In our previous post we asked the simple question: it’s 2017, where are all the hoverboards?

The fact that we don’t yet have antigravity boards makes it look like technology is what’s holding us back from moving around like it’s the future. But as we pointed out, we do actually have mobility options (electric bikes, e-scooters, e-boards, and other electric wheels) that wipe the floor with Marty’s hoverboards!

The real reason it seem like we don’t have hoverboards is because they are not very widespread. The real culprit, we concluded, was urban planning, not a lack of great options or technology.

As cities try to diversify their mobility options by accommodating more modes of transportation, they are simply adding new modes to car-centric roads. Instead of gaining from the beneficial qualities of each mode, these hybrid streets are creating a mess with bike lanes next to buses next to street cars next to traditional cars. Cities are managing to squander the pros and exacerbate the cons of each mode!

A DEAD SIMPLE SOLUTION?

We think we might have a simple, elegant solution: priority streets.

Instead of trying to accommodate all modes of transportation on every street city planners should consider designating each street as “car priority,” “bike priority,” “bus and bike priority,” “pedestrian and bike priority,” etc.

Priority streets have two primary benefits:

Flexibility
Each street can be designed with its unique properties, its strengths and weaknesses in mind. The width of the street, the business to residential ratio, the density of existing traffic, the demographics of the neighborhood can all be taken into account when deciding what mode of transport to be prioritized.

Best-of-all-worlds mobility options
Instead of giving up the pros of each mode, priority lanes take advantage of and even enhance the benefits of each mode:

BIKE / LIGHTWEIGHT WHEEL PRIORITY STREETS

  • Lightweight wheels become safe and enjoyable: by truly separating cars from lightweight wheels, these wheels become very enjoyable and safe to ride
  • Boosts adoption: increased comfort and safety of biking helps achieve real bike adoption as more people begin finding it an easy, cheap, healthy, and pleasant experience
  • Increases access to kids and the elderly: children and the elderly can now ride without worrying about navigating around dangerous cars and increase their quality of lie
  • Boosts public transit adoption: As stations become more easily accessible with wheels
  • Multiple lanes allow for different speeds: Instead of the traditional single lane, multiple lanes allow all speeds of riders to ride without the frustration and danger of passing slower riders via adjacent car lanes
  • Increase in ecosystem of lightweight wheels: Thanks to the accommodation of multiple speeds, lightweight wheel priority streets allow for the adoption of a more diverse set of lightweight wheels such as scooters, skateboards, cargo bikes, and even electric bikes, electric scooters, etc. Electric wheels are particularly beneficial because they make riding even easier, without sweating, and without needing to be in very good shape
  • Reduce automobile usage: With real bike/lightweight wheel adoption, car usage will finally start decreasing, reducing traffic for everyone

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION PRIORITY STREETS

  • Decrease travel times: Bus or light rail priority streets allow public transportation to bypass car traffic and operate at faster speeds
  • Increased efficiency: Dedicated streets also mean less stop-and-go and higher efficiency
  • More cost-effective public transit: Decrease travel times and increase ridership make public transit services much more cost effective

PEDESTRIAN PRIORITY STREETS

The benefits of pedestrian priority streets are nothing new in cities where they have been implemented:

  • More desirable spaces: Streets designated for walking, quickly become the most desirable places in cities. Shops, restaurants, and other businesses begin popping up
  • Increased local economic vitality: As more businesses open up, people start spending more time on such streets, and spend their dollars locally
  • Aesthetics quickly improve: As more people spend time on streets, people start paying more attention to street aesthetics
  • Healthier people and communities: People become nicer and more relaxed. Citizens also get more fit as they use their bodies more often. Mental health improves as streets become more alive, civic engagement goes up, and loneliness decreases

CAR PRIORITY STREETS

  • Decreased traffic for drivers: Car priority lanes see fewer cars if lightweight wheel, public transit, pedestrian priority streets are adopted thanks to a sharp increase in real options and a decrease in car usage.
  • Easier, safer road conditions: Drivers have less obstacles to worry about on dedicated car streets, so driving will become a bit easier.
  • Makes diversification of mobility politically easier: Since drivers are usually vocal about keeping their cars, promising them less traffic and an easier commute would make diversification of the city’s transportation infrastructure more palatable and thus politically easier. With local access, drivers will still have car access to businesses and their residence and keep their street parking.
  • Show drivers how non-car mobility is better: Priority streets allow drivers to truly see the difference between a car priority street and a bus, bike, or pedestrian priority street in their own city. The quiet, pleasant, and efficient nature of non-car streets might convince more of them to switch their modes, without anyone forcing them to do so.

As folks begin having real choices in mobility without the frustrating and dangerous compromises of shared streets and begin shifting their transportation behaviors, this model can be further refined.

If cities see increased bike and lightweight vehicle adoption, they could make more streets bike priority. If buses are serving a town really well? More streets could be converted to bus priority. And as car ridership naturally falls, those streets can be slowly reclaimed, instead of springing road diets on unsuspecting and vocal drivers.

We see tiny glimmers of this idea already: dedicated bus corridors that do not share the road with cars and allowing much faster travel times compared to local buses; bike-only paths where cyclists can ride in peace and safety and so on.

Let’s take these glimmers as a model for all our streets and help make our cities shine!