Log in

No account? Create an account
Ever asked yourself, what is art? Well I have as well, and because luck so often falls my way, this questioning led to a visiting position, in 2006, at the Department of Philosophy at Columbia University, to develop some publications and fanciful projects with Arthur C. Danto. Who is he? Only the greatest definer of art since Immanuel Kant. 
I'll spare you the thesis and tell you that Danto defines an art object as anything with embodied meaning, that can be recognised and marvelled upon by the artworld. My association with Danto led me to define a work of architecture, as any building with embodied meaning, that can be recognised and marvelled upon by the architectural fraternity. Time since spent looking at designer bicycles, has brought about a slight evolution. 

One class of buildings and bikes are valued for being exceptionally functional: the 6 Green Star energy rated building, or the Specialised pro team edition, for instance. An antithetical group of buildings and bikes, are valued for being designerly. They will invariably compromise utility, to draw attention to something visually intriguing about them. "Wow," we say of the Farnsworth house, "a building made from nothing but I-beams and glass." The fact that it is unliveable, only adds to our delight. "Wow," we say of the Ron Arad bike, "those wheels are made from steel petals." Anyone hung up on matters of traction, or noise, we look upon as a dull engineer who doesn't "get" anything. 

This leads me to a definition of architecture, as opposed to mere building, not unlike Danto's definition of art, but more applicable to an art form like architecture, that will always be discussed in terms of a use. To be architecture, and not merely a building, utility will often be compromised, no matter how slightly, with the aim of foregrounding meaning, to people au fait with architectural thinking.

Mountain biking to work

In my city, there are so many pockets of mining land, now nature reserve, you can actually cross the whole city on a mountain bike and stay mostly off-road. And I've heard of a few hardy souls, who regularly commute to work on their mountain bikes, clawing time in their work day for fun and fitness. In my usual way, I will go too far now, and suggest we all sell our cars and treat shopping errands like hunting trips: "here comes daddy, back from the shops, with a skinned and gutted elk slung over his shoulder." We could use these networks for all of our trips: "Sorry teacher, my kids will need a late note, and we did encounter some mud this morning, getting to school." "Your Majesty, I would like to introduce you to Dr. Behooving. He is always covered in mud, as a political statement."

My real point is somewhat more tame, and it is that any trip made by bike through a nature reserve, is doing less damage to the environment than a trip made by car, on a sealed road. Roads are an enormous blight on the landscape, serving two tonne noisy machines, chewing up more energy than will ever be produced via renewable sources. These days, mountain bikes trails are designed to prevent erosion. They have zero impact on the broader environment, plus a positive impact on physical and psychological health. Let's view mountain bike trails as transport infrastructure, albeit for a limited number of patrons, and provide end of trip facilities suitable for hosing down, and safely storing, these bikes that—beneath the mud—are the most technologically sophisticated devices anyone could choose to commute on.

Further reading: Last year, I took this idea about mountain biking to an urban design conference; see pg 82-88 of the proceedings. I've also written before about mountain biking appealing to that old devil Thanatos, while upright cycling appeals to Eros, and road riding is Narcissistic. Here's a blog post on those Freudian readings of what motivates us to ride in various styles. 

The following comment from an anonymous reader is so good, I can't resist posting it here in the light:

What's interesting to me is that, as far as I know, nobody's come up with a name and simple description for the phenomenon. Raising curiosity and explaining things concisely is a good start for communication.
So let's coin a word that evokes the familiar but still arouses curiosity. Try this: I think you're advocating for 'bikefield' sites -- brownfield areas retrofitted for transportation by bike.
That's the tip of your iceberg. You can write it on a business card or explain it on a 30-second elevator ride. After that, the details that comprise the iceberg itself -- a few cars or no cars, true brownfield or just edge city, integrated into the urban fabric or separate -- are all up for discussion. But at least you've started the discussion. 

The photos are of Minneapolis's Midtown greenway, that in 2007 inspired a Rezoning Study to increase density and amenity of land within one block of that route. This is the clearest of many examples of the "Brownfield-to-Bikefield" phenomenon, as I've decided to call it, on good advice. 

