Over the last century, cars have been the dominant element when designing cities and towns. Driving lanes, lane expansions, parking garages, and surface lots have been utilized as we continue our heavy reliance on cars, leaving urban planners to devise creative ways to make city streets safe for pedestrians and cyclists alike. But many cities, especially a handful in Europe, have become blueprints for forward-thinking ideologies on how to design new spaces to become car-free and rethink streets to make them pedestrian-friendly. Are we experiencing the slow death of cars in urban cores around the world in favor of those who prefer to walk or ride bikes? And if so, how can it be done on a larger scale?
Historically, the United States has encountered a serious problem with making roadways pedestrian-friendly. On a large scale, the dependency on cars is especially evident in the massive highway infrastructure. While intuitively it may seem that adding highways will reduce traffic, it instead has the complete opposite effect- where more highways lead to more problems and more cars. America’s obsession with the ongoing construction of roadways doesn’t stop with large interstates, and even some of the most prominent and busy urban cores have struggled with how to become less car-reliant.
In recent years, there have been calls for proposals that take cars off the streets in favor of pedestrian and cyclist use. New York City’s Brooklyn Bridge is perhaps the most recently notable, with many ideas circulating around how the tourist attraction can serve users who cross from one borough into the next. Late last year, the bridge reclaimed space from cars on the Manhattan-bound side and returned it as a dedicated cyclist lane.
"We're installing these new bike lanes but we're seeing very little uptick in cycle modal share. I guess we just don't have the Dutch cycling culture" pic.twitter.com/SYZW6L7CVL— Sam 🚴🌱🍻Ⓥ (@MCRCycleSam) January 20, 2022
Ever since the bike lane was implemented, daily ridership has increased by over 88% from the same time last year. Some people might argue that there isn’t an appetite for cycling-friendly cities in the United States but the data reveals that it couldnt be further from the truth. Our culture doesn’t seem pedestrian-friendly because our cities aren't designed to support it, but when these interventions come into place, people use them at astonishing rates. Beyond the success of the Brooklyn Bridge, is there another opportunity to make way for a pro-cycle city?
Other places around the world, especially European countries, have either long had these aspects of urban planning engrained in their cities, or are largely taking active steps to improve how their roadways are utilized. Only a week ago, Berlin announced a proposal to create the world’s largest car-free area to ensure that the streets are healthy, safe, and environment-friendly. Part of this decision stemmed from a 2014 study by Berlin’s Regional Parliament which indicated that nearly 60% of driving space on roads was dedicated to cars, although only one-third of all journeys were made by car. In comparison, only 3% of streets were dedicated bicycle lanes which made up 15% of journeys. By increasing pedestrian and cyclist access, Berlin hopes to see this number skyrocket. Even Paris, with its bold 15-minute city plan which has inspired other cities to reconsider their access to daily needs and methods of transportation to take visitors there, incorporates an emphasis on cyclists having safe access to bike lanes.
The more that cities begin to implement strategies that keep pedestrians and cyclists safe, the more we can continue to evolve our cities into places that are less dependent on cars, and more designed with the users in mind.