Copenhagen it aint, even so, New York has witnessed significant progress. I can’t imagine what resistance drivers, especially taxi drivers, would have put up when learning they were about to lose a cycle wide slice of their god given roads, in this city where cars held the reigns so tight for so long. But it has happened. Somehow, reason prevailed. But then, these shots are from the West Village, a district synonymous with Jane Jacobs and the triumph of reason. Jacobs saved the area from a proposed expressway and towers in the 60s, and in the process invented the modern concept of "urbanism", a word architects and planners take to mean the messy but nonetheless vital cacophony that comes from loosening zoning rules and designing with a pedestrian’s eye.
I spent a few weeks in New York in 1998, and was horrified by the reckless way people drove. When I lived there in 2006, pedestrians were walking wherever they liked. The change had been a result of a new law that made drivers liable for hitting pedestrians, no matter what.
These are by no means safe or ideal cycle lanes. However, coupled with no fault laws to protect cyclists, I can see them working reasonably well. In Jacobs’s book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, there’s a passage describing drivers giving way to kids playing ball games on narrow streets.
Jacobs opposed separation at every scale. Mix it up and let people behave, was her edict.
Like it or not, Australian politicians look to America. Pub smoking bans swept America in 2005, then Australia in 2007. New York’s public schools policies have just hit NSW. We can rile against their imperialism, and dig Danish chicks all we like, but I can’t help thinking trends in America are more causal when it comes to the cycleways craze in Australia.
And this may explain our false starts, particularly some of the bungles that have happened in Sydney. The pictures are of one-way cycle lanes on one-way streets in New York. God help us if our politicians have seen these and thought wow! Cycle lanes like these hinder short trips by forcing cyclists into big clockwise loops of huge urban blocks. No fault rules, and signs telling cyclists they can ride either way on streets that are one-way for cars, would get more people riding. I think that’s what Jacobs would say too, if she were alive still.