ON THE LEFT is a bike lane in Munich. On the right is what is becoming one of the most common American bike lanes, the protected lane on a one-way arterial.
The one on the left is good urban design. The one on the right is engineering, specifically traffic engineering. It’s a good evolutionary step, but as you can see, making a street where pedestrians want to walk, or where drivers want to get out of their car and walk, was not a part of the design process. It’s a suburban-style, one-way transportation corridor, now with bike lane added. It is much better than what came before—a high-speed arterial where riding a bike was dangerous and unpleasant—but as we work towards more walkability and important goals like Vision Zero, let’s agree that it’s not where we want to end up.
New York City’s 25 mile per hour speed limit was also a great step forward. Twenty miles per hour is even safer than 25. At 20, the driver sees almost twice as much as he or she sees at 25, the driver has more time to react and slow down, and a pedestrian hit at 25 mph is 10 times as likely to die as a pedestrian hit at 15 miles per hour. As the car slows down, the heavy duty engineering and bold graphics and warnings designed to make it safer for cars to go quickly become less and less important. When we remove the engineering, as more and more European cities are doing, we see that all the detritus not only makes protected bike lanes, it’s also makes protected car lanes. And those make the driver go faster too. As Vision Zero says, to get to zero pedestrian deaths, either separate the traffic from the pedestrian, or slow the traffic way down.
From the urban design point of view, that’s all for the good. The space between the buildings (in Jan Gehl’s description) reverts from transportation corridor to a public realm where city life can thrive.