More Shared Space
“Street design in the last 50 years has been oriented toward moving cars fast and efficiently,” Larsen says. But cities, particularly in the West, are now shifting from prioritizing vehicle traffic to a more holistic approach that’s often referred to as “complete streets.” From Fremont to Seattle, cities are widening sidewalks, landscaping to buffer traffic, and installing bike lanes to make pedestrians and cyclists feel more welcome and increase their visibility to drivers.
Portland, already widely known as one of the most bike-friendly cities in the nation, is now aiming for more than a quarter of all trips to be made on a bike by 2030. While classic white-striped bike lanes can go a long way, “we’ve found that a variety of infrastructure works best to provide bike routes that will be comfortable for a variety of people,” says Dylan Rivera, spokesperson for the Portland Bureau of Transportation. The city has 162 miles of bike lanes, 85 miles of paths, and 94 miles of Neighborhood Greenways—slow streets that prioritize pedestrians and bicyclists and often divert vehicle traffic—to encourage everyone from commuters to kids to pedal, roll, or walk. Last year, no one on a bike died in a collision in Portland, a success story few other cities have matched.
Similar, safer, better-connected, and more inviting bikeways are a big reason that biking grew by 184 percent in San Francisco between 2006 and 2017, according to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. An estimated 82,000 bike trips take place in San Francisco each day, and the city is slowly giving space back to people instead of cars. More than two miles of bustling Market Street is now closed to private vehicles to improve safety and make room for the thousands of people who walk, use mobility aids, ride transit, and bike along the street every day. An additional 92 miles of future bikeways are also planned across the city to continue growing the network.
Many design changes, including street landscaping and the slow streets and parklets that popped up early in the pandemic, also improve the surrounding community, providing space for recreation and gathering, reducing crime, improving air quality, and generating less noise.
While we can’t predict exactly what streets in our cities and neighborhoods will look like in the coming decades, the experts we spoke with are hopeful that we’re moving in the right direction.
“At every level there is policy encouragement—within the Bay Area, California, and nationally—to take bold action to reduce the [number] of people who are getting killed and seriously injured [on our streets],” says Larsen.