Pedaling toward safer streets

By Anonymous

Cyclists, motorists and pedestrians have long debated the rules and rights of the road.  As a cyclist hit by a vehicle and a runner seriously injured by a cyclist, I wanted to examine bike lanes and recent experiments with protected bike lanes.  I believe the key is proper design of the lanes, keeping the cyclist away from turning vehicle and opening car doors.

New York City implemented the first large-scale experiment with protected bike lanes.  Instead of the standard bike lane that is nothing more than a painted line on the street, they constructed physical barriers that would lesson the chances of a vehicle colliding with a cyclist.  Their early experiment and continued investment into protected bike lanes has proved that if you build the infrastructure, the bikers will come.  More importantly, they have been able to debunk the popular argument used to resist bike lanes—that increased bike lanes will only further congest the roads and take away already scare parking spots.  A memo from the New York Mayor’s office said, “Sixty-six percent of new bike lanes installed in New York City have no effects on parking or on the number of moving lanes.”[1]

Washington, DC

In 2009, Washington, D.C. undertook a huge project to take out a lane of traffic along Pennsylvania Avenue—the main thoroughfare through downtown—and create a cycling lane.  Just as running on a road without a sidewalk would put an individual in much more danger, biking on a road without a dedicated bike lane is extremely dangerous.

The city and surrounding areas in Maryland and Virginia have an extensive network of multi-use paths that allow commuters to bike in from many of the far-away suburbs. Before Mayor Fenty undertook a serious initiative to increase the number of protected bike lanes in the district, cyclists could ride all the way into the city on designated paths, but had few safe options once they entered the district.  Turning vehicles, buses, and thousands of wandering tourists complicate the road safety in Washington.  After the protected lanes along Pennsylvania Avenue opened, bike commuting increased 200%.[2]

Chicago, IL

In Chicago, where cyclists have long taken to the streets, even in the winter months, the city decided to make their bike lanes safer.  One of Mayor Emanuel’s major initiatives is to make Chicago the most bike-friendly city in America.  By taking existing bike lanes, removing them from traffic and creating protected bike lanes, cyclists are not only safer but also further incentivized to bike commute.[3]

It’s not all about alleviating traffic and pollution either; cycling is an excellent cardiovascular activity.  There are many other cities that have implemented bike lanes and through constant experimentation are able to see what is working and what needs improvement.  And finally, it is not just bike lanes that keep riders safe, but also a helmet, good awareness of road rules and common sense.

Sustainability in Developed Cities

By Alison Ernst

In discussing sustainable cities thus far in our course, we have mainly focused on growing cities in the developing world (Mumbai, Bogota, etc.) or entirely new cities, such as the Living PlanIT case. This is certainly logical; with 3.6 billion[1] of the world’s 7 billion[2] inhabitants living in urban areas, cities are expected to absorb nearly all of the world’s population growth over the next four decades. Urban population in the developing world is predicted to grow four times as fast as developed urban population, and thousands of new cities will be needed.[3]

However, it is crucial for us to also recognize the importance of sustainability in existing, developed cities. Though their growth will not be as rapid, energy consumption per capita in cities of the developed world is in some cases five or more times that of their developing-world counterparts, meaning there is major room for improvement.[4] Newer cities may have the benefit of allowing developers to begin with a blank slate, which beats working within the aging and perhaps inefficient infrastructure of an existing city. It also poses a challenge to work around the unique cultural and architectural history of a long-standing city. Developed cities, though, have the advantage of incredibly high visibility on the world stage: if New York implements wide-reaching sustainability measures, the rest of the world is much more likely to take note and follow suit than if a few software developers start building a smart “city” test bed in the middle of nowhere.

One such developed city that has made major strides in this area is Chicago.[5] The city has over 7 million square feet of green roofs, notably including the 2001 City Hall project.[6] It boasts the Chicago Center for Green Technology, the first LEED Platinum rehabilitated municipal building in the country. Huge tracts of land have been converted to green park space, such as the former Meigs Field[7] and Millenium Park. It is home to the nation’s largest urban solar field, a 10 MW facility on the former Pullman rail car factory site. In 2008, when I worked for the contractor of the Public Building Commission of Chicago, all new facilities were required to be at least LEED Silver.

In addition to physical infrastructure, Chicago has placed and emphasis on attracting talent to the city in the field of sustainability and renewable energy. It will soon become the site of the DOE’s Joint Center for Energy Storage Research. New organizations such as the Clean Energy Trust and a new technology accelerator, 1871, are establishing the city as a hub for ‘green’ jobs. Mayor Rahm Emanuel (along with Chief Sustainability Officer Karen Weigert, HBS MBA ’91) recently created the Chicago Infrastructure Trust, a public-private partnership aimed at retrofitting city buildings to improve energy efficiency.

Perhaps moreso in developed cities, attracting talent and putting favorable policies in place to promote sustainability are hugely important. Chicago doesn’t have the benefit of ‘starting from scratch’ to make the city’s operations sustainable and capital expenditures on infrastructure have already been made, so there is far less impetus for change. Talent and policy, therefore, need to make up for this. Examples like former Mayor Daley and Mayor Emanuel beg the question: is extremely strong leadership and a push from the top necessary to affect this type of change?