The Big Apple is on a “road diet”


One of my favourite parts about NYC was experiencing the new public spaces created through what has become known as “road diets” – taking back lanes and sometimes whole roads for pedestrians, cyclists and for people to play. From Times Square to Broadway to 8th Ave the space for cars has been radically shrinking. What were lanes of traffic are now large potted plants, coloured asphalt , places for people to sit and ephemeral public art. Where there was once streams of yellow taxis and cars choking the roads there are now streams of people riding bikes, reading newspapers, drinking coffee and even doing hula-hoop lessons.

When this radical city wide road diet was proposed there was plenty of opposition to it. Nay-sayers said it would cause traffic congestion and chaos and that local businesses would suffer. A year on the evidence is that that traffic was no worse than it was and NYC businesses are doing better than most in the USA economically.

While the feared negatives have not materialised the positives are clear. The doubling of the bike network since 2006 to over 200 lanes has resulted in more than 12,500 daily commuter cyclists into the Manhattan Central Business District – a massive 35 percent increase. The lanes have also reduced bicycle accidents and made streets safer for pedestrians to cross the street.

The “road diets” have also created new spaces for community to flourish in for people to meet, read, play and dance. Who would have thought a lane or two of traffic could do so much once cars were taken out of the equation.

Bicycle Freedom – Velib and the Parisian bicycle revolution

Last time I was in Paris was just over three years ago and the proposed Velib bike share system was still in construction phase. Returning to see how it has transformed the French capital has been a true highlight of my visit this time. Not only is there a bike station with up to 20 bikes on every second street corner of the capital but the system is accessible and easy to use for residents and visitors alike. It costs a Euro a day to join and then it is free to use so long as you only use the bike for 30 minutes or less. As a result Velib riders are everywhere.

It is exciting to see cycling making such a global recovery. Not only does it have huge environmental benefits but it also makes the City much more liveable.

Providing the free bikes though is only part of the reason for its success. Just as important is the investment in 100s (371km from memory) of kilometres of cycle lanes and making the vast majority of roads cycle friendly. Many Parisian streets are narrow and one way for cars but new lanes and markings have made many of them two way for bikes. All of a sudden it is cheaper, easier and more pleasurable to ride than get in a car. VELo LIBeration (Bicycle Freedom) – I think Fremantle could do with a bit of that.

PS In the Fremantle 2010/2011 budget we increased our expenditure on bicycle lanes and other infrastructure around ten fold to close to $400k so we should see some decent changes underway to make Fremantle a more bike friendly city. There is also a renewed push for bike-share in Fremantle which would be great if it can get up. Look out for a Fremantle Network event on this in the near future.