(Image from Copenhagencyclechic.com)
When Google unveiled its new email platform Wave, the developers started from scratch, and decided to throw out preconceived notions of how people already communicate via email’s limited foundation, and built an entirely new platform combining the best features of email, social media, and more. A similar approach must be taken to our roads if we truly hope to change how people move within a city. Most of the engineering and development of complete streets in the US has been adaptive, installing a narrow painted bike lane here or widening a sidewalk there. Often times, these accommodations did little to change the overall problem areas, and would introduce more issues like door zone accidents or overly landscaped medians that relied on property owners to maintain. In European cities, the principals of complete streets development have had much longer time to develop, and have afforded their planners more opportunities to work out many of the problems that we are just now beginning to overcome. To create the best solution for all road users, planners and engineers should begin with a clean slate and revision a road as if nothing currently exists from sidewalk edge to sidewalk edge.
Below is an example of a very well thought out complete street in Amsterdam that calms traffic, allows for safe/dedicated bicycle paths for riders of all comfort levels and ages (as noted by the elderly man leisurely bicycling to the right), sidewalks, pedestrian islands and parking:
Compare this to a similarly sized street like Tyler and Seventh in Oak Cliff, which would be considered the perfect Vehicular Cycling street with a wide Right Lane (20+ Feet), and multiple lanes for passing:
You’ll notice the psychologies of the streets are completely different. Both have residential and commercial areas in close proximity, both are secondary arterials, but one goes out of its way to put people first, the other focuses on moving cars as quickly as possible. Ironically, the dutch street is surrounded by greater density, yet they’ve reduced the street to two lanes…the Oak Cliff street is one way, with three lanes. For an experienced cyclist who has no fear of bicycling in traffic, Tyler presents no problems. The reality is, this same street divides the largest historic neighborhood in Dallas filled with families from the restaurants and shops of the Bishop Arts District (less than a mile away). The street in Amsterdam levels the playing field, and opens up bicycling to all users of all experience levels (children, seniors, families). A bicycle blog in the Northwest recently posed the following request to its readers: “Tonight, tell your kids you want to go to a restaurant, and then ask if they’d rather go by bicycle or by car…you’ll notice, they always say ‘Bicycle!’, but we don’t build our roads for them, we build them for adults driving cars.” The post goes on to note how we complain about obesity trends, environmental issues, and how our kids do nothing but play video games all day, but if we just asked them what they wanted while giving them a safe, viable alternative, they’d jump at the healthier option. For families, Tyler street has no viable alternative.