Poll: This new way of redesigning and rebuilding streets needs a name

November 23, 2015

Michael Andersen, Green Lane Project staff writer

The Lincoln Hub in Chicago: fast, cheap, transformative. What to call things like it?

We’ve seen it again and again in the shifting world of urban transportation: before it can spread, a great idea needs a name.

It was true with rails-to-trails, complete streetsopen streetsprotected bike lanes and protected intersections.

In the last few years, a handful of U.S. cities have been doing something else that’s new and exciting, but doesn’t seem to have a really solid name yet. They’ve been designing and completing certain street projects in less than a year, using simple, flexible materials — paint, plastic posts, planters — to make biking and walking better or to create a new public space. They’re doing it with less pre-planning and more post-construction adjustment.

New York City’s Times Square from 2009 to 2013 (before its pedestrianization was made permanent) is the most famous example:

Photo: Amiga-Commodore.

To put this trend in bureaucratic terms: this is a new type of project delivery. These aren’t “capital” projects that involve excavation and concrete. They use some of the same materials and skills as “maintenance” projects — but instead of merely restoring streets, they change them.

This set of techniques is sometimes called “tactical urbanism.” But though that trend is related, we actually think tactical urbanism is a little bit different. It includes projects by individuals or private organizations, sometimes with permission and sometimes without. Tactical urbanism includes projects that last for just a few days; the idea we’re describing doesn’t. Tactical urbanism is an exciting trend too, but it’s not the same as what cities are doing themselves.

And though “tactical urbanism” is a great name for a movement among practitioners and advocates, we don’t think it’s a very marketable phrase among the broader public. Most people don’t seem to understand it intuitively or react to it warmly.

We’ve also heard “demonstration projects,” “pilot projects,” and “interim projects.” For example, a major bike infrastructure consultant tweeted this yesterday:

Those phrases describe specific types of project that fall into this category, but they don’t work as names for the entire category. (That’s why Alta had to use the word “and.”)

With our friend Jon Orcutt, a former top official in the New York City administration that pioneered this practice, PeopleForBikes is preparing a new report: a recipe for cities who want to start using this new type of project delivery. Drawing on the experiences of cities that have been doing this, we’ll explain some of the benefits and challenges, and we’ll walk through what it takes to turn these projects into a routine.

But before we can do that, we need a name. That’s where you come in.

Please, share this survey, share your thoughts, and help this great idea go national.

Update 11/25: Two days later we’ve got more than 200 responses. Check them out, and keep them coming.

The Green Lane Project helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets. You can follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook or sign up for our weekly news digest about protected bike lanes. Story tip? Write [email protected]

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