This story about the sleek modern bike racks in the transit mall downtown Portland got me to thinking. One thing that I’ve noticed since I started my tenure at Metro is that I have a much greater appreciation for civil engineering and urban planning than I did before. Previously, I passed over bridges and roads, seeing them as a tool to get me from A to B, but never really seeing them. If I thought about them at all, it was only to hope they were safe and not too congested to delay me for long.
But bridges can also be beautiful works of art, of course, and there’s a lot more that goes into planning a roadway than the casual eye appreciates. Curb height, signal timing, pedestrian planning – these are all aspects of civil design that we only notice when they aren’t done well, and even then it’s just a sort of “ugh” feeling about a particular space. Urban planning is a fascinating study that treats roadways, bikeways, sidewalks, and transit as cogs in an intricate machine. The most successful uses of space should be functional, obviously, but they can also be lovely. Steve Patterson explains here why the new style bike racks are much more functional than the traditional “dish drainer” kind we are all familiar with.
Which brings me back to the bike racks: Portland is a lovely city, and a heavily transit-using city. If the bus shelters and the bike racks (or the buses themselves, for that matter) look grungy and industrial and generic, that unnecessarily inserts an unlovely element into an otherwise lovely space. It’s nice to consider form when you’re thinking about function.