Living with the Past

I’m in Stockholm for a few weeks, which is why I haven’t been updating this blog. I’ve been in Sweden many times before, but one thing I’ve noticed particularly this time is the way that old existing buildings have been adapted for modern times. It’s quite common to see stone steps which look positively ancient with two pieces of wood, looking nearly as ancient, laid on top of them for use with strollers and/or wheelchairs.

When life changes for an existing city, you can either adapt the city or you can replace it piece by piece. The U.S. pretty reliably picks replacement. It’s interesting to see a place which tries harder to adapt, a spirit no doubt encouraged by the historical nature of the buildings.

Stockholm is also notable for how easy it is to get around on bike. The bike lanes here are serious alternatives to pedestrian or car traffic, with their own signs and traffic lights. They aren’t universal, but they seem to cover the city and the immediate suburbs pretty well. This too is of course fitted into the existing streets and bridges, somehow. Particularly impressive is a few construction sites I’ve come across where a temporary bike lane was built because the existing one was being built over.

Creating high quality bike lanes may seem like an inefficient use of public funds, but of course it’s really no less efficient than building roads. The U.S. does still mostly agree that roads are a common good, and it seems like, in cities, real bike lanes could be as well.

1 Comment »

  1. etbe said,

    July 19, 2010 @ 4:01 am

    Wired has an interesting article about research into New York traffic problems. Adding more cars to a crowded city has a significant cost in terms of delaying people getting to work, delaying deliveries, and generally preventing commercial activity.

    One of the interesting things in the Wired article is that it would be a better use of public funds to make all NY buses free because the amount of time that a bus spends parked while passengers pay for tickets costs the city more than the fares!

    Government money spent on roads is among other things a subsidy to the car and oil industries. In Australia the government gives significant amounts of money (nothing less than $100,000,000) to car companies that threaten to close factories. They also spend a lot of money building roads but almost no money is spent on public transport. For Melbourne and Sydney that amounts to a fairly significant subsidy for the car related industries and a cost to the overall economy of the country.

    As for bike lanes, how useful they are depends in part on the layout of the city. A relatively small flat city like Amsterdam is well suited to bikes. A city that is larger and has some hills (like Melbourne) is a bit more difficult for bike travel.

    The San Francisco buses that have bike racks on the front are a really good idea, they could work well in many other cities.

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