Can I make myself any clearer?

As cities have grown, the car has stopped being the freedom machine it was first promoted to be. Bicycles give greater mobility. The only trade off, is cyclists are killed whenever drivers don't look, as is drivers' habit, in countries where mass cycling has faded from living memory.

On the bright side, a network of space in most cities has been forfeited, as industry has moved elsewhere. All we need, is the resolve to keep cars out of those networks (comprising docklands, waterways, disused rail corridors and brownfield redevelopment sites), and we have an opportunity to build parallel cities, where cycling is the dominant mode of transportation, supplemented by light transit, and protected from cars. A growing number of people, who would rather not have to own cars, and would rather keen trim and fit, could at last have a place to live their preferred lifestyle, in conscionable safety. They could venture back into car-land with caution, or perhaps hire cars or use taxis, if they need to go there.

I've been failing though, in my efforts to communicate this vision of a safe city for cycling, in such a way that it gathers the grassroots support that I'm convinced it deserves. This failure condemns me to a life crying in the wilderness, with a $25 p.a. blog, of curiosity to a few readers. Lovely.

Is the problem the way I've been saying it? I'll say it this way: consolidate brownfield sites flanking recreational bicycling routes, and separate those routes entirely from cars. In the case of New York (pictured) rebuild all the piers in the Hudson, and don't let people cross the bike path in their cars, to reach skyscrapers out on the piers.

Let me know if you share my vision. How you would nuance it. And most importantly, how you think I should spread it.

15 Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    people hang onto traditions long past their use-by-date, it’ll be the same with the car.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Clarity is not your problem.

    Your vision is OK as visions go, but visions are cheap. I can have 10 visions before breakfast, but it doesn’t mean any of them are going to happen. The parallel cycle-space-city sounds like a nice enough place, but even I, a non-car-owner whose main form of transport is bicycle, am not sure I’d want to live there. I quite like the old city I live in, despite all it’s auto-related flaws, and feel squeamish about inserting myself into one of those gleaming architectural models of “new” places, with everything placed just so.

    In terms of transport mode choice I’m as much of an outlier as you can get, and yet you can’t even convince me. What hope do you have for the 99.9% of the population who are more wedded to cars (and even walking!) than me?

    Fundamentally your vision just isn’t attractive to enough people. It’s tailor made for those who love to ride their bikes everywhere and are also really into architecture. In other words, you.

    And the idea of parallel cities divided by mode choice is doomed to failure as it removes one of the main benefits of living in a city – access to more stuff. If your vision ever became reality there will be massive demand from the residents of both cities to access the other on equal terms. I don’t want to live in a divided city, especially if the other part is bigger and has more stuff. And this is what dooms it from the start – nobody will want to live in the cycle-space-city without being able to conveniently access the auto-city, because initially that’s where everything *is*. And so while people might be superficially attracted to your vision you can bet they’ll insist on having car spaces with each apartment, because otherwise how else will they get to where all the stuff is? You can’t say “ride a bike”, because if they could do that they’d do that now and there’d be no reason for the cycle-space city at all.

    In other words it’s a case of network effects. Which city has the more attractions? You’re not going to win that battle by starting from scratch. You’d be better off by looking at the inner-ring piety-belt you pretend to deride, and basing your efforts on the already significant transformation of that ring by cycling. Here’s a place where there is a real chance of a new equilibria in transport mode choice emerging. But sadly, there’s little need there for architectural drawings/models.

    Apologies for my negative tone. I mean well, really I do.

    • Steven says:

      That’s the glass of cold water in the face that I needed. Brilliant! Thanks. Who are you? Is there some way I can repay you. And no, I’m not being sarcastic. I was digging myself into a hole, and deep down I knew that. It was like an infatuation with an unsuitable mate.

    • Anonymous says:

      I agree with the masked stranger. Why can’t your idea work with cities as they currently are? Use the Brownfield sites as you propose but the network should cover the whole city. It can separate entirely from the motorised network in places but in others it can sit side by side – as long as it is all joined up.

    • Steven says:

      Ah, you’re all right. I concede. May I say, having complete strangers looking at my ideas really is appreciated. A win for the web.
      From now on I’m simply going to say that land flanking recreational bike routes, should be consolidated with cycling in mind, while all the other worthwhile Copenhagenizing-type strategies are rolled out as well.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Many dont have the fortune to live and work in the wonderful affordances of the transforming docklands, rather they reside and commute in that other perimeter, the outer west. I would like to see town planners and councils held more responsible for their lack of planning. Squeeze points and disappearing lanes make the supposed kilometers they are adding to their yearly reports a misleading measure of progress. Why are they not challenged to add a hierarchy of mobility to their consolidation efforts and land release atrocities from scratch? Walkers, riders, ticket holders first, then drivers and delivery vehicles. Zones, speeds, spaces and fines can be shaped accordingly. A case might be made for bowing to the aggression of drivers (and I do see outright hostility about) by making them campaign to have safe cycleways built for cyclists on behalf of drivers. Shouldn’t they be willing to donate just one entire street in ten to make non-car arteries linking to marketplaces and public spaces, to start. Then as drivers see riders thriving on velo-segregation they will get jealous and bid to expand the network within suburbs. The clash points are intersections, design better ones planners, or face law cases. [just throwin’ ideas about]

