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A farewell to pavements

Justin McGuirk, The Guardian
Rules are one of the hallmarks of civilisation and, in a civilised society, most people abide by them. Rules, after all, are our invisible prophylactic against chaos. Except that rules are not always invisible – they also take physical form. Roads and pavements are rules, keeping hard cars and soft pedestrians apart. Lane markings, pedestrian crossings and steel railings are another layer of rules. Do we really need such nannying? What if we relaxed the rules a little?

This is exactly what’s happening at London’s Exhibition Road, the great Victorian thoroughfare that stretches half a mile from South Kensington tube station to Hyde Park in London. In the last 18 months, it has been ripped up and remade to a new design that all but abolishes the distinction between road and pavement. Instead, there’s one continuous surface, cross-hatched dramatically in black-and-white granite. Pedestrians can wander where they like: they’ll just have to negotiate the cars and bicycles. It’s all very liberal, and something of an experiment.

The impetus for this rule-breaking design came in 2003 when the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea decided that Exhibition Road wasn’t quite living up to its name. Once the main route to the Great Exhibition, held in Hyde Park in 1851, it remains perhaps London’s grandest cultural artery. Leading to the Royal Albert Hall at its northern end and bordered by the Victoria and Albert Museum on one side and the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum on the other, its various institutions collectively get more visitors a year than Venice…
(11 November 2011)

WikiLane – How citizens built their own bicycle network

Jimena Veloz, This Big City
Mexico City’s government pledged in 2007 that it would build 300 km of bike lanes around the city by 2012. However, the city still only has 22.2 km because most money is allocated to car infrastructure, leaving aside non-motorized mobility. That’s why the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy and the National Network for Urban Cycling (BiciRed) launched a campaign called ’5% for bicycles and pedestrians’, which asks national legislators to assign at least that percentage of the transportation budget to non-motorized infrastructure.

To promote that campaign and pressure legislators into action, several cycling and pedestrian organizations decided to paint their own bike lane in front of Congress on October 20th. This was our way of showing how little money and time is required to create quality infrastructure. We wanted to show that governments just need the will to promote non-motorized transport. However, that bike lane was efficiently erased just two days after it was painted, and no city official claimed responsibility.

We were all understandably angry, so we decided to do it all over again but better. We set a goal of painting a 5km bike lane that would end at Congress, the Wikicarril (wikilane). We funded our effort through Fondeadora, a crowd-sourcing site, and we managed to collect 13,500 pesos (about US$1,000) in just 4 days thanks to the collaboration of 37 generous supporters.

We bought paint, brushes and rollers. We built wood signs. We cut stencils. We borrowed a tricycle to carry everything. We invited everyone we knew and told them to come help. And on Sunday, November 6th, we were ready to start painting…
(11 November 2011)

Local Economic Implications of Urban Bicycle Networks

Joe Peach, This Big City
These are some tough economic times we’re in. Governments across the globe are trying all kinds of tricks to keep things ticking over, with varying degrees of success (or varying degrees of failure, depending on how upbeat you’re feeling). But could bicycle networks benefit cities, providing a relatively inexpensive way to boost local urban economies?

Transportation is vital in keeping economies going. When the UK’s coalition government came to power in 2010, there was concern over whether London’s expensive Crossrail project – a speedy underground network connecting outer London to the city centre – would continue to be developed. Now it’s being heralded as an opportunity for economic growth. If train networks can boost the economy of a city, could bicycle networks boost the economies of the communities they pass through?

It certainly costs a lot less to implement them. Bike lanes have been praised for giving people ‘freeways for the price of a footpath’, and even though the relative affordability of bicycle networks is beneficial for encouraging their development and maintenance, there are other long term economic benefits.

The way an urban transport system operates has an impact on the way people get around their cities. Due to the physical nature of bicycle use, shorter journeys are more likely, potentially bringing local economic benefits:

When people are walking or cycling, they are likely to shop at a store that is close to where they live rather than driving across town. – Richard Campbell and Margaret Wittgens
(15 November 2011)
Blog contains links to various studies