For many people waterfront promenades are places to drive to, get out, go for walks (perhaps with their dogs on retractable leads), before returning to their cars to drive home. For a few of us though, waterfront promenades provide a rare opportunity in cities where cars hog the road, to use bikes for transport.
To my mind there are hundreds of places to walk around in big circles with your dog on a lead—like, maybe a park—but there are very few easements of any significant length that can be repurposed as bike transport corridors. We have it all back-to-front as designers of waterfront pathways when we provide better protection and treatment for pedestrians, who generate car trips and dog shit, than we give to cyclists, whose presence on the waterfront equates to less driving elsewhere in the city. See the big picture.
If dawdlers and their dogs feel uncomfortable having cyclists whiz past their ears, the answer might not be a “cyclists dismount” sign. It may be
1. provide a wide enough shared space that any cyclist can steer their way past those retractable dog leads
2. segregate bikes and pedestrians, ensuring the bike route is the nearest to the water and the pedestrians cop all the car fumes (don’t encourage them)
3. get rid of the car park.
At the risk of overdosing on kind thoughtful reactions to my bike-centric ground plane (thank you Archinect for providing that forum), I have decided to expose myself to reactions to an idea we’ve been developing here, for an apartment block entirely navigated by bike. Even the smallest flats would have room for bike parking inside.
Some background: two of us, Rafael and myself, live part way up a hill, that we gladly climb on our bikes at the end of each day when returning from work. Living up here affords us both views from our houses, and a burst of exercise at the end of each day. Like most people who live on hills, we don’t complain that there isn’t something like Lisbon’s Santa Justa Lift to help us each day. We just ride our bikes up the hill, and are on-the-whole grateful to be kept fit.
From where we live there are also some stairs down to the town, but walking back up those every day without panniers bearing the weight of our luggage would be about as much fun as living at the top of a walk-up apartment, a nightmare for parents, and anyone who buys groceries in bulk.
Here’s a thought then: a ride up apartment. BIG made a start with their 8-House in Copenhagen, that I explore on my bike in this video…
…but what if every door in a block of apartments could be reached on a bike (or mobility scooter, or pedicab, or pedal powered delivery van)?
Imagine a slab block pointing north/south to capture sun on both sides in the Winter. (Nothing new there that Corb didn’t do with his Unite, pictured right). But what if the whole block were tilted, then each level extended until its access corridor met with the ground? Click the first slide below then scroll through to understand the concept development. The access corridors are 5 meters wide to make space for guest bicycle parking outside every flat.
If it catches on, and you all call it the “slip block”, I’ll have something to tell my sons I achieved with my life. An alternating rhythm of wedges mitigates against the totalitarian feel you get with parallel slab blocks, giving most apartments either some sort of outlook, or else a good connection to the ground plane.
When built on the kind of ground plane I explained with my last post, these blocks can be passed beneath on a bike at 60 meter intervals. More bike-centric building types can be found on this site under “bicycletecture“. I also have a pinterest board, “Architecture inviting of cycling“.
An essay I have co-written with Angelina Russo for The Conversation, that appeared two days ago, points to the power of utopian visions and cultural institutions to bring these into the cultural imaginary. My big vision is for urban districts developed on a bicycle mobility platform. What does that mean? Well consider: venice was built around boating; Singapore has been built around transit and driving; Los Angeles has been built around driving, and the so-called bike city of Groningen NL, was built around walking and horses. My work is in imagining new layers of cities, built by redeveloping brownfields and connecting them up, with unique forms, because they respond to the unique attributes of bicycle motion.
Putting bikes first (before transit and walking, and banishing cars) opens all kinds of design possibilities, like protecting cyclists from the rain, and using a ground plane that is sculpted to slow bikes near foyers and shops, but which helps them speed up in between.
I blogged some months ago about an idea some students of mine arrived at (Sara Chugg, Rachel Englung, Fiona McMullen and Chivonne Prouse) to conceive the ground plane as a field of mounds with pedestrians and slowed bikes sharing the crests. Now imagine the crests are linked with pedestrian bridges. That would leave a low level grid network of bike routes, passing under the pedestrian bridges, and passing under all of the buildings, letting cyclists make bee-lines to any point in the district.
