By and large, we are optimists here at Copenhagenize Design Company. In our extensive travels around the world to our client cities and to give keynotes, we are privileged to see so many cities changing for the better and working to reestablish the bicycle as transport on the urban landscape. We get to work with great cities to help them make it happen. I’ve ridden bicycles in over 70 cities around the world with my work and while often the infrastruture is sensible, once in a while I am presented with weird stuff. Like the photo, above, taken in Washington, DC by our colleague Ole Kassow of Cycling Without Age. Initially, our team of planners and urban designers here at our Copenhagen office had a good laugh but then it sinks in. This is actually a thing. Someone was tasked with putting in bicycle infrastructure and THIS is what a city ended up with. Center-running lanes.
Here's the rub. Best Practice in bicycle infrastructure is basically a century old. Dedicated bike paths date from 1892 when an equestrian path was turned over to bikes on Esplanade in Copenhagen. In 1915, the first on-street, curb-separated cycle track was installed on Strandboulevarden. From there, protected bike infrastructure spread out around the world.
Over 100 years, the infrastructure has been tested by easily hundreds of millions of daily cyclists. Planners have tweaked and experimented, made mistakes and fixed them and ended up with a Best Practice that is simple, effective, safe and cost-efficient. Generations of planners and engineers have done an amazing job and just handed us everything we need on a silver platter. There are only four types of infrastructure in Danish Best Practice. One of the designs fits any street in the nation and any street in any city in the world. Copy-paste, baby.
Why, then, do we see crap like in the photo, above, showing up on city streets? Who, in their right mind, would ACTUALLY choose to put cyclists in the middle of a street with speeding cars on either side? Certainly not anyone with an understanding of the bicycle's role in urban life as transport or a sincere desire to encourage cycling and keep people safe. As I suggested on Twitter, find the person who is responsible and fire them. A flippant remark - but still a serious one.The primary problem is that traffic engineering, in certain countries, still has influence on planning and urban design. In America, where this infrastructure was put in, bicycles are placed in the same category as motorized vehicles. In countries that GET the bicycle's role in cities, they are regarded as fast-moving pedestrians and we've been planning for them for a century.
We work with planners and engineers all over the world so we realise the challenges in changing the old-fashioned, car-centric mentality. It is, however, 2016. Planning for bicycles is child's play. Or should be.
"Oh, but it works!" You hear muttered from the wings of urbanism. What works, exactly? Cycling down this stretch is possible, yes. We are, however, planning our cities for the next century of transport. It is important to plan properly, using solutions that are tried and tested. Using cyclists as guinea pigs in solutions whipped together by lazy, car-centric engineers is ridiculous when we know the best way to approach it. Don't even get me started on the folly of on-street bi-directional lanes on stretches with cross streets.I wonder if the people who mutter, "oh, but it works!" have homes filled with chairs sporting only two and a half legs. Technically, they work. You can take a load off. Rest your tired limbs. But they are not exactly Best Practice. We figured out as far back as the Neolithic period that four legs or a solid base is the best way to design a chair. This is the chair at the moment in too many cities. Bits and pieces that don't connect up in a network, loads of sharp edges but technically - they tell us - it works. None of us have four of these in our living rooms.
If we design cities for humans, with respect for the human experience, safety, logic and ease-of-use, you wouldn't see stuff like a bike lane in the middle of a street, or sharrows, in any city. Engineers stare at computer screens and geek out on mathematical models. Designers think about the human on the other end of the design process. It's a human to human process. Let's design our streets like we did for 7000 years before we invented the automobile.The proponents of this center-running lark call it "context sensitive design". Just using the word "design" is an insult to generations of bicycle planners who worked so hard to establish best practice. The DC solution is engineering. By people who don't understand human-centric design.