March 25th, 2011

Velo-City, by architect Chris Hardwicke


A tailwind draft, always. Dry roads. Lanes for slow and fast riders, and overtaking. Signage like drivers are used to—never mind stupid cycleway maps. Oh and an elegant exo-skeletal structure with archi-cache. This proposal by Chris Hardwicke, for Toronto, really needs maximum exposure. Bike retailing peak bodies should be advertising it on prime time TV.  

Planning Main Street for bikes.

Can you imagine a traffic engineer getting a job as a movie director?  The time would come for shooting a street scene, and the extras would all be told to walk single file, wait for the green man in an orderly fashion, and not obstruct the smooth flow of cars. How would our heros meet and fall in love!?

Film makers care neither for traffic engineers, or the agendas of urban theorists. They just know what looks right: a dynamic mix. Vans unloading. Cyclists going the wrong way on one-way streets. Pedestrians crossing wherever. Cars making their way as best they can. It took a non-planner, Jane Jacobs, to recognize the virtues of unplanned city streets, where every kind of activity and mode of transport coexists, thanks to human good will.
 
The cyclist in the photo above is riding the wrong way up a one way street, that is also a pedestrian mall, a car lane, and a market, and anything people want to make of it, second by second. Seldom do cars go faster than walking pace here, because really, most drivers would rather not hit a pedestrian. Their slow lurching manner makes cars predictable enough for people to walk in front of and around them, and for contra-flow cyclists to make their way against traffic. Knowing they are in the wrong, actually slows these cyclists down. A ride stolen is to be savored. Give them an official contra flow lane, and their abusiveness would rise with their sense of entitlement.

This is classic Jacobs style urbanism that I am spruiking, where a messy vitality is preferred to segregation. Yet despite being a fundamental doctrine for planners and architects (we were all made to read Jacobs at uni), those involved in bike network planning are prone to thinking bike-only lanes are the answer in each situation. Segregated routes have their place, sure. But throwing everyone in together, and asking them to behave, seems to work well on main street.  

Advice for Australians on helmets

Lunch time conversation breezed right on past women, beer, prawns and grudges surrounding upcoming races, to the truly manly topic of helmets. For all but short local trips, or leisurely rides along rail trails (or when in Denmark, Germany or Holland), I wear a helmet. I don't buy the line that drivers give you more space when they see a nude nut, or that helmets do more harm than good in a crash. I have a giant wise brain, to preserve for the sake of humanity.
 
From left, cool around town helmets by: bern, giro, yakkay and poc.

However, I do bemoan the way Australian Safety Standards rub up against style. Just look at the cool helmets I would wear (during Winter mind you—most would be too steamy for Summer), were I not risking apprehension by de pigs man, de fuz, asking if my unusual helmet has an ASA sticker. I would wear a different helmet each day, matching them to my bike or my mood.  
 
Meanwhile, the ASA—or "Australian Style Association"—can also be thanked, for keeping Australia free of some of the atrocities that might otherwise clutter up bicycle stores. It is because I want to spare you, my fellow Australians, from all such aberrations, that I urge you simply to buy a helmet as worn by pro roadies. You will be legal, safe, and telling the world your other bike has Campagnolo Super Record components, although mid week you just ride whatever.

The only way you can look like a tosser with this approach, is by choosing a helmet (or any cycling attire) sporting the world champion's rainbow stripes. Girls, that's rather like wearing white to another girl's wedding.