Student blog of the Stanford University Urban Studies Department

Whose Streets?

This week in Sustainable Transportation Planning (URBANST 165) we learned that U.S. roads were first paved because of intense pressure, not from the automobile industry, but from bicycle interest groups.  At the turn of the 20th century, pedestrians determined the speed and flow of traffic, cyclists dominated the roads, and it was the motorists, of all people, who were seen as the interlopers. This hierarchy, of course, has been completely reversed, and it is now hard to imagine a time when commuters truly shared the road.

Bicycles are still allowed on the roads, but our urban streets and transportation amenities are tailored to the car.  It is against the law to ride your bike on the sidewalk, and yet, you must bring your bike up onto the sidewalk to find a designated parking rack. Doesn’t this seem a bit strange? The sidewalk is for pedestrians, the street is for cars, and it is unclear where cyclists are meant to feel at home.  It seems to me that if cyclists are meant to ride on the road, they should be able to park on the road just like a car.  In fact, turning a couple parking spots on every street into mini bike lots (2-3 racks per space= 4-6 bikes per space) would be a great way to encourage biking, discourage driving and provide a visual reminder to drivers of the cyclist presence on the roads.

SPUR, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, has been working on a project called Reclaim Market Street, which facilitates temporary public experiments that look at how the San Francisco thoroughfare and its surrounding public spaces are used by the public. This weekend (Saturday 8th, 12-5PM) they will be organizing a Sidewalk Intervention, the next weekend (Saturday 15th, 1-9 PM) a Plaza Intervention, and the following weekend (Saturday 22nd, 1-5PM) a Street Intervention, which will include a collaborative bike ride down Market in search of the best bike lane options. The input and observations at the these events will eventually lead to the 2015 Remaking of Market Street. Who knows, maybe the public will demand a return to the bicycle and pedestrian-dominated Market Street of 1910.




2 responses to “Whose Streets?

  1. Teresa Nguyen October 8, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    It is so interesting to think of road oriented towards the pedestrian and cyclist, because you’re right–we are so far from that now. And your idea of turning parking spaces into mini bike lots is a really good idea–it can really symbolize the way cars and bikes (should) equally share the road. This Reclaim Market Street project sounds awesome. What will the sidewalk intervention entail?

  2. MKahan October 10, 2011 at 5:00 am

    If you’d like to take a fascinating look at what it was really like back in the day when cars, horses, trolleys, bicycles, and pedestrians shared the street on a somewhat equal basis, have a look at a classic silent film, A Trip Down Market Street, filmed from the front of a streetcar traveling on Market Street in 1905 (or, according to some sources, 1906). The title says it all–this is early "reality programming," with nothing plotted or scripted. It is just what you might have seen any day at the time. Yet it is remarkably compelling. The dodging of the pedestrians, weaving of the cyclists, and darting of the cars around the horsedrawn carriages is positively terrifying (to my eyes, at least). http://www.archive.org/details/TripDownMarketStreetrBeforeTheFire

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