The buildings are a new kind of slab block we have developed around gently ramped aerial streets. I know they look like Stalinist barracks, and the foam model base looks like Siberian snow. But the aim of this project is to provoke. I figure provocation worked for Le Corbusier and other architects who inspired cities for cars. It might work for bikes too.
Dreams really do come true. Look at Norman Bel Geddes’s dream of a world designed around cars. Predating widespread car ownership, and on the tail end of The Depression, it would certainly have caused naysayers in the late 1930s to call Bel Geddes a dreamer, fantasiser, wanker, or in today’s polite parlance, a “provocateur”. But compare Geddes’s scale model (left) with Dubai (right). Provocation implies an audience fixed on other voices. This provocateur was listened to, and dutifully followed.
Today’s dreamers (fantasisers, wankers, sleepers), are not people like me, with our eyes on designing bike cities, but the architects, planners, politicians and developers who worry about car parking and easy road access, as though they are trapped in the late 30s. Dinosaurs. I shudder to imagine their record collections.
When I was a lad, we still had a few old timers getting around riding horses. “Old Timer,” became a nickname for a lot of those blokes. Cranky alcoholics, as I recall. It was a term that could pass as one of endearment, while making it clear that you personally thought they were backward. “G’day Ol’ Timer,” my dad would say, flipping them a condescending wave from his car window. If my dad were alive, he would be the one I would be calling ol’ timer, for driving. It’s time anyone still concerned, in 2013, with cars and car parking was on the receiving end of this slur.
I’m thinking about horses today, because last night at an awards night in Sydney, I was named the recipient of the 2013 DARCH Horse award in the “Urban Provocateur,” category. I saw the news on facebook as I was going to bed. Pity I did not hear my phone a few hours earlier on. I might have been able to pant a few words to the crowd, thank mum and god, and especially thank the trophy designer—so much more classy than those cups I have won in handicap bike races. I’m told the jury was impressed that I don’t just whine about conditions for cyclists here in old-time Australia, where all the old-timers still love their jalopies. I was chosen because I offer solutions.
I am moved to share a sneak peak at design work on my desk at the moment, being developed with fellow designer Raphael Upcroft, and two senior students for whom I’ve found scholarships: Abdel Soudan and Rob Maver. This work will be presented at the National Museum of Australia two weeks from now, at a seminar arranged by my partner in global change, Professor Angelina Russo (who also designs and sells bike clothes).
We’re looking at a brownfield site in Fremantle (though the site could be any large brownfield), and proposing a new model of city planning, ground plane design and building block configuration, all designed to optimise cycling while secondarily showing fairness to walkers (an inversion of the usual non-vehicular paradigm). We don’t just make space for the bike; we design the city in a way that harnesses the inherent benefits of bicycle motion. My hypothesis is that bike-first design will optimise the population’s capacity to move and to meet. In the tradition of Le Corbusier’s Voisin plan, we start with a severe proposition that brings the salient aspects of our design to the fore. There is nothing here to interest advocates of a walkable city, or advocates of a transit based city, and there is certainly nothing here for old timers who want to know where the cars go. We’re starting a discussion around something entirely new, that in seventy years time, in some carbohydrates-rich nation (the future Dubai), may even be faithfully copied.
Pessimists have so much to revel in nowadays. Climate change is happening. Fossil fuels are running out. Cities are clogged with cars and their fumes. And anyone born in a more affluent country will most likely be paying for that with their obesity. Doom and gloom. Doom and gloom.
If pessimists are revelling, evil geniuses are in seventh heaven. Speaking as an academic with an interest in cities, I have to say, I am delighting. There is no way I would ever get ethics approval to lead an experiment if the captives of my laboratory city were anticipated to get fat and die early, and be stripped of their wealth. But that’s precisely the experiment denizens everywhere ask their governments to conduct with their lives. The local government in the city I live in has been elected with a mandate to add more car parking, and make the roads faster and wider, until the only spots not covered in asphalt and white lines are the few with heritage buildings. The corners of those buildings will have steel angles attached to protect the brickwork from bumpers. Who would want to cut such an experiment short, by warning of the logical outcome?
