A story came across my feed this morning from the land down under. It’s a story about how Perth, a city of almost two million people in Western Australia, plans to add a series of shared streets where bicycles and pedestrians will have priority over automobiles. This is a very good idea. In explaining the new Bicycle Boulevards as they’re called, Western Australia’s Transport Minister Dean Nalder said “We want to provide people with the infrastructure so they can leave the car at home and cycle for short trips.”
Mr. Nalder sounds like a Bike Fiver to me. I’ve sent him an email. Maybe he’ll join us. I hope so, because we need help showing US transportation officials what a great idea this is. Virtually every city in the US has underutilized streets that could very easily and cost effectively be converted to shared bicycle boulevards like the ones planned in Perth.
Unfortuantely, most American streets and highways give the automobile priority over pedestrians and cyclists. It sometimes manifests itself in weird ways. Take suburban Indianapolis for example. Even though pedestrians are supposed to have the right of way in crosswalks in Indiana, multiuse trail users are always requried to yield when trails cross roads. This is completely backward thinking and it discourages people from using trails for transportation. It also emboldens motorists. I’ve seen some very crazy things take place at these intersections…reckless, irresponsible things.
It’s a different mindset than was prevalent in Minneapolis when Jan and I lived there and most (if not all) motorists would slow approaching empty crosswalks just in case any pedestrians or cyclists were approaching but still out of the line of sight. That’s the approach that every place should take, and shared streets make the case very eloqently. The operator of the vehicle that can do the most damage must always yield to more vulnerable road users. On multi use trails, that means cyclists yield to pedestrians and skaters. On a shared street, motorists should yield to all other road users. Kudos to Perth for getting this right.