My uncharacteristic humility (cry for help) yielded some humbling truths too. Most humbling though, was the realisation that people have been closely reading all of these words I produce, all with the economy of a "banana republic"—that's how the magazine Cycling Australia described my verbosity. Can I remind you, Cycling Australia, that Thomas Aquinas, Ayn Rand, and many great thinkers, abused self-publication as I do. 
In a sense, what I've done is simply announce something that is happening organically. While Portland and Minneapolis are the text book examples, virtually every post-industrial city has the beginnings of a waterway and rail corridor bike route, built for recreation, but attracting development and people who take their bearings from this parallel city. Many thanks to Brian Jones for sourcing this clip. 

Can I make myself any clearer?

As cities have grown, the car has stopped being the freedom machine it was first promoted to be. Bicycles give greater mobility. The only trade off, is cyclists are killed whenever drivers don't look, as is drivers' habit, in countries where mass cycling has faded from living memory.

On the bright side, a network of space in most cities has been forfeited, as industry has moved elsewhere. All we need, is the resolve to keep cars out of those networks (comprising docklands, waterways, disused rail corridors and brownfield redevelopment sites), and we have an opportunity to build parallel cities, where cycling is the dominant mode of transportation, supplemented by light transit, and protected from cars. A growing number of people, who would rather not have to own cars, and would rather keen trim and fit, could at last have a place to live their preferred lifestyle, in conscionable safety. They could venture back into car-land with caution, or perhaps hire cars or use taxis, if they need to go there.

I've been failing though, in my efforts to communicate this vision of a safe city for cycling, in such a way that it gathers the grassroots support that I'm convinced it deserves. This failure condemns me to a life crying in the wilderness, with a $25 p.a. blog, of curiosity to a few readers. Lovely.

Is the problem the way I've been saying it? I'll say it this way: consolidate brownfield sites flanking recreational bicycling routes, and separate those routes entirely from cars. In the case of New York (pictured) rebuild all the piers in the Hudson, and don't let people cross the bike path in their cars, to reach skyscrapers out on the piers.

Let me know if you share my vision. How you would nuance it. And most importantly, how you think I should spread it.

The Rietveld Chair of Bicycles

Certain trials are best kept to oneself, until they have passed, like my 2 year search for a bicycle, designed by an architect, not to be the best bike performance-wise, but to stand for all that architect strives to achieve with his/her buildings. The nearest I had gotten, was the Morabike. But that was not near enough. I was looking for a bike that stood in relation to an architect's buildings, as Rietveld's famous chair did to the Schröder House. 

   More pics on  Treehugger  

Traditionally, the chair was the primary vehicle for such emblematic inquiries—I mean, hell, every architect had one. However, as Professor Russo from Culture Cycle (who found the Ron Arad bike for me) kindly informs me, architects have been doing their searching through mediums as diverse as the lemon squeezer, and the design of new shapes for pasta. That's why she's a professor. All knew was that an architect invented Gelato—which is why I take my students, each year, to Florence.

But back to Ron Arad. I know diddly about him, I'm ashamed to admit. Except perhaps, that his bike looks like great fun to ride, though perhaps not any place where traction might matter.
I read recently that the average middle class Australian is spending about a thousand dollars per month, per car in their life. So I found this free savings calculator on the web (look down the list), and worked out what 1k per month, invested in a managed fund averaging 10% returns over the long term, would be worth in 30 years (the maximum length of a home loan).

Holy f@#$%!  Architects, you can add $2.3million to each client's budget, per car you can spare them from owning! Advise them to include bike garages, instead of garages for cars. Here's an example I saw in Portland in May.

If you think you can tolerate my voice for 13 minutes, I sat at my desk on the weekend and recorded an abbreviated version of my most recent talk, that my son helped me edit into a video. In a creative, faux prophetic manner, I'm forcasting something I sense is happening. Bike lanes aren't coming to town, as fast as towns are going to bike lanes.