My hypothesis is the city will totally die, economically, before the total paving scenario can ever be reached—although in the case of Launceston, Tasmania, we’re going to get very close. Fewer and fewer plebs will drive into our cities because they will have found shops, free clinics and social security offices out in the suburbs, that will have more convenient parking. Ageing hipsters like me will not go to the city because we will have found coffee roasters, brew pubs and student haunts cropping up along our favourite bike routes, in former industrial districts.
Ultimately, the city will be a prize of no worth, fought over by two tribes: retarded trogs who think the city looks just like the set of 2 Fast 2 Furious X, and marginally more intelligent do-gooders who have learned the name Marcus Westbury, and who have it in their heads that the city centre must never be allowed to look like the setting of Grand Theft Auto XVIII. But that is exactly what small Australian cities seem on track to become.
Having always followed American town planing examples, Australians are lucky. We have crystal balls. If we look to America, we see urban life is migrating from Main Street to the most unlikely quarters. The best spots for nightlife and commerce are no longer those propped from behind by big parking connected to “turnpikes”, “outlets” and “distributers”. The liveliest spots are all on the wrong-side-of-the-tracks, in districts like Ballard in Seattle, where I found myself a few months ago. All the pubs here are hemmed with parked bikes. You can walk or ride down the middle of Ballard Avenue, and cars will go slowly around you. It’s the place to be—just ask anyone.
If we leave experiments in urban decay to run their course, then eventually there will be panel beaters and drug dealers occupying the foyers of office buildings downtown, and the highest paid professionals will be working out of old wrecking yards in the hipsterized badlands. Historians will write of an unpredicted reversal, more bizarre even than SoHo New York now having Prada, or the Meat Packing District being filled with flash nightclubs.
You would be helping cities find their next shape if you flicked this link to Marcus Westbury, with a polite request: leave the lid on the petri dish, buddy! Let city centres in Australia be race tracks for hoons, and let industrial areas become the new hot spots.
Although utilities prices are rising, consumer goods prices are coming down. And that includes bike gear. You would think perhaps it was time for all of us to run out and hoard rain gear, but the irony of deflation, is we tend to spend less. The moment we figure prices will continue to fall—that last year’s $4000 carbon wheel set on sale now for $2000 will be $1000 in a few months—we are on the cusp of a great revelation. We are about to see that everything under lights in the shops is just resin and steel from the same factory in China from which we might buy direct for a few bucks, if we just looked on eBay or alibaba. I’m waiting for the day when online bike stores outnumber pirate movie and porn sites and have to give away all their stock as free samples, just so people come to their sites and click on dating site ads in the margins.
In the race toward a post-retail future, Germany is the nation to watch. They have gotten so tight, the Yanks have just had to reprimand them. From the commentary I’ve heard on this issue, I gather American capitalists fear a Malthusian cloud falling from the firmament, engulfing the world in economic depression and pinko politics, if German attitudes toward spending spread throughout Europe.
From where I stand though, those days have already come. Smart people in my elite sphere have passed over spending as something very last year. If they spend at all, they will do so on gumtree. But they’re not spending money in shops.
So who do shop keepers speak to? Folks without PhDs, I suppose. I ever they do have occasion to speak to someone clued up, it could only be over the phone. They will be calling from interstate, having just searched the internet and identified some piece of inventory gathering dust at the back of the shopkeeper’s storeroom. I was that customer two weeks ago, buying a frame from some interstate shop I will never visit. With the help of a few friends with tools, knowhow and old parts, I have since turned this frame I picked up below cost, into a bike.
Though it’s been made with more leftovers than my mother’s fried rice, it rides like a dream and photographs as well as anything I might have had custom made for me in Portland. But that would have been back in the days when spending was hip. To think, that was just one year ago.