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Bike Walk Life

News and commentary from the world of biking and walking.

What is a bicycle street? The answer is multifaceted.

Matt Pinder, in his blog Beyond the Automobile, has a series of posts which explore what makes a street a “bicycle street.”

His basic idea is summed up in the statement:

Bicycle streets flip the natural hierarchy and make bicyclists the dominant user of the street, while motorists must act as “guests”.

(As an aside, I take a slight issue with suggesting that motorists are the “natural” dominant street users, and not dominant due to their special treatment by the state. “Status quo” may be a more accurate term.)

This is a great foundational idea, but the devil is always in the details. What exactly does that mean in practical terms? How would a car-centric community create that? And why do we want this, which non-believers will surely ask. Pinder uses the Dutch streets as a starting point, but then goes “beyond Europe” to see how similar concepts fare in North America.

You can read the entire series here:

  1. What is a Bicycle Street?
  2. Bicycle Streets Beyond Europe: NACTO Bicycle Boulevard
  3. Bicycle Streets Beyond Europe: Portland’s Neighborhood Greenways
  4. Bicycle Streets Beyond Europe: Toronto’s Shaw Street
  5. Bicycle Streets Beyond Europe: Vancouver’s Local Street Bikeways
  6. How to Build Great Bicycle Streets

In the world of bicycle discourse, I often see discussions that amount to “we should just do what (insert country with lots of bicycles) does.” As Pinder’s series reveals, success stories have the potential to vary greatly across locales, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Nonetheless, there are still guiding principles that we see reflected in every implementation.

The entire series is great, but here’s a summary of his key takeaways:

  • Bicycle streets can form part of a complete all-ages-and-abilities network, but must be used in conjunction with separated cycling facilities on busier roads.
  • Bicycle streets should not be seen as an alternative to providing bike infrastructure on a parallel main street.
  • When designing bicycle streets, the focus should be on creating the desired behaviour: bicycle dominance.
  • A high volume of bikes as a starting point is not necessary, but the selected route should have growth potential.
  • The features of bicycle streets can be applied to other local streets too. … In the Netherlands, all residential streets are built as “quiet streets”.

(Quoted from How to Build Great Bicycle Streets.)

I’m particularly interested in the “quiet streets” concept. In car-dominated cities, there’s a constant frustration with the noise and traffic in residential areas. This often causes residents to oppose any new housing out of fear that more neighbors will bring even more cars with them. (This kind of opposition to change is a hallmark of the suburban experiment.) What if we flipped our priorities, so that new cars weren’t required for housing? Bicycling (and walking) isn’t an end unto itself, but is an excellent path towards other goals that benefit everyone.