Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.
Every bike lane believer has heard a variation on this concern: Won’t our cities grind to a halt if we redesign our streets to have fewer passing lanes for cars?
Last week, Minnesota writer Bill Lindeke offered a terrific response on his personal blog.
It was prompted to a letter from a person troubled by two of Minneapolis’s new protected bike lanes, which replaced passing lanes on 26th and 28th streets. The letter writer asked: won’t the traffic overflow, just as surely as a too-narrow pipe or hose will malfunction?
Lindeke’s reply is excellent. He begins with the story of a recent day when he turned on a hose for a friend watering a garden. At first he opened the valve all the way, but it was too much; his friend asked him to turn the flow down a bit so she wouldn’t damage the plants.
If our big goal as a city was to keep the most water flowing, then designing streets to maximize volume would be the obvious solution.
And in fact, that’s how traffic engineers have traditionally thought of traffic, as cars circulating like blood through corporeal arteries. Just like cholesterol clogging arteries, congestion was seen as inherent vice. A lot of money, public space, and social resources were spent on unclogging our streets to maximizing the “flow” of cars.