The Power of Paint on Pavement

New York City has done a lot to humanize its streets in recent years.  Using little more than pavement markings and some planters, the NYC DOT has taken some very busy streets and turned them into little parks and pedestrian malls. Like an oasis of paint in a sea of asphalt, these areas have eased the congested sidewalks and lured people to sit in the street, converting what was a place to get through into somewhere to get to. 

The power of paint is evident in Milwaukee as well. The regular bike lanes we have added to our streets in recent years have had an amazing power to tempt people out onto bicycles. While paint is easy to use and fades quickly if any of these projects did not work and the space had to be returned to motor vehicles, paint is expensive to maintain, and there is a world traffic paint shortage that could get worse next year.

It seems that if these street conversions do help all the area businesses and the world does not stop spinning because a few lanes of asphalt have been taken away from the cars, it would be worth the price of some concrete, soil and seeds to make these malls permanent curbs, grass and trees.

Times Square is perhaps the most well known example of how NYC took what used to be a street clogged with traffic surrounded by sidewalks clogged with people and turned it into a pedestrian mall. I have often thought that something like this could be done in Milwaukee on Ivanhoe at Farwell and North near Hooligans and the Oriental Theater.

Herald Square in front of Macy's has also be returned to the people using little more than some tables and chairs, paint and some planters.

Less ambitious than pedestrian malls, but perhaps more telling, look how a little white line can carve out a comfort zone in some of the heaviest traffic in the United States.



About daveschlabowske

Cyclechic advocate from Milwaukee
This entry was posted in Advocacy, Bike facilities and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to The Power of Paint on Pavement

  1. Troy A. Courtney says:

    Unfortunately, Illinois is slow to follow with the use of the all-powerful white line. Case in point—living in the far west suburbs many of us were excited to see the construction crews move in to widen Keslinger, a road that can be a bit dangerous for bicyclists. We could just imagine the extra cushion we would have (as well as providing a safety zone for automobiles stopping to repair a flat) from the auto and truck traffic when it was done. Much to our amazement, our excitement was quickly dashed when the painters showed up…they painted the white line right at the edge of the pavement. So, the many cars that act as pinballs between the white lines have more space and continue to honk and yell at the bicyclists for impeding their attempt to maintain the 5-15 miles over the limit they have become accustom. Though this example is not always the case and I have to admit that improvements are being made in bicycling safety, Illinois’ efforts are far too slow.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Troy, sorry to hear about that road project, but you should see that scenario less frequently as the new federal requirements mandate that municipalities and counties using federal dollars include accomodations for bicycles and pedestrians on all projects. Of course if the project is only using local funds, say on a town or county local road, the locals are under no such requirements. That is where a state and/or local complete streets law/ordinance can come to the rescue.

      Supporting you local or state advocacy organization is one small way you can help insure bikes are considered when roads are repaved. The League of Illinois Bicyclists is a great organization. And making a phone call to your elected representative is also a very powerful tool.

  2. Bill Sell says:

    As the paint fades, the number of incursions by cars rises. Particularly during the winter when drivers see fewer bikes. We need to remind the bus driver, too.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      As long as we can still get paint, and the funds are included in the budget, our new long-line pavement marking truck that just went into service this summer should mean we have much better maintained bike lanes that will no longer be allowed to fade to nothing.

      That said, raised bike lanes and protected bike lanes of other designs are more costly to construct initially, but require very little maintenance. And they attract more riders, as seen in NYC.

  3. Lance says:

    Paint can be effective, but as the previous posters have pointed out, it doesn’t always work.Paint has to be used where it has a chance. In a couple of Dave’s NYC examples, they knew paint alone would not be enough. Planters, tables, chairs add barriers. In addition, the lanes must be used, not just painted.

    A Milwaukee example I can think of is Silver Spring. Paint all you want, but though I consider myself a bold cyclist, no way I am taking a bike on Silver Spring. I’d want a raised lane and a concrete freeway divider topped with concertina wire. People driving there are just nuts, and the high speed limit contributes. A bike lane on Silver Spring is counterproductive, because no one uses it and it teaches people that it’s OK to drive in bike lanes.

    Scottsdale Arizona does the same thing. Paint is cheap, so they paint a bike lane on Scottsdale Road. You’d be even more looney to ride on Scottsdale Road than on Silver Spring. Painting bike lanes willy-nilly does not make Scottsdale, AZ a bike-friendly place, and neither do bike lanes make Silver Spring bike-able.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      The real key here is making facilities attractive, and protected bike lanes make riding a bike much more attractive to a much wider range of people. Unfortunately we are on the cusp of building such facilities in the US and it will take some time before they become common-place.

      Riding a bike in an urban environment like New York or downtown Milwaukee is inherently safe because of the low speed differentials between bikes and cars. But the heavy traffic of a major city’s central business district still looks and feels intimidating, so relatively few people choose to bike there, even with the bike lanes.

      Riding on higher speed roads with bike lanes, like western Silver Spring, are still safe from the standpoint of your chances of being involved in a crash, but the chances of being seriously injured on the odd chance that you do get hit go way up because of the increased speeds.

      That said, I disagree that providing bike lanes is counter-productive. Some people do ride bikes on Silver Spring and similar roads (me, low income workers, people who live there, etc.). Those bike lanes, while not a silver bullets, make it much more pleasant to ride there than it was when it did not have a bike lane, as was the case not so long ago.

    • Dave Steele says:

      In a similar vein, some of my favorite streets have no painted lanes. Vliet Street, for example, is my usual east-west commute street. I much prefer it to Highland, a few blocks south, which has painted lanes. Drivers tend to behave themselves better on Vliet, probably because there’s two traffic lanes, not four, like on Highland. Vliet is narrower and the buildings are closer to the street than Highland. So there’s more visible pedestrian traffic. All of this makes Vliet a “complicated” street from the driver’s perspective. Those motorists who want to speed through choose Highland, which makes me choose Vliet.

      Interestingly, back when I first started riding, I always took Highland, precisely because it has painted lanes. I never had a problem with it, but as I grew more comfortable, I clung less and less to the paint and started to understand the virtues of streets like Vliet, bike lane or no bike lane.

      • daveschlabowske says:

        Vliet also has some advantages relative to connections over the bridges and the remaining one-way streets in downtown Milwaukee. That said, I bet you will like Vliet St. even more next year when we paint bike lanes the rest of the way east from where they currently end at 40th. A bit of repaving would also make Vliet an even more enjoyable ride.

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