Fun with paint: the lessons from New York

“We’ve moved very, very quickly with paint and temporary materials... instead of wading through years of planning studies and computer models to get something done... And the proof is not in a computer model, it is in the real world performance of the streets. You can have fun with paint!”

- Janette Sadik-Khan, New York City Transport Commissioner

In the video below, Janette Sadik-Kahn describes how New York has been transformed by the simple use of paint. By applying coloured paint to the tarmac, 50 new pedestrian plazas have been created in the city, instantly transforming those spaces for the better. This ‘quick-acting approach’, as Sadik-Kahn calls it, has also been used to create cycle lanes, boosting the levels of cycling in New York.

As Sadik-Kahn notes, “I can’t underscore enough how much more quickly this enables you to move over traditional construction methods”. Sadly, I can’t underscore enough how dissimilar this enlightened approach is to Britain’s plodding, bureaucratic, legalistic form of transport planning.

Although there is a glaring exception to that statement. Boris Johnson gamely daubed some of London’s major motor transport arteries with trails of blue paint, to try to encourage cyclists to use those main roads, and to encourage drivers to respect those cyclists.

Alas, the Cycle Superhighways haven’t been a success. Massive main roads, understandably, are still too terrifying for cycling on in the eyes of most Londoners, blue paint or no blue paint.

The London Cycling Campaign is calling, instead, for traditional construction methods to supplement the blue paint on those roads, and also for those methods to be applied to the rest of London’s main roads. Fully segregated, highly-engineered cycling facilities are needed, so they say, to keep cyclists safe on main roads.

I think both sides are wrong. Paint, yes. Main roads, no (well, not as a rule: this would require billions of pounds of expensive cycle engineering, which is unrealistic and not necessarily desirable anyway).

Let’s put trails of coloured paint on the routes of the London Cycle Network. The streets making up this network have already been developed for cycling over the last 30 or so years and are generally safer and quieter than main roads.

Let’s create a single London Cycle Map displaying all these coloured cycle routes, so that cyclists can get from anywhere to anywhere in the capital as easily and safely as they can when catching the Tube.

You can have fun with paint.   

(Watch from 7m00s)

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