We’re designing bike lanes wrong  More trees, please.

We’re designing bike lanes wrong  More trees, please. By Anne Lusk for Fast Company

We’re designing bike lanes wrong

City streets and sidewalks in the United States have been engineered for decades to keep vehicle occupants and pedestrians safe. If streets include trees at all, they might be planted in small sidewalk pits, where, if constrained and with little water, they live only three to 10 years on average. Until recently, U.S. streets have also lacked cycle tracks–paths exclusively for bicycles between the road and the sidewalk, protected from cars by some type of barrier. 

Today there is growing support for bicycling in many U.S. cities for both commuting and recreation. Research is also showing that urban trees provide many benefits, from absorbing air pollutants to cooling neighborhoods. As an academic who has focused on the bicycle for 37 years, I am interested in helping planners integrate cycle tracks and trees into busy streets.

Street design in the United States has been guided for decades by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, whose guidelines for developing bicycle facilities long excluded cycle tracks. Now the National Association of City Transportation Officials, the Federal Highway Administration, and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials have produced guidelines that support cycle tracks. But even these updated references do not specify how and where to plant trees in relation to cycle tracks and sidewalks.

In a study newly published in the journal Cities and spotlighted in a podcast from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, I worked with colleagues from the University of São Paulo to learn whether pedestrians and bicyclists on five cycle tracks in the Boston area liked having trees, where they preferred the trees to be placed and whether they thought the trees provided any benefits. We found that they liked having trees, preferably between the cycle track and the street. Such additions could greatly improve street environments for all users.


To assess views about cycle tracks and trees, we showed 836 pedestrians and bicyclists on five existing cycle tracks photomontages of the area they were using and asked them to rank whether they liked the images or not. The images included configurations such as a row of trees separating the cycle track from the street or trees in planters extending into the street between parked cars. We also asked how effectively they thought the trees a) blocked perceptions of traffic; b) lessened perceptions of pollution exposure; and c) made pedestrians and bicyclists feel cooler.

Respondents strongly preferred photomontages that included trees. The most popular options were to have trees and bushes, or just trees, between the cycle track and the street. This is different from current U.S. cycle tracks, which typically are separated from moving cars by white plastic delineator posts, low concrete islands, or a row of parallel parked cars.

Though perception is not reality, respondents also stated that having trees and bushes between the cycle track and the street was the option that best blocked their view of traffic, lessened their feeling of being exposed to pollution, and made them feel cooler.


Many city leaders are looking for ways to combat climate change, such as reducing the number of cars on the road. These goals should be factored into cycle track design. For example, highway engineers should ensure that cycle tracks are wide enough for bicyclists to travel with enough width to pass, including wide cargo bikes, bikes carrying children, or newer three-wheeled electric bikes used by seniors.

Climate change is increasing stress on street trees, but better street design can help trees flourish. Planting trees in continuous earth strips, instead of isolated wells in the sidewalk, would facilitate roots trading nutrients, improving the trees’ chances of reaching maturity and ability to cool the street.

Drought weakens trees and makes them more likely to lose limbs or be uprooted. Street drainage systems could be redesigned to direct water to trees’ root systems. Hollow sidewalk benches could store water routed down from rooftops. If these benches had removable caps, public works departments could add antibacterial or anti-mosquito agents to the water. Gray water could also be piped to underground holding tanks to replenish water supplies for trees.

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Patrick Traughber@ptraughber  The ripple effects in San Francisco of subsidizing private car use… no street trees here due to the curb cuts for garages (SF has one of the smallest tree canopies and highest vehicles per square mile among large US cities).  


The central argument against adding cycle tracks with trees to urban streets asserts that cities need this space for parallel-parked cars. But cars do not have to be stored on the side of the road. They also can be stored vertically–for example, in garages, or stacked in mechanical racks on urban lots.

Parking garages could increase occupancy by selling deeded parking spaces to residents who live nearby. Those spaces could provide car owners with a benefit the street lacks: outlets for charging electric vehicles that are rarely available to people who rent apartments.

