7.16.2009

Road Rave


In a city as dense as Philadelphia - and, by the way, I mean in terms of land use, not in terms of what is or isn't in our collective heads - every square inch of public space counts. Which is why the Administration's decision to paint a new bike route through Center City is so interesting, and, in my opinion, largely positive. Similar to some recommendations that were offered by a consulting team my firm was part of, the dedicated bike lanes will run on Spruce and Pine Streets, one in each direction, with each taking away a car lane.

The downside is a slower commute for drivers and more congestion for residents. Although for some, "slower" is repackaged as "traffic calming" and seen as a good thing. While some residents may come to value this recreational amenity over any additional hassle associated with other cars stopping and starting in front of their house or their own driving being inconvenienced by this choking down to one driving lane.

The upside is for the City as a whole: making itself more bicycle-friendly by giving less adventurous cyclists a safer alternative to the vroom-vroom pace of Walnut and Chestnut Streets. Notably (something that was highlighted in our report), you want bicycle-friendly routes to seek out high-density areas, rather than avoid them, so that whether it is commuters, residents recreating, or tourists tooling around, you increase the "touches" that people have with different amenities within the City.

Think, for example, of the traditional mall concept, with anchors on both ends and smaller shops in the middle: the big name stores bring in foot traffic, which the small stores benefit from as stops along the way. Or think of how good grocery stores or airports are laid out, to both facilitate getting in and getting out, as well as maximize the experience if you have more time to meander.

I'm no city planner, but it seems to me that, instinctively, we want our urban layouts to have these sorts of characteristics. Sometimes, we need to get to Point A and Point B; and sometimes, we want to see things along the way. Having lots of options, and lots of transportation modes to use on those options, makes for a safer and more enjoyable circulation.

Sure, drivers, parkers, bikers, and walkers have to delicately negotiate this cramped and shared space, which is bound to lead to some complaining, some road rage, and some unfortunate accidents. But isn't that what is beautiful about cities, is the sharedness?

I hate to single out the drivers, since bikers and walkers have some edumacating to do, too. But when you're holed up in your hermetically sealed two-ton steel box, it's easy to think you own the road. You don't; we all do. And, at the cost of some paint, the Administration is appropriately helping delineate and clarify some of the norms that will govern how we use this shared space.


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