Unraveling Urban Life and Space
Seeing a lot of talk about whether temporary bike and pedestrian lanes like this will last. Is it a new day for bikes on the American street?
No. People want desperately to go back to pre-pandemic normal, and “normal” is not having half your street blocked off for bikes. But-
Yes. We are getting a new day for bikes from the pandemic. Just not that particular new day.
Cars look expendable, more than they have in decades. All these (temporarily) closed lanes say that, but so does the reduced overall traffic volume and all of us staying home and not driving to the closed restaurants and shops. Suddenly we can do without cars, at least some of the cars, at least some of the time. What we can’t do without is all the essential supermarket clerks and warehouse workers and hospital staff who’ve been on the job since March. How many of these essential folks drive a private car to work versus taking a bus, riding a bike, or sharing a ride? Isn’t “essential” transportation what gets essential workers to work and back? The stockbroker’s car sitting in the garage looks irrelevant by comparison.
A monster recession (or maybe a depression) is looming or already here, depending on whether you’re still employed or not. Hard times mean expendable expenses tend to get expended, budget-wise. Cars are expensive to own, to maintain, to drive, and to insure. Suddenly that fixed cost in the household budget doesn’t look so fixed. Cash-strapped local governments might see it that way, too, if reduced traffic can mean less road maintenance and repair. Bikes and pedestrians put far, far, far less wear on pavement and other infrastructure, so maintenance costs are much less, a drop in the bucket compared to maintaining roads for cars.
Chaos always brings with it opportunities, and we surely are living in chaotic times. When everything is turned upside down, the status quo can lose its momentum and new ideas can look surprisingly plausible. Maybe the expendable car is here to stay.
Assorted drafts, previews, and outtakes from the book I'm currently writing about the impact of vegetation and neglect on urban life. I also take other thoughts for a test drive here, including nascent design and research ideas.