Car-Free Streets: Are They the Answer to Safer Cycling?

The following is a guest blog post by local bike attorney Dan Brazil of Brazil Law Group. Brazil Law Group is a sponsor of Twin Cities Bike to Work Day. 

In the realm of cycling and safety, things are beginning to shift across the country. Many cities such as New York and Minneapolis are implementing Vision Zero plans to reduce cycling crashes and improve infrastructure.

According to the NHTSA, cyclist deaths occur most often in urban areas (75%) compared to rural areas (25%). Why the stark difference? People are driving and cycling now more than ever. And although it’s important we all need to share the road, the current urban infrastructure simply doesn’t allow for it.

The Miracle on 14th Street

In October 2019, New York City decided to ban motorized vehicles from Manhattan’s 14th Street, a move that the locals lovingly call the Miracle on 14th Street. Although the idea was to make the street a busway, there are also plans to implement wide bike lanes and pedestrian-friendly walkways.

Many skeptics were sure the busway initiative would cause higher levels of congestion in other areas of Manhattan. Yet, new research shows surrounding streets didn’t see any changes.

San Francisco Closes Market Street

After New York took the plunge, San Francisco closed the 1.9-mile stretch of Market Street to vehicles as of January 29 of this year. Known as the city’s busiest street, Market Street sees approximately 500,000 pedestrians daily. And, according to Jeffrey Tumlin of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, half of the most deadly intersections are on Market St.

Again, data after the closure revealed no significant changes to the traffic on surrounding streets. The city plans to reduce the size of the street, widen sidewalks and add an eight-foot-wide bike lane for bikes and e-scooters.

Car-Free Streets Are a Positive Move in the Right Direction

Car-free streets aren’t a new idea. Cities throughout Europe have used car-free streets for years. Europe’s major urban areas include car-free zones that cover entire city centers and neighborhoods. Yet, in the US, cities were designed around the motorized vehicle after its invention in the 20th century.

A city designed around an automobile leaves other transportation methods to fend for themselves, decreasing safety. Car-free streets are a step in the right direction toward inclusivity for all modes of transport. They’re not the only solution, however, and should be used with protected bike lanes, greenways, and other infrastructure in areas where car-free isn’t an option.

Other cities such as Denver, Santa Monica and Chicago also have thriving pedestrian zones where cyclists and pedestrians feel safe and content. These changes are part of a wave that’s sweeping our nation—one that I am happy to say I believe is here to stay.

Photo of Dan Brazil standing outside on a sunny day

 Attorney Daniel J. Brazil of Brazil Law Group is an experienced personal injury attorney with offices located in Uptown. He has a passion for the outdoors, especially cycling and climbing. Learn more about Dan and his practice by following him on Twitter (@LawDanielBrazil and #MplsBikeAttorney). 

Showing 1 reaction

  • A Hokan
    “cyclist deaths occur most often in urban areas (75%) compared to rural areas (25%).”

    Could it be that there is far more bicycling in urban areas because destinations are so much closer?

    While there are fewer rural cyclists, they are at a relatively far greater risk of death mostly due to higher speed on rural roads.

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