Vehicular Pedestrians

Making way for the Vehicular Pedestrian will be more than a critical mass issue.   It is a major change in land use and with that a significant planning and design problem.  The growth in person urban mobility assistants will begin to shape urban design decisions.

For some time, the rule demanding the separation of vehicular and pedestrian traffic has required extensive revision.  The reason is the emergence of the “vehicular pedestrian.”   They arrive on the roads far more quickly than the current supply of re-designed or de-vernacularized roads can manage.

Examples range from the well-known bicycle to in-line tandems and side-by-side tricycles, to power assist recumbent and standing vehicles of impressive power and speed.  All are causing designers and lawmakers to examine a brand new set of “right-of-way” challenges.

Only a small part of the regulatory way is established in the American Disabilities Act (ADA).  Effective, if not elegant design solutions are being implemented.  If you are physically disabled travel on pedestrian routes and “low speed roadways” in a variety of wheeled vehicles is available.  Use does not require registration or licensed use, but much is unclear about how to proceed from this modest standard of care framed by the ADA.  These design solutions have made it easier for everyone but the problem remains well beyond improving access for all; it seems it will be necessary to completely reshape the way we live in cities with more ways to move around to get things done as individuals, families and businesses.

Motorized Monocultures

For decades, development practices and investment behaviors have produced what the urban designer often refers to as “non-place” landscapes.  They are subtly intertwined with the public’s demand for personalized transport – a car.  These vehicles offer multiple destination flexibility, abundant storage, and varying levels of self-expression from practical to exuberant.  With this as a given, it is logical to seek ways to encourage movement from a school campus to a train station, hospital or shopping district by other means such as walking or cycling.

Vehicular Diversity

Urban design approaches currently involve partially or completely de-vehicularized roads or routes that add vehicular capacity.  This dual-approach is gaining added attention for two key reasons.  First, it serves public safety due to the rapid increase in the use of human powered vehicles (HPVs).  Second, mass transit can accommodate the addition of a personal vehicle as benign as a folding bicycle, but it stops there.  The problem is therefore as much about encourage the routine use of HPVs as life affirming and turf-sharing as it is about circulation and vehicular portage.

New HPV route designs are springing up whenever a new road, or road reconstruction event is budgeted, or wherever bicycle enthusiasts gather to plan critical mass demonstration events.  The demand is significant enough that the lack of “parade” permits have been used to prevent “future now” or “critical mass” expressions of cycling interests.  The image below is drawn from a Community Design Center in Arkansas (see website: here). 

The Yellow Brick Road in Arkansas

It represents an injection of transportation options between things like “big box” retail and the roads that made the formation of mass parking lots “ex post facto” events filled with unintended social and environmental consequences.

Direct routes that are completely or partially separated from cars and trucks in urban areas throughout the United States are becoming more available.  Boulder Colorado promotes itself as Bike Platinum in reference to the LEED certification (See Video).  Along the western shore of Manhattan in New York City, Hudson River Park offers all forms of wheeled people an extensive flow of travel with few interruptions.  A review of the more influential actors encouraging these investments to date include HPV manufactures, advertising companies, and health service conglomerates.


Perhaps the most visible choice of personalized vehicle is the fully-powered Segway.  At this point they are classified as neither a motor vehicle nor a consumer product. The Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a preliminary opinion that they should be considered under the heading of “consumer products” and therefore unregulated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This designation may change if more personal mobility devices become common.  The key result is market driven regulation arising in every state to protect its citizens.

  • 43 States and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation allowing use of Segways.
  • 5 States (CO, CT, MA, ND and WY) have no legislation permitting the use of Segways.
  • 2 States (AR and KY) have no statewide prohibitions against Segways, but local regulations may exist.

Choices that do not require new regulations or added government oversight are broadening rapidly in the HPV business in general. The range of vehicles entering the market is in fact, staggering.  The following runs through brief search of what’s “out there”.

The Bcycle offers a “what if” link that is based on zip codes.  Put in zip-11368 and you are asked if you want Flushing or Corona, Queens.  Choose Flushing and the program tells the reader lives in an area with just over 1 million people that could use about 380 bike stations and about 5,000 bikes.  It goes on to suggest that if just 10% of residents participated for just 30 miles per year, the following dramatic results would occur.  The vehicle miles traveled would be some 3.5 million.  This translates to reducing carbon emissions by about 1,700 tons; it would save over 170,000 gallons of gas and produce $2 million in savings for other expenditures.  The use of an HPV would help reduce traffic by over 100,000 cars and the users would burn over 162 million calories or the equivalent of 47,000 pounds lost or 0.403 pounds per cyclist.

