Bikes and abandoned industrial infrastructure. Is this a rule?

They say a man becomes more sweeping in his generalisations as his stockpile of cycling gear grows. I have barely 5 or 6 bikes. I don’t have one of these, these, these or one of these. So would I go around nailing my stripes to overblown claims? No, I limit myself to claims such as this: wherever industry has vacated there will be bikes.

I think it’s because industry builds and abandons roads, rail routes and towpaths every day of the week, while purpose built infrastructure for bikes is a once in a generation occurrence. And as cyclists, we gladly accept anyone’s scraps.

I’m coming to see the whole of Tasmania as an abandoned primary industry site. Roads have been built here for logging that has moved to Malaysia, and for farming that is moving to China. As the roads empty of trucks, they fill with wannabe Richie Portes.

Consider, if you will, old Amsterdam. Is not the whole canal district a former docklands of sorts? And those aren’t “roads” beside the canals, but “towpaths” built for horses to haul laden barges. Now that the loading and unloading, and beasts of burden have gone, bikes have moved in.

I could go on adding examples to my own satisfaction, but would rather hear your contributions and/or objections, if you would be so kind to leave a reply.

If this is some kind of a law, then I would find it especially elegant that routes built to move around goods, are now being used to transport commodities that are of even greater value in a modern day knowledge economy: the creative ideas cyclists share when they meet in these former industrial areas, to admire each others bikes, or whatever we do when we randomly meet.


  1. Colin says:

    Hi, your friendly heckler here again to tell you your whole theory is bunk. I can see that brownfields *can* become bikefields, but in my experience (limited to Sydney) it is rare. The ex-industrial spaces here are either bike-hostile, or have meandering shore-line bike paths that are attractive to recreational cyclists but completely fail to link from anywhere to anywhere.

    Some examples:

    Darling Harbour – not many cyclists around as it’s too crowded with people on foot, but as long as you’re willing to restrict yourself to 15kmh (and often a lot less) it’s ok. It links the Central/Haymarket area with the Anzac Bridge, so is quite useful. I’m not sure whether it’s legal to cycle there – I suspect not.

    Moore Park/Alexandria/Green Square – this is a massive series of ex-industrial sites turned into a vast sea of mid-rise apartments, all with car spaces, and it’s very bike hostile, save for the Bourke Rd cycleway. It’s a pure example of brownfields to inner-city gridlock rather than bikefields.

    Rhodes – a whole industrial suburb that has been knocked down and turned into a sea of apartments as above, but this time with bike paths around the foreshore. But the foreshore doesn’t connect anything to anything – it’s a big loop around the edge with no way to connect into the stuff in the middle. You see people going on rides here, but it’s recreational rather than transportational.

    Pyrmont – same as Rhodes.

    Meadowbank, Cabarita – I suspect the same as Rhodes, but don’t know them well enough to say for sure.

    Basically in Sydney the industrial sites on the water get bike paths that follow the shoreline, but these are useless for transport because the shoreline is ten times longer than the direct route, and following it fails to avoid dealing with the inevitable bike-hostile roads at the start and end of your journey. 

    The industrial sites away from the shore get no bike infrastructure at all, and their once deserted roads are clogged with new car-driving residents.

    I remember the brownfields when they were brownfields and they were much better for cycling then than they are now.

    Perhaps Newcastle and Tasmania can sustain the promise of brownfields to bikefields precisely because there is so little interest in actually redeveloping them.

    • Steven says:

      Hi Colin, great roundup! If places like Alexandria and Green Square weren’t conceived with an eye to city-wide active transport networks, I would put it down to planners’ fixations with transit oriented development. As long as they got their target number within 400m of a station, they would think that was great. Even then they were half-hearted, letting so much car parking onto those sites.
      Don’t expect anything brilliant in Newcastle or Launceston. At least Sydney can elect a good mayor.

  2. Paul S. says:

    You’re about right, as far as long-distance cycle paths in the UK go. I’d hazard a guess that approximately 100% follow the route of abandoned railways.

  3. Herb says:

    I’ve got a subcategory for you: abandoned entertainment space. I’m curious if you’ve come across this. Ontario Place in Toronto is a good example. While skiing along the waterfront yesterday (on one of our rare snowy days when it’s actually possible to ski some distance in Toronto without having to take skis off at intersections), it occurred to me that Ontario Place might fit your theme of bikes and abandoned industrial space. It is an abandoned space in a prime waterfront location that is easily accessible by bike but not by transit or foot (map: Officials, architects, planners and urbanists are passing ideas around of what to do with it. Transit access is a major concern though it would be much cheaper if they improved the bridges and links to the City across the railway and highway corridors.


    • Steven says:

      Hi Herb, that is a PERFECT opportunity for a bicycle oriented urban renewal scheme! I would welcome any opportunity to weigh in on the discussion. I’ll be in North America in June, for a conference plus any speaking engagements I can wrangle an invite to attend. Ontario Place would be a great site to read up on and discuss if I could somehow get myself to Toronto! It has smashing good buildings well worth adaptive reuse.

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