Piazza Zenetti, Munich.
City streets are increasingly becoming spaces for experimentation, for testing "in the wild" a seemingly unstoppable flow of "disruptive" mobility innovations such as mobility platforms for shared mobility and ride/hailing, electric and autonomous vehicles, micro-mobility solutions, etc. But also, and perhaps more radically, for recovering the primary function of city streets as public spaces, not just traffic channels.
City street experiments are:
"intentional, temporary changes of the street use, regulation and/or form, aimed at exploring systemic change in urban mobility"
They offer a prefiguration of what a radically different arrangement of the city´s mobility system and public space could look like and allow moving towards that vision by means of "learning by doing".
To allocate space for different types of traffic, pedestrian crossings, parking spaces – is one central approach to regulating their uses. Deliberately changing street markings has, then, become the first avenue for experimenting with alternative ways of designing, regulating and using streets. Examples: Intersection repair, the addition of bike lanes, the redesign of zebra crossings, or the ‘unmarking’ of streets along ‘shared space’ concepts.
Vehicle parking accounts for a major portion of space use on city streets and public space, in general, and is a very inefficient use of a scarce urban resource (Soup, 2018). On average cars are driven only a fraction of time and spend the rest standing idle in a parking space. Example: ´Parklets’ officially first launched in San Francisco in 2005.
SECTIONS OF STREETS
These experiments pose the question whether the present balance between traffic channel and public space should be reversed for the benefit of the latter. It is also a step with inevitable system-wide reverberations, as diverted traffic has to find another conduit or perhaps even disappear altogether, as drivers choose for other transport modes or give up the trip. Because of these implications, this step more directly focuses the attention on the relationships between local experiments and global impacts, and, thus, on the value of city street experiments as potential triggers of city-wide transformation of the mobility system, a core question of this report. Main example: ‘pavement to plazas’ program in New York.
RE-PURPOSING ENTIRE STREETS
Poses the fundamental question on the utility purpose of the street: Should it be only used for motorized traffic or should it be opened up to non-motorized traffic and non-mobility-related uses (e.g., playing, socializing, exercising, or just being outside)? The main example here are ‘ciclovias’ (the name given to the approach in Latin America, where it was introduced) or ‘open streets’ (as they are called in North America) and play streets.
Intersection repair in Portland, Oregon. Source: https:/cityrepair.org/
Back to 2005, first Parklet in San Francisco. Source: Rebar
Ciclovía in Bogotá. Source: www.almazjourneys.com
Times Square, New York. Source: NYC Department of Transportation, Michael Grimm.