This particular “bike share” idea is a partnership of three industries. Humana. Trek Bicycle Corporation and Crispin Porter + Bogusky.   A health services corporation, a bicycle manufacturing have combined resources on the bet that people are looking for new ways to move around their city.  People are being motivated by the general influence of climate change data, their health providers, and the planners and urban designers that would love to make the roads human again.

Cemusa, Clear Channel and Decaux

The big boys on the block all also have their ad-eye on the advancement of HPVs.  These companies are directly tied to the business of selling more stuff, in more ways than ever.  This means getting more faces on more places as close to eye level as possible. These faces will project the newest umbrellas when it is raining and promote the joy of a bike ride when it isn’t… raining.

JC Decaux recently reported over $5,000,000 in losses and to its Paris bike-share fleet over a period of eighteen months.  Some have suggested this is a negotiating ploy for aid from local governments eager to earn green points. Others have countered that if public funds are introduced then it should be the responsibility of local and national mass-transit network providers to produce the space, urban design and place making for alternative transit around transit stations?

Another leading company with interest in the bike-share field is Clear Chanel.  In the mid-1970s this industry claimed a major share of New York City’s public space.  At the time the New York was in a recession and severe financial crises.  They offered a share of ad revenue from “faces” on bus shelters that Clear Channel would provide and maintain.  Their shelter design and management solution proved to be a failure on many levels.  More recently, Cemusa has taken the NYC market share with a bus shelter and/or newsstand upgrade and new technology. They are also interested in the placement of bike-share kiosks or stations as sites for ad-space.

Confronting Inherent Contradictions

From the average person to the head of the Federal Reserve, the more stuff we buy, the better off we will all be, except for the contradiction that over the long term this is not possible.   Exponential growth cannot go on forever in a finite world that is demanding adherence to the principles of sustainability.  Those who promote the idea of exponential growth are either quite mad or economists, as Kenneth Boulding once noted.  But, it was Marshal McLuhan that reminded us that only the little secrets are protected, the really big ones are kept secret by our own incredulity.

Yes, buying more and more stuff may not be good for us, and yet reversing life to something closer to self-fulfillment, or simply more human and joyous is not as easy as riding a bike, or does it come down to something as simple as that?  It’s not about more stuff.  It’s about choosing more rightly.  There in lies the central contradiction when ad companies use bikes to encourage more consumption, when the bike itself is about minimizing consumption to maximize well-being.  The compromise is obvious, and it is possible to have a list of what these faces can not sell and where they are not allowed to exist.  It is a matter of advancing existing law that extends these controls on landscape preservation and public heath to public safety.

Public Interest Design Explorations

In 2008, a modest step in the direction of encouraging bicycle use was taken by the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT), the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum and Transportation Alternatives.  The promotion of the CityRacks Design Competition admitted need above the existing 5,000 bike racks in the city.  However tossing more “objects” onto the streets to hold a one or two more bikes each, but in a more beautiful way is not place making.  While welcomed, the entire process missed a key point addressed by the Forum for Urban Design.  The Forum is a New York-based membership organization to advance awareness of best practices and confronting urban design challenges. The New York Bike-Share Project was one of its initiatives.  Here, place-making was emphasized as a “bike station” for personal bike storage and bike rentals in the Red Hook Competition.  In turn, this opens the discussion productively in the area of “best location” and thereafter to the public responsibility to promote placement incentives.  Perhaps, the lesson to date would find an “urban design” and an industrial design process beginning the more supporting community design process is not developing well.   

Test Cases

It may be likely that cities will begin to see a few slightly heavy, well-branded bikes that are free for 30 minute round trip, but rentable at profitable fees for any “station-to-station” exploration travel.  They will have a feel good utility in the service of touring hotspots, but are unlikely to shift the paradigm to a broad public use of HPVs as viable, zero carbon transport for modern urban living.  If honest leadership in this area is the likely delivery of ad companies, what are the other choices?

