Can you imagine a traffic engineer getting a job as a movie director? The time would come for shooting a street scene, and the extras would all be told to walk single file, wait for the green man in an orderly fashion, and not obstruct the smooth flow of cars. How would our heros meet and fall in love!?
Film makers care neither for traffic engineers, or the agendas of urban theorists. They just know what looks right: a dynamic mix. Vans unloading. Cyclists going the wrong way on one-way streets. Pedestrians crossing wherever. Cars making their way as best they can. It took a non-planner, Jane Jacobs, to recognize the virtues of unplanned city streets, where every kind of activity and mode of transport coexists, thanks to human good will.
The cyclist in the photo above is riding the wrong way up a one way street, that is also a pedestrian mall, a car lane, and a market, and anything people want to make of it, second by second. Seldom do cars go faster than walking pace here, because really, most drivers would rather not hit a pedestrian. Their slow lurching manner makes cars predictable enough for people to walk in front of and around them, and for contra-flow cyclists to make their way against traffic. Knowing they are in the wrong, actually slows these cyclists down. A ride stolen is to be savored. Give them an official contra flow lane, and their abusiveness would rise with their sense of entitlement.
This is classic Jacobs style urbanism that I am spruiking, where a messy vitality is preferred to segregation. Yet despite being a fundamental doctrine for planners and architects (we were all made to read Jacobs at uni), those involved in bike network planning are prone to thinking bike-only lanes are the answer in each situation. Segregated routes have their place, sure. But throwing everyone in together, and asking them to behave, seems to work well on main street.