Remarkably, a similar point was made just one week ago, in this New York Times article (kindly forwarded to me, by ever-alert research assistant, Roberto.
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.
1. Cycling is the only transport mode that puts eyes on the street
2. Bikes chained out the front, make buildings look hip green
3. Holistically speaking, buildings reached via bike are using less energy
4. Bicycle parking costs far less to build, than parking for cars
5. Building bike friendly buildings builds healthier hearts, and reduces obesity (click here for proof)
6. Carless clients save $2million per lifetime, that architects can help them spend on their buildings
7. Bikes fit in lifts, can go up and down ramps, and can be ridden from the living room to your office desk
8. Cycling is a diffused infrastructure, that works despite natural disaster and system failure
9. Bikes stop at shops, and can even be used as shopping trollies
10. A wider age range can cycle, than can legally drive

Cycling: puts eyes on the street; includes kids and the elderly; leaves clients more to spend on good buildings; replaces the trolley

Bicycles and the rhizome-type city

The world wide web, so theory has it, is hard to attack because it is diffuse. It has no big middle bit to strike out. A city with one business district, one water supply, one central railway interchange, one power plant, etc., will grind to a halt in the event that any one piece of it fails, be that by flood, fire, human error, an earthquake, a meteorite, an alien invasion, a visit by Paris Hilton, whatever. Planners and clued-up politicians are talking now about a rhizome-like order for cities, not the simple machine-like order accompanying heroic infrastructural projects of ages gone by. Instead of big dams, they think rainwater tanks. Instead of one heavy rail link, they think about many light rail links. Instead of one giant power plant, they think of solar panels on all of our roof tops. Forget THE city centre: think many town centres.
As bicycling advocates, we will be ringing all the right bells if we talk in these terms. Remind politicians that disruptions to oil or electricity supplies cannot bring a bicycle born population to a sudden halt. Remind them how cyclists got by, though motorists didn't, on the day of "carmageddon", when a freeway had to be closed for major works in Los Angeles. Have them know how many people in Tokyo got home after the 2011 earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster: they bought every last bike from every last bike store, and rode home. Cycling is nimble. It finds ways around. It keeps working though systems around it shut down.
There is swathe of land from Holland to Sweden, where cycling is understood. Everywhere else, it is forgotten, and pushed to the margins. Homosexuals know how that feels, so they've learned to carve out residual space for themselves in many cities. Aaron Betsky wrote a book called Queer-Space, that describes an invisible layer in every big city, that you probably can't see, if you're not queer.

I've just written a book called Cycle-Space—at present with editors—that talks about the growth of cycling in similar terms. Today I'm at the 4th International Urban Design Conference, delivering a paper that grows out of that book. Here 
are the notes I'll refer to. The same ideas will appear in the refereed proceedings of the conference, a few weeks from now, with the usual attention to referencing etc.—though without the poetic licence I'm taking in my mode of delivery here at this conference. I'll provide a link to that paper when it is published.

For now, I want to make the point that the planning community in Australia/New-Zealand, does not understand cycling. Question time after one paper yesterday, turned into a brainstorming session, concerning creative new ways to screen multi level car parking stations. Only one person piped up and said, "Parking stations? Whose building car parking stations?" The crowd shut him up, and went back to saying they can be screened with unliveable units—yes, open your windows, and breathe in those fumes!

I doubt anyone at this conference would see it as a positive thing that the shared bicycle path here at Surfer's Paradise, where this conference is being held, is used for regular night markets. That pushes cyclists onto the road, where we know only 2 or 3 percent of the population feels comfortable, riding a bike. A good third of the population would happily use bikes for commuting, if they had spaces, like that promenade, made available to them. I'm talking about one or two hundred thousand people, living here on the Gold Coast, who would be cycling more, if cycling was not overlooked. They own working bikes, that they can't use, without being subjected to ridiculous dangers and inconveniences at every turn.

In Australia, I calculated, those bikes gathering cobwebs, are worth $5.5 billion dollars. That's a healthy, green, transit asset, going to waste. Anyone at this conference, who can't see a problem with a night market blocking a bike path, needs to wake up. Ten years from now, I'm sure they will have come out of this coma they're in. That's why I'm going to present this paper in a somewhat fanciful way, as though we've just woken up in a plausible future. 

away at a conferecne

Please pardon my lack of updates. I'm at an urban conference at Surfer's Paradise, in Queensland. I promise on the weekend to tell you all about "diffuse infrastructure", a key concept among planners right now, that plays well to the cycling agenda. Expect too, to hear me using cute words like "rhizome", with all of its Deleuzian cache, and genuine usefulness, as we think about designing cities for cycling. 