One such project known as The LightWheels Experiment has a vision is somewhat different than the commercialized version.   First, it recycles older bikes, fixes them up, adds a little color, a bit of LW branding.  It will locate its “stations” with existing institutions.  The location is a vast public park system sometimes referred to the Emerald Necklace.  It extends from the Flushing Meadow Corona Park to enclose over 1,200 acres of reasonably connected parks and hundreds of cultural, recreational and business districts in nearby communities.

A 2008 study for the Seattle by Sustainable Business Consulting found that the commute of park employees accounted for about 40 percent of the 4,600 metric tons of carbon dioxide created yearly by parks staff activities alone.   Using the carbon footprint reduction method, Seattle will seek a 15 percent CO2 reduction below 1990 levels by 2012 and 40 percent by 2020. Other goals include reducing water use by 50 percent of current levels by 2020 and eventually sending zero waste into landfills.  The steady flow of the metrics into the process is an appropriate push on public policy.

The New Equity is Energy Used Well

The interplay between transport systems and urban design is unquestioned.  Whenever a system can deliver 9,000 people to a place per hour the responsibilities go well beyond appropriate circulation and way-finding.  It is exhibited everywhere, from suburban sprawl to new cities that have adopted transit-oriented development.  Recently, even standard highway projects have focused on adding alternative means of transport that are essentially competitive with low-cost public transit by designing lanes dedicated to human powered and power assist vehicles.

In older urban centers such as New York City, transit-stationed neighborhoods are equivalent to entire towns in other parts of the nation where efforts to produce transit-oriented villages remain in the planning stages.  However, in New York, where the availability of multiple public transit hubs has long been recognized for its robust economic impacts, the lesson taught by “newer” places such as Portland or Seattle concerns adding value by re-defining transit “stations” as complete “places”.   The American Public Transportation Association’s (TPTA) work on Transit Oriented Development (TOD) continues to develop in a variety of local and international case studies.   The central issue is how to frame development benefits sufficiently to assuage real and perceived loss of market share by reducing auto parking to minimal yet reasonably accessible levels.

Measuring the public benefits more broadly (i.e. carbon cap and trade systems) will be helpful and legislation is on its way.   Improvements in the health of the walking/cycling community also need to be taken into a savings account.  Ultimately, the household pocket book issue remains central to effective change. Recently alternative transportation ideas were explored in the September-October 2008 issue of World-Watch.  Citing recent increases in bike commuting and its growing prestige Gary Gardner,  (When Cities Take Bicycles Seriously) suggested if just 5 percent of the 1.5 trillion miles consumed each year in cars and taxies were taken by bicycles it would save its consumers $100 billion.  In urban areas alone a substantial portion of that five percent could be readily defined as HPV type trips

When redefined as urban “hubs” the train or subway station is more likely to become a prime asset.  Obviously, they cannot be “grand central’ in character yet sufficiently equal in charm to encourage social capital and enhance the public’s sense of well-being.  The lesson learned from these newer urban cities is less about real estate value than effective leadership in place making.  Enter the bicycle. Can something as simple as a bike contribute to the goals of improved place making in NYC? Is it the lynch pin between improved use of open space and urban grid?  A few well known examples of the general benefits useful in defining this urban design problem are:

  • Efficiency: The average cyclist travels at about 12 mph.  This is faster than the average driver during peak hours anywhere in New York City where the peak is around 2:30PM and bracketed by the morning and evening rush.
  • Equity: Briefly, the low-infrastructure cost of cycling is obvious.  A bike uses a one-twelfth of a the mid-sized car space. Transit systems with infrastructure for all forms of HPVs generate more efficient point to point destination volumes.
  • Exercise: Biking uses more muscles than walking and it invokes the release of endorphins — a natural renewable energy that includes a strong sense of well being.  Riding as little as five miles each day would improve American public health.
  • Affordability: A bicycle is more than affordable.  Public transit, in NYC cost fours dollars round trip (2009 and holding on a 25% increase).  Three months of bicycle use for commuting would equal the average acquisition cost.  And its use recently became deductible as a business expense for employers.
  • Sustainability:  Public knowledge of sustainability concepts will grow if walking and HPV can be used to acquire most consumer goods and services.  Once some thought about how these convenience goods/services are obtained it extends logically to regional centers for comparison goods/services and ultimately to the community’s globalized position.

