A thousand years in the past, again in 2019, a regional councilor within the Netherlands named Marcel Steeman undertook a seemingly inconceivable problem: persuade the makers of one of the vital standard toys on the earth to do one thing a bit totally different.
He needed Lego, the toy manufacturing firm primarily based in Billund, Denmark, so as to add bike lanes to their tiny, brick-made cities.
For years, the streets in Lego’s metropolis units — as soon as referred to as base plates — had house for vehicles, folks, even tiny storm drains, however no designated lanes for zero-emission, human-powered autos like bikes. Even worse, it appeared that Lego’s streets had develop into extra hostile towards pedestrians and cyclists over time. As in comparison with Lego units from years in the past, the cars seem to have grown larger — evolving from four- to six-studs extensive — and the roads seemed to be getting wider, whereas the sidewalks had been getting more and more narrow.
“It actually stood out that Lego Metropolis is such a automotive centered metropolis,” Steeman instructed me in an e mail.
Steeman posted his bike lane proposal to Lego’s “Ideas” website, the place fans can share and vote on every others’ concepts. Actually standard concepts can get the possibility to ascend up the ladder and develop into a part of an official Lego set — although only 33 have actually been produced in the program’s 13-year history. The concepts vary from the elegant, like this incredibly accurate looking violin, to the idiosyncratic, like this map of JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Others have garnered sufficient assist to graduate to full-fledged Lego units, like this recreation of Sesame Street’s famous brownstones.
Steeman’s concept caught the eye of Marco te Brommelstroet, an affiliate professor in city planning on the College of Amsterdam who tweets beneath the identify Cycling Professor. And one among Brommelstroet’s tweets caught my consideration, prompting me to write a story that requested the query, “The place are the bike lanes in Lego world?”
However as the thought gained extra traction on social media, Lego stayed frustratingly silent. And Steeman’s posts to Lego’s Concepts website saved getting rejected. “I’ve tried a number of occasions,” he mentioned. “Generally [they were rejected] with out motive, one time with the rationale it was only a political assertion and never a set, and that basically confused me.”
A number of individuals who had been supportive of Steeman’s concept of including bike lanes to Lego’s streetscape tried contacting the corporate, however to no avail. (A spokesperson didn’t reply to a request for remark to my authentic story, nor to this most up-to-date one.)
In the meantime, Steeman and Brommelstroet continued to dig into Lego’s historical past and found that again within the Nineteen Eighties and 90s, the corporate did produce road plates with small bike lanes painted inexperienced. However ultimately the lanes vanished, and within the years to comply with the roads obtained larger, and the Lego vehicles grew from four-studs extensive, to 6 studs, to eight studs.
Not solely that, however they discovered that the absence of motorcycle lanes could have one thing to do with Lego’s provide chain. Thalia Verkade, a journalist who was collaborating on a book about mobility with Brommelstroet, found that Lego used a subcontractor for the street plates, which had been among the many final items that had been made by an organization aside from Lego itself. Based on Verkade, Lego was making an attempt to purchase out the contract to return manufacturing of the road plates to their very own services, Steeman mentioned.
Across the identical time, Matthew Ashton, an official Lego Grasp, hinted in a tweet that some new type of roads can be coming to Lego’s metropolis units “within the not too distant future.” “A cliffhanger,” Steeman mentioned.
All of the whereas, Steeman was working at his job as a regional councilor for the province of Northern Holland, the place he frequently tackles points associated to mobility. When the pandemic hit, Steeman shifted to working from residence, sharing his residence’s third ground along with his 9-year-old son and all his Legos. “There’s Lego all over the place,” he mentioned, “and I must tilt my digicam upwards to avoid wasting face within the many digital conferences I’ve for my work.”
Proper earlier than the pandemic, Steeman caught wind of rumors of that Lego was going to revolutionize its street system through the use of adjustable units and precise bricks, not simply the massive flat plates, as a means of taking part in with street designs. That may permit the inclusion of pedestrian crossings and velocity bumps — and maybe bike lanes?
These redesigned road units (#60304) had been lastly launched final yr, together with a small buying district (#60306) that included a pretzel retailer, a sporting items store, a crosswalk, a pair streetlights, and — in the end — a skinny blue bike lane.
Steeman was shocked, however relatively than relaxation on his laurels, he instantly he took inventory of all of the methods this up to date streetscape nonetheless fell wanting what he actually needed. The bike lane was small, like actually small, solely two-studs extensive, barely sufficient room for a cargo bike. Additionally, the field artwork depicted a bucket truck parked in the midst of the bike lane. Nonetheless, he chalked it up as a “small victory,” and obtained again to work selling his concept for a wider, extra accommodating bike lane.
He generated a brand new rendering of his concept utilizing the brand new street plates as a basis. He additionally added some bike racks, a motorbike with a toddler’s seat, and most significantly, massive, extensive, blue bike lanes. He selected blue as the colour, understanding that’s the colour utilized in Billund and round Denmark, the place Lego is predicated. Bike lanes are painted pink in his native Holland, in order to forestall folks from mistaking them for the water within the canals.
Reluctantly, Steeman uploaded his new rendering to Lego’s Ideas website, anticipating one other rejection. However as an alternative, he obtained one other main shock. “To my shock the thought was accepted inside a day,” he mentioned. It was revealed on the Lego web site and now Steeman can attempt to garner sufficient assist to make it into an actual set.
Lego gave him 60 days to get 100 supporters; he did it in 4 hours. Now he has a bit greater than a yr to get 10,000 supporters. The chances are towards him — bear in mind, solely 33 concepts have ever been accepted — however he’s assured it may be performed. And if he doesn’t, he is aware of that the seed has already been planted with Lego’s designers. A skinny blue bike lane can ultimately develop into one thing a lot bigger and safer from the smiling denizens of Legoland. Something is feasible.
“In the long run, I simply need a worldwide technology to develop up with a sustainable, wholesome and above all secure different to the car-centered world we reside in,” Steeman mentioned. “And there may be really no larger metropolis on earth to begin that revolution than Lego Metropolis.”
He added, “So Lego was in all probability a bit proper once they mentioned it was a political assertion.”