We all face dangerous situations from time to time. Cyclists will occasionally come across structural traffic creations that actually offer (guide, one might say) pathways into danger. Here is an example:
But it does not have to be.
I find urban planning fascinating, particularly when it comes to traffic, congestion, and bicycles. I recently came across two videos from the Netherlands that look at different aspects/results of urban planning. The first shows us how a busy intersection incorporates the needs of cyclists and legally allows right turns without stopping for cyclists at red lights. The second looks at the transformation of a city when it is turned over to pedestrians and cyclists rather to automobiles.
Years ago the city of Eugene, Oregon closed off several downtown streets and made a kind of walking mall. At the time the goal was to revitalize a dying downtown. Many downtowns were dying as the suburbanization of America bloomed. “Create a European style environment,” some said and it will attract more people. It did not work. I give two reasons:
- They blocked off streets and filled them in with brick but they did not change the overall configuration of the space which was originally created around the needs of cars and trucks and still had that feeling. Thus walkers felt somewhat undersized in the space. It was obvious that the space was made so that cars and trucks could get within twenty feet of any store front. It was obvious that the new mall design was only a temporary experiment. This is the kind of “solution” one gets when the goal is to see how to improve business through schemes rather than make structural changes that are first about people.
- No bike riding was allowed on the mall. If they had encouraged cyclists, added bike lanes, added more bike parking (made it covered as well), and created better bike paths/lanes to and from the mall, it might have worked. In short they only went so far and not far enough in their commitment, and it showed. For all the so-called bike friendliness of Eugene there is still a strong undercurrent of fear; fear that cyclists will hurt pedestrians, fear that cyclists will interfere with motorists, fear that cycling is really just another form of anarchy.
Then a few years ago the city reopened the streets to cars and trucks, again to revitalize a still dying downtown. It didn’t work. Now, in another scheme to help businesses, they are offering free parking to motorists. I predict it also will not work. Plus it is going in the wrong direction that the city needs to go. They should be encouraging more cyclists and pedestrians, not more cars. Eugene is a rather bike friendly city compared with much of the U.S., but it is far from where it could be.
As a bonus, and just a freely delivered as the previous three videos, here is a look at bike parking infrastructure in the same magical bikeland as the two previous videos:
Of course, to create a similar magical bikeland here requires the desires of a lot more people to want to ride their bikes year round to work, school, and play. Building infrastructure is also necessary, but I would not want to see miles of empty bike racks paid for with my taxes. It takes more than bike racks and bike lanes. It takes better laws, more intelligent policing, and structural designs that make it easier to get around by bike than by car. Fortunately, and a sign of a better-than-average social sensibility, the City of Eugene is better than most cities in the U.S. for bicycle friendliness, ranked #5 from Bicycling Magazine. But it is still a ways from Copenhagen.