Bus rapid transit proponents might suggest that the best use of street width is dedicated bus lanes, not cycle tracks or street trees. But all of these options can coexist. For example, a design could feature a sidewalk, then a cycle track, then street trees planted between the cycle track and the bus lane and in island bus stops. The trees would reduce heat island effects from the expansive hardscape of the bus lane, and bus riders would have a better view.

More urban trees could lead to more tree limbs knocking down power lines during storms. The ultimate solution to this problem could be burying power lines to protect them from high winds and ice storms. This costs money, but earlier solutions included only the conduit for the buried power lines. When digging trenches to bury power lines, a parallel trench could be dug to bury pipes that would supply water and nutrients to the trees. The trees would then grow to maturity, cooling the city and reducing the need for air conditioning.


To steer U.S. cities toward this kind of greener streetscape, urban scholars and planning experts need to develop what I call climate street guidelines. Such standards would offer design guidance that focuses on providing physiological and psychological benefits to all street users.

Developers in the U.S. have been coaxed into green thinking through tax credits, expedited review and permitting, design/height bonuses, fee reductions and waivers, revolving loan funds, and the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system. It is time to put equal effort into designing green streets for bicyclists, pedestrians, bus riders, and residents who live on transit routes, as well as for drivers.

 is a research scientist at Harvard University. This article was republished from the Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original here.  You Might Also Like:

The United States is facing a housing crisis: Affordable housing is inadequate, while luxury homes abound. Homelessness remains a persistent problem in many areas of the country.

Despite this, popular culture has often focused on housing as an opportunity for upward mobility: the American Dream wrapped within four walls and a roof. The housing industry has contributed to this belief as it has promoted ideals of “living better.” Happiness is marketed as living with both more space and more amenities.

As an architect and scholar who examines how we shape buildings and how they shape us, I’ve examined the trend toward “more is better” in housing. Opulent housing is promoted as a reward for hard work and diligence, turning housing from a basic necessity into an aspirational product.

Yet what are the ethical consequences of such aspirational dreams? Is there a point where “more is better” creates an ethical dilemma?

[Photo: Flickr user Garrison Gunter]


The average single-family home built in the United States in the 1960s or before was less than 1,500 square feet in size. By 2016, the median size of a new, single-family home sold in the United States was 2,422 square feet, almost twice as large.


Single-family homes built in the 1980s had a median of six rooms. By 2000, the median number of rooms was seven. What’s more, homes built in the 2000s were more likely than earlier models to have more of all types of spaces: bedrooms, bathrooms, living rooms, family rooms, dining rooms, dens, recreation rooms, utility rooms, and, as the number of cars per family increased, garages.

Today, home-building companies promote these expanding spaces–large yards, spaces for entertainment, private swimming pools, or even home theaters–as needed for recreation and social events.

[Photo: Flickr user Paul Sableman]


Living better is not only defined as having more space, but also as having more and newer products. Since at least the 1920s, when the “servant crisis” forced the mistress of the house to take on tasksservants had once performed, marketing efforts have suggested that increasing the range of products and amenities in our home will make housework easier and family life more pleasant. The scale of such products has only increased over time.

In the 1920s, advertising suggested that middle-class women who had once had servants to do their more odious housework could now, with the right cleaners, be able to easily do the job themselves.

By the 1950s, advertisements touted coordinated kitchens as allowing women to save time on their housework, so they could spend more time with their families. More recently, advertisers have presented the house itself as a product that will improve the family’s social standing while providing ample space for family activities and togetherness for the parent couple, all the while remaining easy to maintain. The implication has been that even if our houses get larger, we won’t need to spend more effort running them.

In my research, I note that the housework shown–cooking, doing laundry, helping children with their homework–is presented as an opportunity for social engagement or family bonding.