Rate My Velo

Don't let your great photos go to waste, on your own blog, that none of us will ever read (especially yours, you tool-brain Txarli Eintxels). Share those bike photos, where complete strangers can rate them. Rate My Velo is like Rate My Poo (remember that one?) only not crappy! There is no rigmarole. Just accept a twitter app, select a file, and you're up and running. Upload your photos, then start rating others'. And if you see any of the photos below, click yes, ESPECIALLY if you see the little dude on the dragster in the bottom right corner. Some really nasty person saw my boy there, and clicked no! I bet it was you Txarli Eintxels

A design brief for apartment design

Architects: here is your challenge. Design an apartment, unit, or attached house with garage, that allows a family of 4 to leave home on their bikes as quickly as they might otherwise leave home in their car. Each family member has a choice of 3 bikes (that's 12 bikes in total). The kids have to wear helmets.

The 7 hooks on the roof of my utility courtyard (below right) where 7 bikes hang by their rear wheels, seemed like a good idea at the time, but it leaves dad (me) with the task of retrieving and returning everyone's bike, before and after each trip. Hmm, makes driving look good. Then there's the messing about, finding kids' helmets.

Okay, my family could always go Dutch, and chain 4 beater-bikes to lamp poles out the front of our house. That would make a nice advertisement too, I suppose. But we live in a sprawling city, requiring long rides, necessitating our owning a few bikes worth stealing—and let's face it, I like collecting nice bikes!

My buddy Egor (pictured) has the luxury of a garage, where he racks his stable of bikes in a manner conducive to rapid dispatch. We want something similar, only taking up less precious real estate. It's not only us wanting this. It is every family towing the line on urban consolidation, the environment, their long term health, and not posing a threat to the world every time they leave home in a heavy armored machine. The best idea I have had, thus far, is to fill the world's living rooms with bikes, parked between the lounge chairs and the TV.

Send me your ideas, and I'll post them for my 6 or so readers, all over the world, to admire.

Yesterday nearly killed me 10 times

It is satisfying, filling your jersey with bananas, your biddon cages with water, and riding off to a race with no regard for road conditions—let them go around me! We race out in car-land, out where the mere sight of bicycles is a serious affront to their choice of abode, so offensive it is worth killing for, or risking their own lives for, in the way they overtake cyclists. It is worth if for some, to deliberately smash their week's supply of glass beer bottles along the course where we race. More dangerous than any of that, was the bunch ride back home.

So that was the last ride of that sort, ever, for me. I hereby bequeath to the idiots of the idiotocracy, all of that land. I'll organize my life around rail corridors and waterways, where the task of building a separate bicycling network is well underway. Then I'll agitate to have industrial land flanking those routes rezoned to build a new city, interlocked with theirs, but not touching. They will be banned from entering in cars.
I just had to get that off my chest—I'm kinda pissed off and miserable these past couple of days :) Thankfully too, it has been decided to no longer use that particular course.

The *#@!ing Indignity!

Folks, this is what I must subject my family to, when taking them out for dinner Saturday evening: "refuge" islands. Much is said in this city about a train line that separates the old part of town from the new entertainment district on former docklands. Nothing is said about the three roads that cut the city off from the harbour. The people complaining about the train, we can only conclude, have their sweaty corpulent white arses permanently glued to their car seats, and will not be happy until they can actually drive down the harbour side promenade, eating from drive-throughs.   

After over a decade now, of calls from fatsos to get rid of the train line, I believe I am the first to mention that there is a 1.5km stretch of waterfront racetrack, without a pedestrian crossing.

The week that was

I want to tell Einstein, that time cannot possibly exist. While I was writing the previous blog post, everything happened at once. But darlings, though the universe itself has passed through an even bigger black hole, let us carry on as we do, reflecting on the minutia around us, especially as it pertains to the cultural ascension of cycling.

This week I was in my city's local newspaper—just the free one, with houses for sale, and scant editorial. I was "speaking out" (as they say) about my local council's growing wish list of bicycling works. There are black-spots waiting to be fixed from the 1996 iteration. But I love living in a city of block-heads. It's so easy to shine! If I left here, I would have to move to be with a few friends in Chicago, another place where the bright ones shine brighter.

