Sharing the Road

In the “Designing the 21st Century Street” competition, architects and urban designers reconstructed a troubled intersection in Brooklyn. Other cities could benefit from adopting the winners’ proposals, which treat pedestrians, bikes and cars as equals.

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In Philadelphia, it’s not easy being a biker. Sure, you’ve got a few bike lanes. But most of them are overlooked by trucks, cars and buses, which park and stop frequently in these lanes. If you need proof, look to Philly’s MyBikeLane, a blog dedicated entirely to the pilfering of bicycle lanes in the city. There also isn’t an east-west and north-south connector, and acts of violence toward bikers — like having 40 ounces of Olde English thrown at your head — are all too common.

But in New York City, it’s even worse.

When I lived there this summer, I didn’t once have the courage to hop onto my Schwinn. Walking across the street during rush hour was frightening enough. How could I ever weave between hundreds of cars zipping by on my bike?

In New York City, the non-profit organization Transportation Alternatives is improving options for bikers and pedestrians one intersection at a time. The group recently organized a competition for solving the “traffic nightmare” in Brooklyn on Fourth Avenue and Ninth Street. It challenged people to reconstruct the intersection so that it meets the needs of all of its users — cars, buses, bikes and pedestrians alike.

After receiving 100 submissions from 13 different countries, prominent architects and urban designers in New York City judged them. Some submissions were whimsical and creative, like a mirror that sits in the middle of the intersection to slow cars, since it looks like they’re facing a head-on collision.

Others were much simpler, which the judges seemed to favor. Three groups won the competition.

In Steven Nutter’s “Shared Space,” poles separate the bike lane from the road, thereby making it difficult for cars or trucks to filch the lanes. (Philly, please take heed.) Pedestrians are also given ample sidewalk room and access to the road.

Rogers Marvel Architects’ “Streets for Everyone” places cars, bikes and pedestrians very close to each other. The bike lane, which sits in the middle of the road, is painted red to draw attention to it. Pedestrians are given an extremely wide sidewalk, and trees and shrubs line the road.

My favorite is LEVON’s “Streets Come Alive,” which imagines the median as a small park, complete with a produce stand, fountains and couples cuddling. (The latter is a testament to this submission’s artistry. There is also a hot air balloon in the background, which make the scene look even more sublime.) In this design, pedestrians are afforded the most space.

And shouldn’t they always be given more room than cars, bikes or buses? After all, we are traveling to actually get somewhere, right?

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Tags: new york cityphiladelphiapublic transportationurban designbikingcommutingbike lanes

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