physical activity.

Parting Thoughts

My stay in Geneva was short, but sweet. Visiting the WHO gave a more literal meaning to understanding urban livability, and speaking with Kaitlyn on the subject highlighted some interventions that directly address road safety. It was also very insightful to see how the city deals with cross-border mobility, with all the logistical and political challenges it involves, and what the city is doing to overcome the influx of private vehicles in the city center. But to cap off the trip, Kaitlyn suggested w swim in the Rhone River on a beautiful afternoon. There is something special to the ability to swim in your city's river. I hope the cities I visit next will also have them!

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