Also this week, my dear friend the Great Gusto rang a bell and summonsed everyone in this fair city to a tweed run. Sunday 25 Sept at noon, meeting at Roladoor cafe in Hamilton, Newcastle (just beside Hamilton station, for those planning to join us from Sydney, or perhaps from up North.)

This week too, the incomparable Dr. Tom Keeble from Singapore, risked spending the rest of his life in house detention on Sentosa Island, by publishing this comprehensive article about the Singaporean Government's stranglehold on cycling. Tom and I have swapped notes for a while now, so I read his piece with a level of interest normally reserved for my own writing, then left a comment, as long as his essay. I suggest you go read it. If you have time, read Tom's esay as well.

So for all of us with over sized thighs, and an extra 10k a year in our wallets, that was the week of September 11, 2011. As an American sympathizer from way back, I will part with warm wishes for friends in New York.
This is a long post, but I rank it among my magna opera. It's actually one of the most condensed things I've written, so I hope I can hold your attention for the whole essay.

I can't go on writing about cycling and cities from a 2011 perspective. So come with me, my regular readers, into the future. We're getting out of this era. We're going to start talking as though we've woken up in 2021, and all this nonsense has passed.

So here we are, in 2021, and for the first time, my country, Australia, has conducted a census that showed cycling to be a mainstream mode of transportation. 20% of trips in Melbourne and Brisbane are made using bikes. Sydney has 15%. My own middling sized city of Newcastle topped the lot, with 30%. That is because Newcastle was the first Australian city where planners applied the principles of a Bicycle Oriented Development, or BOD, to urban renewal sites, on former industrial land.
It's funny, less than 10 years ago, the word "bod" would have referred the human body, in a trim state. You rarely hear it used in that sense anymore, not now that so many people are trim from all the cycling they do, and when everyone knows "BOD" refers to a high density town, where most of the buildings are ramped, or else ride-through, and where you feel like your shoelaces are tied together if you're not on a bicycle. And don't even try to take a car into a BOD. If you're lucky enough to find a road in, you certainly wont find a parking space. Zoning laws prohibit any car parking at all in these places.

What we once called a "bod", and what we can now say was a proto-BOB, Orestad outside of Copenhagen.

With the benefit of hindsight, we can say the early 2000s was a kind of "proto-BOD" period. There are three reasons to say that.
1. A wave of development saw many urban renewal projects forge ahead, but with urban morphologies that were hardly as fine grained and walkable as urban designers would have prefered. During the former growth period of the 1980s, the narrow streets, small lots, and high site coverage ideology that flowed from the thinking of Jane Jacobs, Gordon Cullen, Jan Gehl, etc., were a barrier to the biggest developers. By the 2000s, pension funds had made large scale developers the norm. Urban renewal authorities acquiesced with big lots, and wide streets. The cities resulting had a scale that was alienating to pedestrians, but that wasn't so bad if you had a bike.
2. Looking back we can say Copenhagen gave us another milestone of the proto-BOD period, with urban renewal schemes like Orestad, just a 15 minute bike ride away from the city. For decades bikes had extended the reach of metro stations in towns outside major cities, in countries like Denmark and Holland. But when your home station is just 15 minutes from town, and when modern bikes let moderately fit people ride with so little effort, why mess about with the mode change?
3. The other significant development of the proto-BOD period, was the building of recreational bike routes, not where people needed to cycle for transport, but wherever people could ride their bikes, without inconveniencing voters with cars (which back then, meant virtually everyone). So recreational bike routes flanked waterways, crossed parks, and made use of rail easements, often left abandoned by industry. Minneapolis: a classic example. 10 years ago, in 2011, its bike share was just 2.5%, but in those days, that was enough to make Minneapolis America's second big bicycling city, after Portland, then with just 5%. (For reference, New York's bike share, a decade ago, was half of one percent—incredible, by today's standards.) What Minneapolis had, that got cycling started, were rail trails, park connectors (for example, where once there were mills by the river) and old industrial bridges, one that the city bought for a dollar. From 1991 onwards—thanks to the passing of the Surface Transportation Equity Act (ISTEA), that guaranteed funding for bike works—routes like these that bypassed the roads, were systematically fixed up for bike use. In a country brainwashed by John Forester's 1976 doctrine of "vehicular cycling" (that says bikes are best treated like cars), Minneapolis's recreational network—circuitous and lonely, as it was then—at least gave cyclists a chance to use bikes for transport, even at night, in the rain, when cycling on the road is unconscionably dangerous. (More on Minneapolis in this pdf).
So what changed in the last decade, that those recreational bike routes are now flooded with kids riding to school, people using bicycles to do shopping, cargo bikes making deliveries, and a billion people world wide, cycling to work? Put simply, planners, when they had tried to introduce protected bike paths in established areas, were stymied by voters wanting more space for cars. So, albeit with some reluctance, planners brought Main Street to where there were bikes. The brown field tracts, waterfronts and under-utilised parklands flanking the recreational bicycling routes, were rezoned as BODs, to allow the construction of public institutions, shopping centres, workplaces and lots of high density housing. While the new developments had no car parking, and minimal investment in buses or trams, there was no expense spared in pandering to people on bikes. The enclosed back-drafted bike routes we now take for granted, were unimaginable just ten years ago. 
Images of Velo-City

