A thousand years in the past, again in 2019, a regional councilor within the Netherlands named Marcel Steeman undertook a seemingly unattainable problem: persuade the makers of some of the in style toys on the planet to do one thing a little bit totally different.

He wished Lego, the toy manufacturing firm based mostly 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 known as base plates — had area for automobiles, individuals, even tiny storm drains, however no designated lanes for zero-emission, human-powered automobiles like bikes. Even worse, it appeared that Lego’s streets had turn out to be 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 vast — and the roads gave the impression to be getting wider, whereas the sidewalks have been getting more and more narrow.

“It actually stood out that Lego Metropolis is such a automotive centered metropolis,” Steeman informed 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 in style concepts can get the possibility to ascend up the ladder and turn out to be 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 help 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 Brömmelstroet, a professor in city mobility futures on the College of Amsterdam who tweets beneath the title Cycling Professor. And one among Te Brömmelstroet’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 instances,” he mentioned. “Typically [they were rejected] with out cause, one time with the rationale it was only a political assertion and never a set, and that basically confused me.”

Imagining what Lego bike lanes might be.
Rendering by Marcel Steeman

A number of individuals who have 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 Te Brömmelstroet continued to dig into Lego’s historical past and found that again within the 1980s and 90s, the corporate did produce road plates with small bike lanes painted inexperienced. However finally the lanes vanished, and within the years to observe the roads bought larger, and the Lego automobiles grew from four-studs vast, to 6 studs, to eight studs.

Not solely that, however they realized that the absence of motorbike 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 have been among the many final items that have been made by an organization aside from Lego itself. In response to 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 often tackles points associated to mobility. When the pandemic hit, Steeman shifted to working from residence, sharing his residence’s third flooring along with his 9-year-old son and all his Legos. “There’s Lego in all places,” he mentioned, “and I have to tilt my digicam upwards to save lots of 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 enjoying with street designs. That may permit the inclusion of pedestrian crossings and pace bumps — and maybe bike lanes?

These redesigned road units (#60304) have been lastly launched final yr, together with a small procuring 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.

The new official Shopping Street lego set has a tiny blue bike lane next to a large road and small shops.

Lego’s official Buying Road (#60306), launched in late 2020.
Screenshot: Lego

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 in need of what he actually wished. The bike lane was small, like actually small, solely two-studs vast, barely sufficient room for a cargo bike. Additionally, the field artwork depicted a bucket truck parked in the course of the bike lane. Nonetheless, he chalked it up as a “small victory,” and bought 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 baby’s seat, and most significantly, huge, vast, blue bike lanes. He selected blue as the colour, understanding that’s the colour utilized in Billund and round Denmark, the place Lego relies. Bike lanes are painted purple in his native Holland, in order to forestall individuals 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 a substitute, he bought 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 help to make it into an actual set.

Lego gave him 60 days to get 100 supporters; he did it in four hours. Now he has a little bit greater than a yr to get 10,00zero supporters. The percentages are towards him — keep in mind, solely 33 concepts have ever been accepted — however he’s assured it may be completed. 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 finally develop into one thing a lot bigger and safer from the smiling denizens of Legoland. Something is feasible.

“Ultimately, I simply desire a worldwide technology to develop up with a sustainable, wholesome and above all protected various to the car-centered world we stay in,” Steeman mentioned. “And there may be truly no larger metropolis on earth to begin that revolution than Lego Metropolis.”

He added, “So Lego was in all probability a bit proper after they mentioned it was a political assertion.”

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