Brooklyn’s Mourning Rider Gives Cities a New Rule
If bicyclists keep asserting “rights” to zigzag across urban landscape regardless of lanes and traffic lights, we’ll add martyrs at a faster rate than we reduce carbon emissions. Jonathan Rule knows this all too well. A humble architect from Brooklyn now working in Spain, Rule has designed a common ground for commercial drivers and gasoline-free commuters from a deep sorrow.
Across Europe and South America and with increasing fervor in New York, bicycle riders are asserting their right to urban road space with open contempt for truckers and others who drive for a living. Rule, of Morcillo+Pallares in Murcia, recently won $10000 from an elite New York urban-design consortium for proposing a bike garage that doubles as a bicyclist’s traffic school. He earned the prize a year after his boyhood pal died on his bike in a collision on the Manhattan Bridge.
Rule’s proposal, which took shape when his Murcia bosses urged him to drum up business by scouring blogs for competitions, beat entrants by the designers of Wembley Stadium and Broadgate, mixes Euro-enlightened notions of public safety with memories of goofing around in Brooklyn. It turns a subway viaduct into a Cycle Loft, with room to stack 500 bikes in interlocking bays and an office where bike borrowers or owners can pump tires, buy Clif bars and learn about truck routes and road rules. Rule wants bicyclists to respect truckers’ schedules, and he wants bicyclists to commute more easily, so he remapped streets to create more logical paths for both kinds of traffic.
Now, contrast this notion with the icy attitude urban planners are showing truckers and drivers. Planning’s intellectual superstars today, folks like Jan Gehl and Jaime Lerner, posit that every city affords way too much room for cars and trucks. Their acolytes in city planning offices tend toward sketching arcs of concrete planters to force trucks out of the picture. A road’s purpose, they say, is to provide a space into which a child can chase a ball. I nod to the nobility in these ideas, but worry about their practical limits (faintly evident in backlash against London’ s congestion charge). Rule reconciles the dream to daily commerce.
It’s easy and exciting to imagine where Rule’s idea can take root. The competition’s hyper-connected sponsor, for whom I’ve written, is huddling with New York City’s dynamic transportation commissioner to create bike Utopias like the one Rule proposed. The Big Apple’s premier bike-advocacy group is calling its fall film festival “Biking Rules.”
But to survive, biking needs rules that mesh with the rest of urban commerce.
In Europe, Jan Gehl’s Copenhagen and Bertrand Delanoe’s Paris have seen an increase in pedaling without a similar detente between bikes and cars- a breach that Rule’s Murcia bosses seem keen to explore. And you can riffle thousands of manifestos about bikes in cities without apprehending the idea that riders should respect big rigs.
But they have to. For one thing, we have yet to figure out a no-truck system for delivering wholesale tire rims and energy goo. For another, the cost of hostility -as Rule knows- is too high to measure.
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