Quick Note: Safe Streets, Safe Cities

Everyone should go read Jan Gehl’s post on Streetsblog about good urban design, excerpted from his book Cities for People. I have nothing to add, except to underline one part that’s often underrated among urbanists: the role of parked cars as buffer between moving cars and pedestrians or cyclists. Compare this photo with this photo, and ask yourself where the cyclist is better protected.

I generally tend to be very supportive of Manhattan’s design. The streets may be wider than elsewhere, but that translated mostly to increased pedestrian space. Manhattan’s 18-meter side streets have 1-2 driving lanes and a parking lane on each side; so do the 12-meter side streets in Tel Aviv, the difference being that in Tel Aviv cars park with two wheels on the sidewalk. As long as there’s an adequate street wall and the buildings are not set back from the street, it isn’t a real problem. As Gehl notes, there are many ways to make cities livable short of the ideal of Venice, in which cars begin where the city ends.


  1. Mike Dahmus

    Yeah, what Alex said. Also, as long as there’s no curb cuts on the right.

    As it turns out, parked cars make a good buffer in just about one place in this whole country – Manhattan – because even the urban cores of most other cities have left turns and curb cuts often enough that you lose more safety than you gain from being on the other side of those cars.

  2. Alon Levy

    Mike, Alex: fair enough. But, right-turning cars are going to conflict with bicycle lanes anyway. I suppose left-turning bikes have a bigger problem with parked cars because although the conflict is the same as without parked cars there’s less visibility, but I don’t know how big a factor it is. It’s probably much smaller than the lack of conflict with cars pulling into and out of the parking lane.

    What amazes me more about the photo is that there’s no physical separation between the bikes and the parked cars, and yet cars do not infringe on the bike lane. I don’t want to even think how steep the social learning curve for that is.

    • Neil B

      Alon, Alex and Mike: literally last week Chicago just completed its first pilot installation of these protected bike lanes, on Kinzie between Jefferson and Wells. While they were painting the lanes, I had the initial learning-curve concerns as parallel parkers insisted on parking over the newly-painted lanes. But, in addition to green paint and a brand-new bike-lane icon in the intersections, CDOT installed reflective barrier posts to clearly demark parking areas. The same day the posts were installed, drivers started using the new parking lane like nothing had happened.

      My condo looks down over this street and bike traffic has exploded on this <1 mile strip, which is probably the most diverse in terms of biking and driving obstacles. On both sides of the street, the lanes contend with:
      +A 5-way traffic light
      +Four 3-way intersections (one underneath a Metra viaduct, the posts of which significantly obscure visibility
      +Two freight rail spurs (one of which is active)
      +A freight truck unloading lane at a chocolate factory
      +Four parking-lot ROWs
      +A narrow 1909-vintage bascule bridge (the posts are mounted to the road-surface grate)
      +The below-grade entrance to the freight docks at the Merchandise Mart

      Considering all these elements on this one stretch of road, I'd consider it a success — and the city does, as well; I've heard CDOT is planning a total 100 miles of these lanes starting immediately.

  3. Joseph E

    Long Beach, California built left-side, parking-buffered bike lanes just this year. They work great; left-turning cars and bikes have separate signal phases. I wish there was a bikes-only signal phase (the usual practice in the Netherlands) to make right turns easier, but I’m comfortable merging into the traffic lanes, so it isn’t a problem.
    We do have alleys on each block and occasional curb cuts, but I haven’t experienced any conflicts with cars yet.

    Compare this to the usual bike lanes, which are often blocked by double-parked cars or garbage cans, and which are used by cars turning right into driveways or streets. I will take the parking-buffered bike lanes (or cycletracks) any day, because they prevent double parking, and they just FEEL much safer. When its your 15 kg bike vs a 1500 kg car, that subjective safety is what’s most important.

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