A decade ago, when driving was viable, the expectation was that former industrial land should provide even more open green space than existed already. Selling existing urban parkland to developers, even if no one was using it, well that was unthinkable! How quickly the mob discards lofty ideals to suit changing circumstance, though. Because the exburbs were struggling. Peak oil, and the late running on alternative electricity generation, meant both regular and electric cars were too expensive to run. Suburban house markets collapsed, as "The Great Reset"—identified by Richard Florida in the wake of the 2008 GFC—looked more like a great exodus, from the burbs to the city. Urban consolidation, once a fancy word used only by planners, appeared as graffiti on walls. Any green space in the city, if it was only being used as a toilet for dogs, was rezoned for high density housing.
It was a happy coincidence, that many of the former industrial sites favoured by developers of affordable housing, also flanked former industrial rail routes—no surprise really, given factories and rail originally belonged to the same networks. Quite by accident, suburbia's refugees, upon moving to town, found their newly built neighbourhoods were on the edge of recreational bicycling trails. The same was true of under-utilised parkland, being sold for development. New housing here, tended to flank bike paths that ran beside waterways, and across parks.
Governments and developers realised what was happening, at about the same time. A pattern of urbanisation had grown out of circumstance, that inherently favoured bicycle transit. Governments had been prepared to back bicycling since the early 2000s. All they lacked, were ways to help cycling, without jeopardising their support from voters accustomed to having all of the road. They wanted to spend on cycling, because they knew spending on cycling could mean saving on healthcare, reducing emissions, and saving on roads and new trains. So they welcomed the chance to invest, not on bike lanes in old parts of town, where car-lovers took umbrage, but on recreational routes, now being used for bicycle transit. It would not be long before every waterway, canal, and old rail easement, had covered bike lanes and flyover bridges where they intersected with roads.
As for developers, they could see cyclists were a ripe demographic. The ones fleeing car land, each had an extra 10K at their disposal per annum, that many were choosing to spend on their housing. But a surprisingly high proportion of bike-nuts were wealthy: middle class fitness buffs; educated left, or green, voters; and retirees ageing actively. A wealthy, healthy, but hitherto odd demographic, suddenly, were worth going after.
Among developers, there was competition to build the most bike friendly buildings. They looked to a building in Copenhagen, called 8-House, by the starchitects BIG, that had been built in 2011. Built in Orestad—the place I said earlier was a prototype BOD—8-House pampered bicycling residents with access balconies spiralling all the way to top, like switch-back roads ascending a mountain. They could ride home from work, to their apartments, without putting a foot on the ground.

