Sobyanin’s horrific plan for Moscow

Does this look a city whose biggest problem is a lack of parking?

It’s been a few months since longtime Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov was fired, so I figured it would be a good time to check in on the city. In spite of Moscow’s infamous traffic and “perversely-sloped” population density gradient, the former mayor’s plan to build 100 km of new metro tracks and over 350 km of new railroad tracks was rejected just a few weeks before his ouster as too expensive.

So now that the new mayor, Segrey Sobyanin, has announced his plan to untangle Moscow’s Gordian knot of traffic, how does it measure up? Well, put quite simply, it’s probably the worst urban plan I’ve seen since Paul Rudolph’s plan for the Lower Manhattan Expressway.

Increasing the amount of parking by building large lots on the outskirts of town seems to be the most prominent proposal. Like the author of this Bloomberg article which claims that parking spaces in the city “meet 30 percent of needed capacity,” Muscovites don’t seem to recognize that all cars obviously already have places to park, and that increasing the amount of parking is only going to increase the ease of owning a car, and hence the amount of people who choose to do so. Russian urban planners seem to be stuck in the 1950s, too – here is the president of the national planners’ guild claiming that Moscow needs to more than double the surface area it dedicates to roads.

The plan also seems to operate under the assumption that public transportation is the problem – their promises to expand mass transit ring hollow when they’re also contemplating banning trolleybuses from the city center and banning the private fleets of jitneys, known as marshrutki, which provide higher quality and more expensive service than the city’s decrepit buses.

A kiosk slated for destruction in the name of "beautification" and alleviating traffic jams

Some of the elements of the plan seem just too ridiculous to be true. Are they really going to “[ban] most ground-level pedestrian crossings,” as the first Moscow Times article suggests? Or forbid all new commercial construction inside of Moscow’s Third Ring Road, which means essentially everywhere within five miles of the city center? (I can’t tell if the latter point is incorporated in the official plan, but it is apparently what Mayor Sobyanin himself wants.)

While we can at least hope that none of these “reforms” will come to pass, Sobyanin has begun to take action on at least one element of his plan: killing street life. He’s already shut down 15% of all street kiosks in the city, and plans to do away with the rest that remain in central Moscow.

Various Russian regimes have been at the forefront of stifling innovation for a century now, so none of this should come as a surprise. But still, I did hold out a little hope that Medvedev would at least bring some sanity to the slightly-less-political aspects of the Russian government and that Luzhkov’s departure might be a good thing for Moscow, but I guess I was wrong.