It seems there is only so much that can be written on blogs and in magazines about cycling. Yay for bike lanes and waterproof clothes you can wear at the office. Boo for helmet laws and guys dressed in lycra, if they act like they’re priests. These 4, and at most another 6, give us the 10 basic templates for writing and whining on the topic of bicycle transport.
Since I have just cleared a task from my desk, I thought I might take out an hour, to summarise a few of the new, original, perhaps dangerous ideas, I have worked to develop in my past year of writing and thinking on the subject of cycling. We architects like original ideas, even more than we like good ones. Modernism instilled within us, a belief that our net contribution equals all we can do, minus that which we copied. So here are some thoughts I had on my own.
1. Adore bikes the way people once adored cars.
It is not being said, that fortunes were invested in infrastructure for cars in the post-war era, because people were given licence to adore cars. Everything, from their engines and styling, to the curved airborne ribbons of concrete that gave them flight, to the automated openings that cars created in houses, was part of a beautiful, prestigious, utopian vision. Where are the bicycling counterparts of Disney’s Magic Highway animations? Why do so many bicycling advocates speak as though only old clunkers will inspire people to cycle, and not exquisite porteurs as seen at NAHBS?
2. Build bike paths to nowhere.
It is a commonplace to say infrastructure goes ahead of development. The obsession among bicycling advocates, with forging bike routes between existing, car dependent developments, tells me they have not yet learned to see bikes as real transportation, but rather view cycling as a feel-good adjunct to lives, that must always depend on powered machines. Committed cyclists, who have learned not to rely on machines for their
transport, would rather see bike paths leading to land that is serviced by no other means, that they can develop accordingly. A project on my own desk at the moment, that would use urban drain-ways as bike routes between bicycle-oriented brownfield renewals, shows the potential of reversing current assumptions. Just as roads are the catalyst for the kind of car dependent development pictured below (Houston, of course), recreational bike trails need to start attracting new forms of bicycle oriented development, to suit whatever portion of the population, would choose to live in this way.
3. Though we can learn from the Dutch, history can’t be repeated exactly
Look at newsreel footage of Dutch cycling in the 1950s and 60s. Yes, it was under attack from vehicular traffic, but compared to cycling rates in the US, UK or Australia, cycling in Holland was always mainstream.
That is why staggering numbers of kids were being killed on their bikes there, and why mums took to the streets to demand proper bike lanes; elsewhere, parents capitulated, and now drive their kids to soccer, etc.. So while we can look to Dutch history and precedents, our own stories will differ from the Dutch inspired meta-narratives spoken of, by many, as though they predict our own course. We can learn as much, I think, from the way homosexual communities have made safe places for themselves in the city, or how other minorities cope, because that is what we have become.
4. Leverage laws against hate speech and hate crimes, to protect cyclists
Each country needs a precedent law case, that will see cyclists added to their list of protected groups, as defined in laws about hate crimes. A driver threatening someone with their car, because they belong to a recognised group (they are a “cyclist”), might as well be pointing a gun at a person of colour. Shane Warne’s pre-Australia Day spat at a cyclist, demonstrated quite clearly, that we are the last remaining vulnerable minority, who rednecks can rouse hatred toward with impunity. Though it hurts our pride to say we need protection as a vulnerable group, we need that protection. Carry this argument forward, if only for the sake of your children.
5. The protest spirit needs a new framework
Having participated in a San Franciscan critical mass ride, I can attest to the energy there. But it achieves nothing. By 8pm on the last Friday of every month in SF, the crowds of riders have all dispersed, and the road is just as dangerous as ever. Critical Mass demonstrations don’t serve the individualistic nature of cycling, but the agenda of one cycling herd: those who subscribe to the doctrine of vehicular cycling. Like world naked bike rides, tweed runs, or bunch rides on racers, they will never bring all of a nation’s bikes out onto the street, at the same time. There are over 12 million functional bikes in my country (1.6 per household x 7.6 million households). Something like Earth Hour, but called “Bike Hour” instead, would potentially bring most of those bikes outside all at once. Like Earth Hour, Bike Hour could be pursued wherever you happen to be, and in your own unique way. Simply by riding, you would be playing a part. A reader of my blog who lives in London, suggested 20 March, the Spring Equinox. Wherever you are, at 6pm on that day, go for a ride.