Developers looked to 8-House, the way public housing authorities in the 50s and 60s looked to Le Corbusier's Unite de Habitation in Marseilles. Only 8-House—part perimeter block, and part 5th Avenue Guggenheim—had overcome Le Corbusier's oversights. Its access balconies really were like streets in the sky, contiguous with each other, and the real street, down on the ground. They made Le Corbusier's elevated streets look as the streets of Manhattan would look, if the Avenues were taken away, and people had to move from street to street via the vortex of the subway.
Architects conceived buildings with no vertical subways (by that I mean, lifts), only ramps. They looked to Carlo Ratti's London Cloud, an unbuilt proposal/fantasy from 2010, imagining spiralling towers that people would ride up on bikes. They looked at Cube House, in Rotterdam, one of the earliest ride-through buildings. What if schools and shops were ride through? The many ride-through buildings appearing in architectural journals now in the twenties, are products of that theoretical discourse.
As well as discussions around bike friendly typology and circulation, attention turned to the first wave of buildings that propagandised for cycling: the Washington Bikestation, that looked more like an avant-garde museum than a place to park bikes; The Danish Pavilion at the 2010 world expo in China by BIG, a ride-through spiralling building, dispensing free-to-use bikes; and the Bikestation at Long Beach California, designed and sited to be iconic.
Architects' rhetoric was redolent with bike allusions. Anything that could be said about a bicycle's frugality, irreducibility, or means of production, architects found they could say about buildings. The bicycle was a paragon, as cars, ships and aeroplanes had been in the 20s, or as the body had been in the Renaissance.
Pruitt-Igoe, 1956-1972.

Relocating suburbia's victims into high density estates, with little or no public transport, had been decried as a recipe for alienation, suicide and high levels of crime, but the opposite turned out to be true. Because of their speed, cyclists were a ubiquitous presence, always putting eyes on the street. But unlike drivers, who would appear on the scene but drive past, cyclists were insinuated in events going on all around them. They provided the passive surveillance pedestrians do, yet to a whole district, not just the busiest streets. This lessened strictures on urban planning. Districts could have their own distinct urban morphologies. Even towers-in-the-park could be built, without giving rise to the kind of chaos that led to Pruitt–Igoe being demolished.
Extent of the new bicycling zone, in Newcastle, Australia.

Most cities now have two distinct zones, intertwined like a yin and a yang. Everywhere we see a new cycling city, interweaving with, but largely separated from, the networks of streets that for almost a century have been dominated by cars. And while there was rivalry, and talk of separate governments, the sense we have now, is that the new cities are acting as beacons.
Freetown Christiania, and what Copenhagen became, thanks to its inspiration. 

Just as the car-free hippie town of Christiania in Copenhagen, could be said to have inspired the demonstrations throughout the rest of that city in support of bike lanes, in the mid nineteen seventies, the presence of BODs is inspiring change in their host cities. Although my city's bike modal share, of 30%, is almost entirely attibutable to the new, parallel city, conditions are ripe now, in 2021, for the bikefacation of Main Street. When the bike share tops 51%, then we will say it is mainstream.

       What you have kindly taken your time to read, is the basis of a talk I'll be "touring" at various conferences in the coming weeks, to gather feedback, hopefully inspire planners, architects and urban designers, and surreptitiously promote a book I have coming out soon. I'm posting this essay here on my blog, because I get great immediate feedback via comments from readers. Trust me, I don't believe in future predictions. I just thought a fake prophesy would be a neat way to explain an alternative direction for bicycle advocacy, when efforts to date have been painfully slow in making headway. If you see problems, please let me know. If you see merit, please share this link where you can. I'm available as a consultant and public speaker, via the commercial arm of my university: www.newcastleinnovation.com.au My name is Steven Fleming, and I'm in the School of Architecture and Built Environment at The University of Newcastle, Australia.    

Walled cities for cyclists

This post follows on from my earlier post, about a "third way" to get cycling happening, in cities that left their run too late, by waiting until mainstream bicycle transport had faded from living memory, before trying, just now, to build some segregated infrastructure. The failures we're seeing suggest it's too late to build segregated bike lanes, without some hitherto unimaginable magic, to open the eyes of the car borne masses. My magical prescription — not blowing my own trumpet at all ;) —  is to densely develop former industrial land lying vacant in our cities, then to use former rail corridors and waterfronts to connect up those brownfields. And I should mention, this parallel city on brownfields, would be walled off to cars.

So here is an image of my city, Newcastle Australia, with the redundant brownfield sites, waters edges and old and existing rail routes highlighted in black. Next is an image of Ancient Athens, when it was a walled city shaped like a dumbbell in plan. The walled road linked the port to the acropolis, the way non-vehicular railtrails and waterfronts could link bicycle oriented developments (BODs) on industrial land earmark for urban renewal. That's all for now. It is Sunday. I will be presenting this idea at the "4th International Urban Design Conference" ten days from now. I'll post a link to the online proceedings when they're available.


RSS Atom


RSS Atom


Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Tiffany Chow