“I would ride my bike more, but…“
I’m sure every second person has said that. They would ride their bike more but: they are too busy; they have children to transport; god makes it rain; their last bike was stolen… etc, etc.. Readers of bike blogs would say these are just lame excuses, but only because they are readers of bike blogs. To admit you’re a reader (or writer) of bike blogs is to admit you are a “bike zealot”. If our wardrobes were outside our houses, anyone but a clothing zealot would excuse themselves for leaving their clothes on the floor. Most people aren’t zealots. Most people rely on architects to design buildings and cities that encourage healthy and productive patterns of living.
All of our excuses for not riding bikes could be designed out of existence as thoroughly as we have designed out of existence any excuse not to use cars. There is no excuse not to use cars. Every street has been engineered to make driving safe and speedy. With no expense spared, every building has car parking slung over and under. Lifts and tunnels portal us from surrounding car parks into those buildings. Half our labours as nations has been spent making it possible to cart a tonne of steel with us, to work, to the shops, then back to garages adjoining our kitchens. The job of creating a similar city, where there is no excuse ever, not to use bikes, is hardly as mammoth as the car enterprise.
However, the bicycle city does need a site. Providing for bikes in urban areas where there are cars, is like designing kids play equipment to go into lion enclosures. Former industrial sites, and the rail corridors and waterways that can be used to connect them with bike trails, provide the separate network of space in the city that bicycling needs. Let the car-lovers play their game of checkers on the white squares, while we play ours on the black ones.
In Toronto in Canada, people are asking all the wrong questions about a redundant harbour side site they call Port Lands. How can it be connected to the rest of the city? How can it extend the life of the city? It is my contention that the viability of urban renewal sites such as Port Lands depends on their not having a bar of the city, its traffic, pollution, road kill, obesity, etc etc.. (At this point I want to thank Herb from I Bike Toronto who has inspired me to think about ways ideas I’ve developed elsewhere, might play out in Toronto.)
The Port Lands site is where all the district’s waterways meet the harbour. Inland, those waterways have already attracted a spattering of bike trails, mostly along the Don Valley, though further upstream those bike trails seem like a baby’s chewed up scraps of spaghetti, with next to no continuity.
Being a port, the site also terminates the city’s main rail route.
Fundamentally, this site is not attracted at all to the city that hangs like its parasite off to one side. Historically, the port lands were nurtured by the rail route and waterways. As in the past, so too in the future, the port will not draw its life from the city. Life will come to Port Lands via the routes that once were used to bring goods.
However, in the post industrial city, goods aren’t commodities on barges or trains. Now we are concerned with moving people about, so they can share ideas and share knowledge.
Transforming these former bulk haulage routes, into bike haulage routes, would maximise the fluidity with which Toronto’s brightest people (its cyclists) can meet. Developer infrastructure contributions from Port Lands could go into a fund to upgrade the Don Valley bike trail, and greatly extend it in the form of a broad lattice of car-free urban terrain, as notionally indicated in the mud map above.
That’s enough for a blog post. Elsewhere I’ve written about bicycle oriented development, and a brownfield-to-bikefield approach, and of course I write about the urban design and architecture of cycle-space in my forthcoming book.
A procurement model I sketch out in that book could privately finance bike infrastructure of the kind envisioned by Toronto based architect Chris Hardwick, that he calls velo-city. If you live in Toronto and can tell me of any other large disused industrial sites that could be developed and linked to the Port Lands (perhaps with Chris’s glass tubes), do let me know.