The five stages of roadspace repurposing

with Kevin Krizek.

Five stages of repurposing. Places across the globe are at different points on the spectrum about repurposing roadspace, away from storage of cars, and toward movement of people. We (undoubtedly mis-)apply the Kübler-Ross model of grief felt by the motorist at the forthcoming loss of automobile roadspace for cycling facilities. A similar argument would apply to bus lanes or pedestrian spaces; we leave those as an exercise for the reader.

Stage 1: Denial applies to most communities across the US as there is little acknowledgement that street space will be or needs to be changing. In fact, there might be efforts to find additional space for auto capacity (e.g., more roads, more lanes, wider lanes, more parking). To the degree that non-auto-based infrastructure is discussed or desired, it centers on finding empty space within existing rights of way (e.g., excessively wide shoulders). Examples: Anytown, USA.

Oak Street Protected Bikeway, Minneapolis (at Washington Avenue)
Oak Street Protected Bikeway, Minneapolis (at Washington Avenue)

Stage 2: Anger is exemplified by the so-called “War on Bikes” and “War on Cars” that are riveting cities trying to make modest changes like replacing parking with bikelanes. Examples: New York, Washington DC, Toronto.

Stage 3: Bargaining might be exemplified by a willingness to re-design select sections to reduce vehicular presence. Such areas, historically, have been recipients of traffic calming techniques. This might be an explicit commitment to not build more roads, expand lanes, or increase the level of service of intersections. Given that potholes are often thought of as the original form of traffic calming, select stretches of roads might be left to wither, while other stretches might be better maintained to support increased variety of use.  But the reach of these areas is increasing. Examples: St. Paul.

Stage 4: Depression builds on Bargaining as the perceived losers in the War on Cars (drivers) just stop fighting the extension of non-auto infrastructure into full corridors. Efforts might be centered on longer stretches of road where there is a willingness to reduce lane capacity. Since the first section of bike lanes already created a bottleneck for cars or eliminated parking, extensions matter a lot less. Examples: Minneapolis, Boulder.

Stage 5: Acceptance would be represented by community-wide consensus to reduce vehicular space, associated with higher non-auto mode shares. This might be in the form of removing on-street parking overall, installing parking in former vehicular lanes, or any of a series of other treatments (e.g., buffered bicycle lanes, bulb-outs). In this stage, precedents and protocol are more established, thereby easing the path by which the public, engineering or public works offices (in snow country) might more willingly accept such projects (e.g., in countless communities across the Netherlands or Denmark—though fully recognizing that there remain intense battles for initiatives that aim to reduce vehicular space, even in these so called progressive settings).  Examples: Davis, Portland.

Once urban environments are created, people sort themselves, selecting the environment that best enables them to lead the lifestyle the want. People who want to bike will move to places where biking is easier. People who want to park will do likewise.

This post is a brief excerpt of the authors’ book The End of Traffic and the Future of Transport.

Cross-posted at