Making the most of our roads, two ways

Paris reclaims pavement for pedestrians, The Cloud Collective farms algae near the freeway.

Do we build too many roads? Or too big of roads? Often, the go-to solution to congestion is to widen highways, add more lanes and build new roads that might serve as alternate, more efficient routes from one destination to another. But does that work?

Studies say no.

In Paris, the city is taking real estate away from the roadways at its major squares, and handing it over to pedestrians. Between now and 2020, the French capital will restrict driving lanes in these squares – which are currently pretty major thoroughfares for motorized vehicles – to a maximum of about 39 feet. The rest of the road will be set aside for people traveling on foot or by bicycle.

The expected result is that these important historical landmarks will become more attractive to the people visiting them.

The expected result is that these important historical landmarks will become more attractive to the people visiting them, making them a nice place to linger and savor. For instance, the Place de la Madeleine would become a more welcoming tourist attraction, rather than a site to simply see in passing on a tour bus. Reclaiming the space from cars will make room for shops, turning it into a marketplace complete with new trees under which to sit and enjoy the beautiful Parisian vibe. Other plazas will become available for use as event spaces, more foot-friendly historical landmarks and places for quiet reflection.

Another alternative – rather than reclaiming pavement from vehicles – is to make the proverbial lemonade from the lemons already handed to you. While traffic is the source of major carbon emissions, why not put those higher concentrations of CO2 to work for us?

The Dutch organization called The Cloud Collective has installed an algae farm along a highway overpass in Geneva, Switzerland (see the video above). It uses the CO2 emitted by the stream of passing vehicles to grow algal biomass, which can then be used to make biofuel, food, cosmetics, medicine, or simply as an air filtration system to capture carbon and pollutants. In the spirit of urban farming, The Cloud Collective's algae garden installation takes existing city space and makes the most of the environment.

The more people think about our most common transportation scenarios and the problems they create, hopefully we'll continue to find new solutions to make a better use of our living space, whether that space is currently being wasted or merely underutilized.

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