I got an e-mail yesterday from a reader interested in human-powered transportation in urban areas on more than two wheels (i.e., skateboards, rollerblades, wheelchairs).
I’m currently working in Copenhagen and here rollerblade and skateboard users are classified as pedestrians and therefore supposed to be on the sidewalk. That said, on the weekends I’ve seen a few rollerbladers out on the cycle tracks and no one seems to mind. I’m a closet rollerblader myself and was actually recently wishing I had a pair of blades here. The smooth cycle tracks would be amazing for blading, but again, technically it isn’t allowed.
One benefit of having a complete network of separated cycle tracks is that they can offer improved mobility to those in wheelchairs. While cycling through Denmark and Holland this summer I saw several people in wheelchairs using the cycle tracks–especially in places that had bumpy, cobblestone sidewalks. Also, often the wheelchair users were moving at about the same pace as the cyclists so it made more sense for them to be on the cycle track rather than on the sidewalk with slower moving pedestrians.
When I was in Paris I saw a lot of rollerbladers in addition to cyclists. The Parisians seem to be pretty passionate about reclaiming the streets as public spaces that are not the exclusive property of cars. There is an organization called Pari Roller and their mission is “to encourage roller skating as a leisure activity, as a sport or as a means of transportation.”
Paris also has a program called Paris Respire (Breathe Paris) run by the city that gives the streets back to the people once a week.
Every Sunday between 9 AM and 5 PM many streets throughout the city are closed to car traffic. People walk, bike, skate, socialize, and play in the streets. I celebrated my 27th birthday alone in Paris this summer on a Sunday and essentially spent the entire day biking through Paris Respire zones. There were so many people out using the streets–the cafes and parks in these areas were packed with people. The absence of cars temporarily reduced air and noise pollution and allowed parents to let their guard down a little bit because they didn’t have to worry about young kids running into traffic. I didn’t feel lonely at all that day! The Paris Respire zones are pretty joyful places to be; especially on a sunny day.
Paris Respire covers quite a bit of the city. The green represents Paris Respire territory that is open year-round and the blue represents the areas that are only open in the summer.
Tokyo also closes off several main roads to cars on the weekends to give the streets back to people–mainly for cycling and walking, but some people also were skating and scooting.
While I’ve focused specifically on cycling, what I’ve documented in a more broad sense is a global movement to reclaim streets as public spaces that can be safely used by people who are not behind the wheel of a car. The introduction of the car completely altered our social construction of what a street’s purpose is–but not all that long ago streets were places where “soft” road users (pedestrians and cyclists) were welcome. I often use the term “active transportation” because it isn’t just about cycling. It’s just about using your muscles to get from A to B–whether for utility or for recreation and on two wheels or more!
p.s. One more thing. I had a really long layover at the Reykjavik airport in Iceland last summer and noticed all these scooters in the airport. Air Iceland staff use them to get around the airport quickly and passengers also use them if they’re in a rush to get to their gates.