Given the ongoing development of program components such as those illustrated for an HPV, the process of fully engaging the public in the design of “a community” is in itself a prime educator of how to improve well-being by minimizing deleterious consumption behaviors.

The Bike Path

When room is made for human powered vehicles (HPVs) the product is a highly strengthened transit-oriented system.  European examples abound in this area.  In the United States, the empirical insights of Jane Jacobs remain a compelling argument for the diversity of use inherent to the urban grid with a dense population.  The simple fact is this — the city makes the bicycle extremely useful.  The design question is therefore how can its use become more routine and successful?  Below, are just seven ways that a more bicycle-oriented city might work.

  • Ban or reduce automobile traffic lanes from streets: Mixed use is good for buildings and cities, but is it good for bicycle safety?  In NYC, even closing off one street on a week-end day cries out with stress.  Just three lanes of Manhattan’s north/south avenues could serve over 100,000 bicycles per/hour per/block.  Should the stress of conversion be spread to all north/south streets, river to river and made permanent?  Would HPV dedicated cross town routes work?  Don’t just imagine pleasure riders – see business to business deliveries.  How does this policy extend to the boroughs?
  • Replace car lot space with bike lot space: Obviously bicycles are a better fit. Is a law being written to provide a tax-free pricing system absorbed by an increase in rates for cars?  Is there room for “bike-stations”.  See: (Bike Shop TV).  What are the names/companies/firms of the planners/investors?  Record and evaluate the emergence of systems for bike-share.
  • Increase tax on trucks/cars: The gas tax in Europe is five-times the USA.  Congestion pricing to push truck deliveries into night schedules is common.  While regressive in the short-term, it is worthwhile to stimulate “pedestrian-oriented” cities across the nation.   Places like the Netherlands have thousands miles of dedicated bike path, but are New York City’s paths growing correctly – to assure success?  Have you been “doored” lately?
  • Walkable city: Reduced auto use increases transit and design efficiencies once well placed mass-transit development centers are identified.  Where is the leadership on this point in NYC?  This is a “city-wide” land use and zoning question with regional implications. The term “woonerf” is Dutch.  It describes streets with emphasis on pedestrian domination.  These are tree-lined routes with culvert drainage systems and “neck-downs” open enough for local traffic and emergency vehicles.  Implemented for residential life, they were quickly adapted to commercial settings.
  • Serve HPVs for long or short-distance transit routes: If the trip was Midtown Manhattan to Downtown Brooklyn, the density for a “bike-promoted” standing ride would produce vital support for the seat-free train.   Mass-transit needs the vehicularized rider.  It should be less about the over-crowded rush, or 18 more people per car.  This speaks to the urban design question and the plan for systemic change.
  • Arrivals and Departures: Zoning bonuses and related tax incentives should emphasize space for showers and bike storage. It is clear that more people would ride a bicycle to work if they could do so in a designated bike lane, park their bike in a safe place, and clean up a bit on arrival. 

Existing urban design solutions promote “pedestrian and bicycle-oriented” travel fairly well.  A row of parked autos protect pedestrians, the same solution is needed for the users of human powered vehicles.  Turning the dominance of the automobile into a source of added HPV use is readily available to manipulate.  The college campus or other large regional parks already also offer clear bike transit distinctions that do not require reinventing the wheel, all that is needed is safe passage and the opportunity to participate in building a brighter, cleaner, sustainable neighborhood, city and world.

An excellent summary of the issues associated with the “critical mass” bike ride occurrences in NYC and the response of the NYPD was prepared in 2006 by the New York Bar Association.  Briefly, the Association was highly critical of the legislative role taken by the NYPD and strongly advised the City Council to discourage the use of the police power to pre-determine constitutional issues based on vague rules used to define “a parade”.


Evolutionary economics, triple bottom line, ecological footprints, happiness indexes, true cost accounting, and many other methods are emerging.  All seek the means to press for more sophistication in measuring and confirming principles of sustainability.

Examine a U-tube on Tokyo bike storage systems for up to 10,000 bikes.

See NYC Planning Department website “Zoning for Bicycle Parking”  It will lead to the 1997 Bike Master Plan, Maps useful for grasping the regulatory status quo in New York City

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.