October 18th, 2011

Learning from "The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan", and their amazing shape-shifting van

Prohibitions in America, that for example exclude bikes from most pathways in New York's Central Park, stem from the erroneous assumption that a bicycle can be nothing other than some kind of a vehicle. Landscaping plans preventing cyclists from making good time, by forcing them to mingle with walkers, stem from an assumption, rife among architects and town planners, that riding a bike is like walking, only not so hard on ones shoes. Bike paths that radiate out from train stations, but which do not link one town to the next, flow from the assumption that cycling cannot replace transit, but is at best a way of augmenting it.

With a bicycle, I can be a vehicle, I can be a pedestrian, and I can be a train. I can assert myself among cars, making them yield; I can ride among pedestrians without causing them angst; I can ride alongside a train and, assuming the train makes frequent stops, I can reach the next town almost as quickly. 
You might say I'm just bragging about being an unusually strong cyclist, but I can tell you I've ridden behind Danish mums who I'm sure would beat me in a time-trial. And while I'm skilled enough to ride among walkers, you would not want me on your bike polo team. Don't give me a job as bike messenger either: I'm hardly the world's most adept vehicular cyclist. I'm as strong and skilled as most people would be, if they were raised in a built environment that reaped the full potential of cycling, as a kind of vehicular transport, a kind of walking, and a kind of moving from town to town.
Designers have to stop putting bikes into a box, with their limited and limiting expectation as to how most cyclists are going to ride.  Some will always ride fast, some always with aggression, and some will always ride slow. Most though, will morph between states at will. Designers need to go back and watch the Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan, and take special note of their shapeshifting van. 

Bikes in schools of architecture

I've been around schools of architecture since 1987, and there have always, always, been people riding inside them. I remember when I was in 5th year, how I would ride from my bedside to my drawing board in the design studio, without putting a foot on the floor. Parking their bikes in the studio remains a natural right of architecture students, as natural as cutting balsa on any surface, stealing miniature trees from models left unattended, or finely dotting walls green when spray painting contour models the colour of lawn. So here is my question: with so many architecture students riding inside, why aren't the buildings they design, when they "grow up," more inviting of bikes in the hallways? Skip to 2.17 in this vid for the best bike bit, or watch the whole thing if you like students' mess.