Bike Racks, Bikeability, Liveability, Walkability
Every city has orphaned lots: those islands of land stranded by an unfortunate intersection, too small or oddly-shaped to build on. But while some linger as undignified patches of asphalt or concrete, others become true neighborhood amenities, often because of smart use of street furniture and bike infrastructure.
Here in the US where uniform grids reign supreme, a triangular plot of land is pretty rare. But in European cities, defined by centuries of overlapping urban design, they’re everywhere. Lille, a city in northern France that we’ve written about before, is no exception. Here’s one cut-off triangle, in the working-class Moulins neighborhood:
What potential do you see in that little triangle? A park? A bikeshare station? A patch of calm in the urban fabric that draws people together? How about all three?
Here’s what it looks like at ground level:
This little scrap of land, it turns out, has a lot going on: shaded benches, a line of bike racks, a heavily-used bikeshare station, and a perimeter of bollards to protect the whole thing. What could’ve been an urban afterthought is, instead, a neighborhood gathering point, serving commuters in the morning and evening, and friends and families in the afternoon and evening.
It also makes nearby outdoor seating much more attractive—here’s a mid-morning view from “Le Triporteur”, a restaurant/cafe across the street:
By 7pm, that patch of sidewalk will be packed with local residents, eating frites and drinking Belgian beer, despite heavy traffic on the major avenue right out front.
It’s a scene replicated all over town, and in countless other European cities: find an orphaned bit of land, protect it from traffic, add features that invite bikers and pedestrians, and you quickly have a little slice of community, that entices people outside and into local businesses.
Here’s another example, along Rue Solferino, a busy street about a mile away:
What was just a strip too narrow to build on instead becomes a lovely, bollard-protected public square, enhanced by trees, art, and seating for a facing cafe
Obviously, there’s more to these wonderful public spaces than just some bollards and a couple of benches, but they couldn’t exist without them. Infrastructure does more than just provide a place to sit. It also defines a space and lays a foundation. And what these tiny parks—and thousands of others like them—clearly show, is that once that foundation is laid, amazing things can happen in the most neglected places.
Liveability, Bike Sharing, Walkability
We’re in France this week! Well, one of our team is anyway, spending some time with family in the friendly northern college town of Lille.
This being Huntco, what we’ve noticed about Lille, even more than the beautiful old cobblestone streets or the legendary beer (it’s only 30km from Belgium) is the bollards. Like a lot of mid-sized French cities, Lille is a great place to walk and bike, with a wonderfully rich street life — and one of the reasons why is extensive and thoughtful use of bollards, in ways that might be surprising to folks in North America.
The Place du Général de Gaulle is a good example. Usually just called the Grand Place (“big plaza”) by locals, this is a broad, brick-paved square fronted by bookstores, cafes, shops and a historic theater. It’s the undisputed heart of the city, frequented by thousands of people a day who come there to meet, shop, drink or just hang out. It also has a street snaking right through the middle of it, and a 422-space parking garage underneath.
So how do open up a big, public space to cars without turning your beloved Place into a parking lot? In Lille, you do it with bollards.
Using dozens of slender, elegant bollards at about 8 foot intervals, the city has demarcated a “street” that directs traffic through the plaza, while making it clear that cars are sharing the space with (far more numerous) people walking and biking. For pedestrians, the bollards just barely interfere with the flow of foot traffic, indicating where to watch out for vehicles but keeping the space permeable.
For drivers, the message is clear: proceed to the underground parking lot, or keep moving, slowly, until you’re clear of the shared space.
Just north of the Grand Place is another smart use of bollards along Rue Faidherbe, a short, majestic boulevard connecting the plaza to the city’s busiest train station.
In this case, the bollards line the one-way street (with two-way bike lanes), protecting broad sidewalks full of shoppers while making it easy to cross at any point. Strategic gaps in the bollards define intersections with side streets, funneling cars in a predictable way without impeding walkers — and leaving plenty of room for the city’s cafe culture to thrive.
Like the bollards that Huntco manufactures, these are unobtrusive enough that they become part of the urban fabric, not an interruption to it — in fact, they might even be a bit beloved.
The city also uses different types of bollards to lend a sense of place to different areas. Here’s a different type of bollard as you head toward the are de Lille Europe — the newer train station where the Eurostar from London stops.
You’d be hard pressed to find a city anywhere in the US that uses bollards so prolifically, or applies them so expressly toward directing cars, rather than just protecting pedestrian spaces. It’s a refreshing approach that could have some real impact in cities here, especially ones hoping to spur the kind of placemaking that’s clearly so good for business in cities like Lille.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the word bollard is French! And if Lille is any indication, France may well be the bollard’s homeland.
Story and photos by Huntco team member and world traveler Carl Alviani.