Advertisements never mentioned that more bathrooms also mean more toilets to scrub, or that having a large yard with a pool for the kids and their friends means hours of upkeep.

[Photo: hikesterson/iStock]


As middle-class houses have grown ever larger, two things have happened.

First, large houses do take time to maintain. An army of cleaners and other service workers, many of them working for minimal wages, are required to keep the upscale houses in order. In some ways, we have returned to the era of even middle-class households employing low-wage servants, except that today’s servants no longer live with their employers, but are deployed by firms that provide little in the way of wages or benefits.

[Photo: Flickr user Randy Heinitz]

Second, once-public spaces such as municipal pools or recreational centers, where people from diverse backgrounds used to randomly come together, have increasingly become privatized, allowing access only to carefully circumscribed groups. Even spaces that seem public are often exclusively for the use of limited populations. For example, gated communities sometimes use taxpayer funds–money that by definition should fund projects open to the public–to build amenities such as roads, parks, or playgrounds that may only be used by residents of the gated community or their guests.

Limiting access to amenities has had other consequences as well. An increase in private facilities for the well-off has gone hand in hand with a reduction of public facilities available to all, with a reduced quality of life for many.

Take swimming pools. Whereas in 1950, only 2,500 U.S. families owned in-ground pools, by 1999 this number had risen to 4 million. At the same time, public municipal pools were often no longer maintained and many were shuttered, leaving low-income people nowhere to swim.

Mobility opportunities have been affected, too. For example, 65% of communities built in the 1960s or earlier had public transportation; by 2005, with an increase in multi-car families, this was only 32.5%. A reduction in public transit decreases opportunities for those who do not drive, such as youth, the elderly, or people who cannot afford a car.

[Photo: ep_stock/iStock]


“Living better” through purchasing bigger housing with more lavish amenities thus poses several ethical questions.

In living in the United States, how willing should we be to accept a system in which relatively opulent lifestyles are achievable to the middle class only through low-wage labor by others? And how willing should we be to accept a system in which an increase in amenities purchased by the affluent foreshadows a reduction in those amenities for the financially less endowed?

Ethically, I believe that the American dream should not be allowed to devolve into a zero-sum game, in which one person’s gain comes at others’ loss. A solution could lie in redefining the ideal of “living better.” Instead of limiting access to space through its privatization, we could think of publicly accessible spaces and amenities as providing new freedoms though opportunities for engaging with people who are different from us and who might thus stretch our thinking about the world.

Redefining the American dream in this way would open us to new and serendipitous experiences, as we break through the walls that surround us.

Alexandra Staub is associate professor of architecture and affiliate faculty at the Rock Ethics Institute at Pennsylvania State University. This article was republished from The Conversation. Read the original here

The smart device market is exploding. Smart home kits for retrofitting “non-smart” houses have become cheaper. Earlier this year, Apple released the HomePod speaker, the company’s response to dominant smart devices Google Home and Amazon Echo. Amazon, too, is expanding its lineup. Recently, it debuted the Amazon Echo Look, promising to make users more stylish.

All of these smart devices are equipped with an artificially intelligent virtual assistant, which allows users to interact with their devices hands-free. These devices, which vow to make your life easier, have another thing in common: They often have microphones on all the timeto listen for your requests.

As a scholar of rhetoric and technology, I study how people make sense of new technological innovations. My research outlines several reasons why people might find these smart devices equipped with an always-on microphone attractive as well as unsettling.

[Photo: Google]


First, smart devices offer exceptional convenience at an unprecedentedly low cost. Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Google all pitch their products as ways to make users more efficient by outsourcing tasks. This isn’t new. Wealthier people have long relied on the labor of others to manage their households and workspaces. Smart home technologies promise similar effects. They can automate chores, including vacuuminggrocery shopping, and even cooking.

Artificial intelligence, algorithms, and automation now execute tasks for those who can afford smart devices. As a result, more and different people may take advantage of a digital assistant than would use, or could afford, a human assistant.

