By Water, Rail, Parkway or Road? (In places where cycling is an alternative lifestyle)

As far as I can make out, there are 4 main networks of publicly owned space in our cities: waterways, rail corridors, parks and roadways. One of those networks, the road network, is jammed full with voters in cars, bitterly defending their hold on that space. The rest look virtually empty, whenever I look. So which should we want to ride bikes on? The roads would be nice. Most peoples mental maps of their cities have been aligned to the roadways already. They assume it’s the road network, solely, that joins A to B. Isn’t it a pity roads are jammed full with voters who drive!

Blue: Public rail corridors. Pink: private rail corridors (many built over). Ignore Green, they’re old tram routes. 

I’ve spent most of my life cycling around Newcastle, the top pictured city (that’s Sydney, pictured below). We’re lucky here in Newcastle that, since the 1980s, the Newcastle Cycleways Movement has effectively lobbied for bike paths along rail corridors (some active, most old ones) and waterways (some pretty, most drains). If your mental map of your city is welded tight to the roads, you could be forgiven for thinking that Newcastle’s rail-trail and waterway routes, provide only circuitous access from A to B, and are thus “recreational” bike routes. If like me, you have orientated your life around the non-vehicular networks for the past 30 years, you will know cities are double. There are mainstream spaces where average Joes drive, grab takeaway, park at shops and get fat. Then, there are alternative spaces, for the pursuance of alternative lifestyles. It’s all very lovely and all, that cycling is mainstream in Holland, but in sprawling cities it looks set to remain countercultural, for a long time to come. It makes sense that it follow an alternative tack.

Sydney needs a wide, rain/sun-covered bicycle freeway wherever there is a blue line, or waterfront, in the image above. Newcastle has the luxury of adding quite a few of those pink lines as well (but then we are, statistically, Australia’s #1 bicycling city).

Leave a Reply