Sharing the Road
"The road is just a piece of real estate. The least efficient way to use it is to give it over entirely to cars.”
This quote really stuck with me when I was listening to CBC Vancouver’s Early Edition this morning. It was voiced by Rob Adams, the Director of City Design for Melbourne, Australia - the world’s most livable city according to the Economist (yeah, Vancouver got bumped to number 3 this year). Melbourne has spent the last 25 years transforming from a car-oriented office core to a dynamic mixed-use community with a vibrant public realm, and Adams has won multiple awards as the leader of this revitalization.
For example, Adams helped turn Swanston Street from one of Melbourne’s major car thoroughfares to completely car free.
Swanston Street, Melbourne
Why don’t most cities think of the road as “just a piece of real estate” that we all must share? Why do we automatically assume that the rights of personal vehicle users trump cyclists, pedestrians, buses, street cars, etc.?
In Canadian cities like Toronto and Vancouver the simple act of adding a bike lane to a downtown street is suddenly (and sadly in my opinion) becoming an issue in upcoming municipal elections.
One of Vancouver’s controversial bike lanes (Dunsmuir Street). Photo credit: Paul Krueger
Having recently returned from a trip to Spain, France and Switzerland - where many roads are given over entirely to pedestrians or shared with street cars and cyclists - I find it hard to understand why many North American cities can’t share the urban road network and instead chose to give it up carte blanche to the personal automobile.
Thankfully, the idea of Complete Streets has been gaining popularity as a movement to create and redesign streets for all. According to the Complete Streets Coalition:
"Complete Streets are streets for everyone. They are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users. Pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and public transportation users of all ages and abilities are able to safely move along and across a complete street. Complete Streets make it easy to cross the street, walk to shops, and bicycle to work. They allow buses to run on time and make it safe for people to walk to and from train stations."
Let’s all share the road!
Good Magazine developed an awesome interactive map that outlines the key elements of a complete street by showing what a busy Manhattan intersection (Amsterdam Avenue and West 76th Street) would look like before and after a Complete Street renovation.
The ten key ‘complete street’ elements that they list are:
1. Street vendors - help make streets into destinations.
2. Pedestrian street lamps - people need lighting at least as much as cars.
3. Curb extensions or bulb-outs - narrows the street at crosswalks.
4. Dedicated bus lanes - allows buses to be as efficient as light rail.
5. Dedicated bike lanes - allows bikes to be as efficient as well.
6. Raised, textured sidewalks - huge aesthetic difference, and clear distinction as a pedestrian-first zone.
7. Traffic lights with a leading pedestrian interval - gives pedestrians a headstart before cars start turning into their lane.
8. Bollards - Non-obtrusive pedestrian protectors.
9. Street trees and plantings - arguably the biggest aesthetic enhancer for any street.
10. Speed bump - classic traffic calming
According to the magazine:
"It’s easy to forget that our streets are alterable. They weren’t set down by God on the eighth day; they were designed by human beings. Unfortunately, throughout the 20th century, most of the human beings designing our streets were traffic engineers. For the most part, they viewed the city from behind a windshield and saw the street as a problem to be solved for automobiles. The result is the American city that most of us know today: sprawling, traffic-choked, hostile to pedestrians and cyclists, dependent on a vast, never-ending flow of cheap oil, and deeply unsustainable."
The citizens of every great city deserve Complete Streets and that is what 21st century urban planning in North America will be all about. It’s time to share.
In related news, Robert Adam is speaking tomorrow night at Harbour Centre in Vancouver, hosted by the SFU City Program (unfortunately the event is currently full).
Also, Vancouver is hosting Walk 21, an international conference on walking and liveable communities is currently taking place from October 3-5th.
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