[Photo: Amazon


For example, hands-free technologies may increase autonomy for the elderly and individuals with disabilities. Scholars are investigating how smart devices can support “universal design,” a way of making spaces and activities accessible and convenient for people of all abilities. Smart home systems can assist people with physical or cognitive impairments by automating crucial activities and services, such as opening and closing doors, or contacting medical professionals.

Such systems may offer people increased autonomy in their homes. For instance, in Boulder, Colorado, Imagine! Smart Homes are equipped with smart home systems so that people with cognitive disabilities “may remain in more independent and natural settings.” Interviews with elderly users suggest that technologies that monitor a person’s health and movement around the home can help people “aging-in-place.”

[Photo: Amazon]

While smart home technologies can offer feelings of comfort and security for some users, there may also be security risks associated with an always-on microphone.Smart home systems are part of a larger suite of devices, apps, websites and spaces that collect, aggregate and analyze personal data about users. Scholars call this “ubiquitous surveillance,” which means “it becomes increasingly difficult to escape …data collection, storage, and sorting.”

Smart devices require data–yours and others’–to serve you well. To get the full benefits of smart home systems, users must share their locations, routines, tastes in music, shopping history and so forth. On one hand, a well-connected device can manage your digital life quite well.

On the other hand, providing so much personal information benefits companies like Amazon. As they gain access to users‘ personal information, they may monetize it in the form of targeted advertisements or collect and sell your personal characteristics, even if it’s separated from your name or address. Perhaps that’s why Wiredmagazine says, “Amazon’s Next Big Business Is Selling You.” Not all companies have the same privacy policies. Apple says it won’t sell its users’ personal information to others. Still, potential users should decide how much of their intimate lives they’re willing to share.

Smart homes come with broader security concerns. Unsecured devices connected to the “internet of things” can be targets for hackers. Access to smart devices might provide hackers a wellspring of useful data, including information about when users are home–or not. Additionally, smart objects can be deployed surreptitiously for nefarious purposes. In 2016, the Mirai botnet commandeered unsuspecting users’ IoT devices for use in a distributed denial-of-service attack.

There’s another, perhaps less exciting, risk: Devices with always-on microphones can’t always tell who is talking. Recently, Alexa users reported that their children ordered unwanted items from Amazon. Others noted that background sounds, like the TV, prompted unauthorized purchases. These vocal triggers–called “false positives” when they prompt devices to do something unexpected or unwanted–have led to users unknowingly sharing private conversations with others.

In early 2018, Amazon Echo users were forced to confront these security risks when Alexa began laughing, apparently unprompted. Although Amazon later said that the laugh was an unfortunate false positive response to nearby conversations, the laughter prompted some users to reconsider letting Alexa into their most intimate spaces.

[Photo: Apple]


Potential surveillance and security concerns aside, users must consider the consequences of human-like virtual assistants in smart devices. It is not a coincidence that Siri, Alexa, Cortana and now Erica, Bank of America’s digital assistant, are gendered feminine–and not just their voices. Historically, women were assigned to tasks related to their roles as mother or wife. As women joined the workforce, they continued to perform these roles in “pink collar jobs.”

Siri and Alexa perform similar tasks, taking care of users while also offering administrative support. Some even consider Alexa to be a co-parent.

My research shows that gendering virtual assistants invites users to engage with smart devices because they’re familiar and comfortable. Some users may be willing to share more intimate details about themselves despite security or surveillance risks. Ultimately, people may grow to rely upon devices, which empowers those who own the data harvested from always-on devices in the home.

Smart device users must weigh the significant conveniences of a device with an always-on microphone against the substantial concerns. Some of these concerns–security and surveillance–are pragmatic. Others–about whether devices should have a gender–are decidedly more philosophical. The bottom line is this: When people ask devices to act for them, they must be willing to live with what–or who–is on the other side.

 is assistant professor of rhetoric and technology at Kansas State University. This article was republished under a Creative Common license from The Conversation. Read the original here