"The general interest must prevail."

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

I walked to the New Hazlett Theater last night for the Gil Peñalosa Revival Hour and as I approached it, bicyclists were converging on the theater in Allegheny Center, where BikePgh had donated racks.

This would be nothing to see in Copenhagen, but I almost skipped with joy to see 30, 40 bikes and cyclists locking up and heading into the show with me.bikesenmasse (The photo below, taken by Eve Picker, shows one of two rackfuls.)

Gil is head of 8-80 Cities (cities that love and respect the QOL of people from age 8 to 80)and such a passionate evangelist for liveable cities that his sentences start rolling and he forgets to finish them. He launches them out to you almost as if you will finish them with the obvious.

A guru of city planning for people, not cars, he visited the P-G newsroom yesterday and gave an abbreviated version of the exhaustive, exhilirating message: Deleting lanes of gas-burning traffic is being done all over the world. And places that supplant those lanes with networks of bike lanes are thriving.

He visited as part of the City Live! series.

His most basic point is that pedestrians should come first always and everywhere, then people on bicycles. Cars and other vehicles have been the big dogs for 50 years. Not only should they slow down to be safer they should move over or stay home more often.

He joked about a city that tried a few bike lanes and considered them a failure because no one was using them.

"That would be like saying, 'We can only afford an end zone, so we put in an end zone and decide this is not a futbol town because no one is playing futbol.

"It is not about money," he said. "Big cities, small cities, rich and poor (his native Bogota is one, because of his efforts when he was head of parks and receration there), are doing it. It is about political will. It's about guts.

“Do we want our streets to be for car storage?” he asked, clicking one slide after another. “Giant parking lots that suck the life out of a place?” Slides of cars parked on sidewalks in chaotic places as the “before” and protected bike lanes as the “after.”

He showed slides from all over the world of motorized vehicles moving about, still with their own lanes but only two, with a light rail rain over there, a two-way protected bike lane over there and a nice sidewalk full of pedestrians.

In some cities, bicyclists have their own lane with a planter as a buffer zone. In Paris, there are 20,000 bicycles that you can use on a time-share basis. “Five years ago, Paris didn’t even know what a public bike was,” he said. “The mayor of Paris? People wanted eight lanes? He made four. He eliminated 7,000 parking spaces."

Parisien merchants who at first were worried that whole streets devoted to bicycle parking would hurt their businesses now see 50 bikes instead of two cars out front and business booming, he said.

“The general interest must prevail," he said. "Cars do not buy things."sfbikes

As I listened, agreeing completely, I thought about all the people who would say, "Now wait a minute! The general interest is cars!"

I imagined doing a man-in-the-street survey and hearing almost everyone saying eliminating lanes of traffic would be ridiculous, that we need more lanes because traffic is so bad.

But when you add more lanes, you get more cars. It's the law of the void. Plus leaders must keep in mind that it is not the majority interest that should rule. That interest can change. People all over the world are changing. The general good is what should be the general interest for leaders.

In all the examples we saw last night, when cars were squeezed out, more people started bicycling and the light-rail lanes were bee hives of people.

Cars need to be put in their place. More and more cities are establishing Sunday Streets, a network that are closed to cars on Sundays.  "Sunday Streets" are among Gil's creations when he was in Bogota. These photos are of Sunday Streets from the 8-80 site.

It has been a couple of years since I’ve been to New York and in less time the city has eliminated lanes of cars all over the place including in Times Square.

“Copenhagen decided they were not going to depend on oil,” Gil said. “Four of 10 people in Copenhagen now use bikes for transportation. It took them 40 years but we don’t have 40 years. The USA will increased by 100 million people in 26 years."

Copenhagen is the role model for any city. Bike lanes are so full at rush hour that people have to go slow, but because the network is so thorough, the elders and women with little kids feel safe never having to interact with cars.

“Think of an 8 year old that you love,” he told the crowd of about 150, asking them to consider the traffic and traffic patterns this kid would face if he were to walk to school or to the store. “Would you be comfortable letting him walk by himself? If you would, it is safe enough.”

Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.