The City Needs a Car Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle…
February 26th 2013

Today’s cities are designed for cars, and cars only. One hundred years of automobiles have transformed the way that our cities function and are laid out. Highways are cut through older and declining neighborhoods, downtown office buildings have been demolished for surface parking lots, and cities have become less dense and sprawl further and further into the countryside.

If we rethink our cities in terms of scale, we can work to design a diversified transportation network. Dense areas with greater numbers of people lend themselves to either smaller vehicles, such as bikes (and our feet), or shared vehicles, such as buses or trains. Areas with more open space and fewer users more easily accommodate larger numbers of cars and the requisite parking.  Thus, thought of as a continuum of scale, from the far suburbs to the dense city centers, we begin to organize a network.

Greenways, bike lanes and sharrows (shared lane markings) are some of the myriad ways that we, as landscape architects, are working to diversify the transportation network in our cities. Even within these design typologies, we think in terms of scale. Greenways serve as larger regional connectors (the highway for bicycles and pedestrians), bike lanes are designated lanes on larger streets, and sharrows tend to be used on low traffic neighborhood streets, where safety is not as much of an issue.

In addition to specific facilities, as we work to diversify the system, multi-user Complete Streets strategies help to make our urban areas more accessible. Complete Streets emphasizes streets and sidewalks that accommodate all users: people in cars and buses, bicycles, wheelchairs, and pedestrians.  Streets begin to be designed with designated bike lanes, flush curbs for accessibility and integrated bus drop off areas.  Whereas, in the past, the street would have been designed to maximize traffic flow and parking, we are now looking at traffic calming strategies to protect pedestrians, and we are willing to reduce parking if it means gaining areas for outdoor dining, street trees, green infrastructure and bike lanes.

This in turn, brings us back to the topic of scale. As parking is reduced, and roadways and traffic velocities are reduced in urban areas, biking and bike shares, carpooling and park and ride facilities start to make a lot of sense. Again, as we move inward from the far reaches of the city, we transition from larger, more space intensive modes of transport, to smaller ones better adapted to dense urban areas. We leave you with an interesting quote, perhaps more appropriate for more densely urban areas than our own, but interesting all the same:

“The city needs a car like a fish needs a bicycle.”
-Dean Kamen