September 25th, 2011

The World's 7 Wonders of Bicycle Infrastructure

When you have outgrown that interest in roller coasters, are bored by Borromini, and feel you have been adequately degusted by hatted restaurants to not want another truffle for as long as you live... well then what? Though I have not seen Egypt's pyramids (too hot, forget that), I can tell you from the top of Maslow's pyramid, that the only wonders of the world that impress me nowadays, are those concerning bicycle Infrastructure. In ascending order of wonderment, they are as follows:

7. Maastunnel Rotterdam.

When a tunnel was built under the Mass River in Rotterdam (1937-1942), there was no question as to whether bikes should be given a red carpet treatment. Calvin would roll in his grave if they weren't! The result is Rotterdam's #1 bicycle-study-tour attraction, signaled to pedaling pilgrims by an indicative Art-Deco style entrance pavilion. Escalators take cyclists down to the level of the river bed, and a remarkably cheery bike-only tunnel. 
This is not a hand-me-down tunnel, originally bored for a train line. Some of those rail-to-trail tunnels, like the San Sebastian rail/bike tunnel (nominated for this list by Copenhagenize Consulting) are undoubtedly beautiful, and if ever one is engineered especially for bikes, Maastunnel will have to share some of the glory. For now though, it is unrivaled.

 6. This c1940 roundabout in Utrecht , was nominated on twitter by @vudurebel. Okay, so most of us would prefer it to send cars under and bikes over, but nonetheless, this piece of road engineering speaks of Holland's atemporal commitment to cycling. One wonders if Roman roads will not one day be excavated in Holland, with separate routes for pedestrians, chariots, and bicycles, as though Dutch Neoplatonists were innately aware that the Bike Itself was a Platonic Idea, just waiting be adumbrated in the visible realm.

5. Union Station Bicycle Transit Center, Washington DC. Architects: KPG design. With a $3million+ budget, and a capacity of less than 90 bicycles, Washington's Bike Station is wondrously extravagant. Sold by the architects as having a structure that is analogous to a bicycle wheel, and providing a delicate moment of contradistinction to its solid Neoclassical neighbors, this is not at all the kind of bicycle shed Pevsner was referring to when he said a bike shed is not architecture. On the contrary, this building lends cycling all the cache of a contemporary museum, with tempered glass, stainless steel spider clamps, and every natural convection trick the architects could throw at it, lest this little terrarium heat up so much in the sun, that all the bike tires inside started popping.

4. Nescio Bicycle Bridge, Amsterdam, by Wilkinson Eyre Architects, nominated by Amsterdamize. If bicycling is flying for the masses, then bridges like these are our clouds. Hanging from cables, slightly swaying in ways cyclists aren't phased by, and seamlessly folding desire lines into one another like two strands of toffee, this is the most important bridge in the architectural cannon since T. M. Pritchard defined the genre at Coalbrookdale; I say that, because it's for bikes.

3. Copenhagen's Network of Bike Paths. It is for its uniformity and palpable sense of intent, that Copenhagen's network of bike paths stands slightly ahead of close rivals in other, mostly Dutch, cities. When their great champion, Mikael Colville-Andersen, showed off those bike lanes to David Suzuki, he rolled David down by The Little Mermaid and drew this neat comparison: Copenhagen is not the kind of city where one goes to see solid stone monuments, but rather monuments to which ones eyes must be opened, like the little mermaid there on a rock, or the bicycling network, animated by the passing lives of each generation. It is a poignant, melancholy, somewhat Zen interpretation of what it means to build monuments, and one clearly worthy of an exhibition of photos. Oh look, there actually is one: Monumental Motion. I would think any city wanting to expand its own cycling network, would do well to give Mikael a call, about hosting this show. 

2. 8-House, Copenhagen, designed by architects Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). What Le Corbusier's Unite de Habitation was to the age of social housing, 8-House is, to the age of large scale private development, and the cultural ascension of cycling. The neighbourhood, Orestad, was knocked up by large scale investors, so unfortunately lacks the fine grain walkable scale lauded by planners. Screw walking though! The place looks too good at bike speed, whizzing between buildings we all know from ArchDaily, until finally coming upon Bjarke Ingles's 8-House, that we can ride into, and through, and ride all the way to the roof via criss-crossing access balconies, designed to be ridden on bikes. And screw Le Corbusier's Unite de Habitation, with its supposed "streets in the sky", each accessible only via the black vortex of a passenger lift. 8-House's streets in the sky, are a natural extension of the network of bike routes monumentalised in Mikael Colville-Andersen's aforementioned exhibition of photos.

1. Kasai Station, in Tokyo. Although they broke down with the power failures following Japan's recent earthquakes, the eco-cycle bike storage silos under Tokyo's Kasai Station never fail to enthral lovers of cycling, when they first learn about them. 9,400 bikes are stored this way at this station. Each is dispensed back to the owner in 20 seconds: about the time it takes to unlatch a chain.

I wish to thank the following twitter fiends (would that make them twits?)  for their selfless assitance in compiling this list:     @copenhagenize @steinsky @amsterdamized @vudurebel @7homask and @sindandune. Worthy of commendations are some marvelous, if not wondrous creations for bikes, that we all tossed around before I made the selection above. At one stage, all of Holland was under considerations; it is, after all, a man-made country of sorts, akin to an artifact, with dykes, canals, greenhouses for farms, and of course bike paths wherever one looks. If it could be said that Holland was actually built for bikes, and that Dutch babies only come into the world to offer power to bikes, then Holland might have been listed. A keen eye is also being kept on Qatar, where reportedly a 35km, covered and petroleum cooled bike path is under construction. So far though, I've only seen artist's impressions.