    • Steven says:

      Hey, and they’re great ideas too! If I may pick up on just your first point though: drawing limits around cities curtailing sprawl, forces attention back onto brownfield sites within the city boundaries. Most cities have many non-prime sites, suitable for high density affordable housing. And when I say waterways, these could be canals. Really, it’s middle and low income groups with the greatest interest in curtailing sprawl, and getting affordable (that means high density/ high yield) housing onto non-prime brownfields. That’s because it’s the poor in the outer burbs, who are about to be seriously hung out to dry by rising fuel prices.

  4. Anonymous says:

    It’s not a “blind spot” its a “too lazy to look spot.”

    I still like the idea of separate routes popping up rhizome-like at the points of interest – hard to organise for every cafe, shop, library, beach, … I know. Or maybe my vision is skewed today because my fluro-wearing mate got knocked off his bike into hospital by a car driver who “didn’t see him.”

    It’s not a “blind spot” its a “too lazy to look spot.”

    And while I’m at it: truckies’ signs “If you can’t see my mirrors I can’t see you” should all be replaced by “If you can’t see my mirrors I need bigger mirrors.”

    • Steven says:

      Re: It’s not a “blind spot” its a “too lazy to look spot.”

      A friend in hospital! Less than half a million people live in my broader region, and in the past 2 years, 8 have been killed riding bikes on the road. Meanwhile, I have a director of the Australian Green Infrastructure Council, raising concerns after a talk I gave recently, about a rise in numbers of cyclists posing a threat to pedestrians. When 8 are killed in every small town, every two years, well then sure: someone should do a study!

    • Anonymous says:

      Re: It’s not a “blind spot” its a “too lazy to look spot.”

      Motor vehicle operators see and respond to what threatens them. In one study they spotted the half hidden traffic cop before they saw the oncoming truck. Cyclists who need to share the road with motorists need to look threatening. I’m not convinced that your bowler hat speaks urgently enough to the subconscious. A shotgun slung over the shoulder would probably work.

    • Steven says:

      Re: It’s not a “blind spot” its a “too lazy to look spot.”

      judicial robes and wig perhaps? A blue flashing light? Fireworks Catherine wheels, instead of innocuous bike wheels. Actually, next time I need to cross a black spot, I might stop traffic with fireworks before I proceed.

  5. Anonymous says:

    tip of the iceberg

    As your post of 30 September acknowledges, you’re describing a phenomenon that’s already happening in cities around the world (although minus parts of the plan you’re envisaging, including total separation from cars).

    What’s interesting to me is that, as far as I know, nobody’s come up with a name and simple description for the phenomenon. Raising curiosity and explaining things concisely is a good start for communication.

    So let’s coin a word that evokes the familiar but still arouses curiosity. Try this: I think you’re advocating for ‘bikefield’ sites — brownfield areas retrofitted for transportation by bike.

    That’s the tip of your iceberg. You can write it on a business card or explain it on a 30-second elevator ride. After that, the details that comprise the iceberg itself — a few cars or no cars, true brownfield or just edge city, integrated into the urban fabric or separate — are all up for discussion. But at least you’ve started the discussion.

  6. Lukas Junker says:

    Steve,
    The raod-safety-for-bike thing is partly an educational problem. I grew up in Switzerland and I am confident that a very high proportion of drivers were introduced to road traffic on a bicycle. I remember one day in the eighties, when I was about 9 or 10, when all the primary school students from the town had to do their ‘bike licence’. This was done on a road circuit of approximately 1.5 – 2 km with teachers and policemen having a checkpoint at intersections and all students wearing numbers. Everybody got their bike inspected for roadworthyness (Switzerland at the time had annual regos for bicycles…) and got marked for correct indication, turning, looking for cars, etc. I believe there was a bit of multiple choice test as well on traffic rules, road signs, etc. There were prices and rankings and I was a winner and a grinner.
    This was done every year for the one grade and formed part of the school curriculum.This not only ensured the kids were competent in riding on the roads, it also ensured every future driver knew traffic from the perspective of the cycler and knew how to expect a bike to behave in traffic. Having to be 18 to get a car licence kept the kids on the bike for longer and many kept using it habitually for much longer. Here in Newcastle I still choose to ride on the footpath though. I prefer to share the path with aussies on foot then in cars.

  7. Steven says:

    Hi Lukas, I went through something similar when I was 10 or 11, yes, right here in Newcastle. Then I rode to school from age 10, to 18. (After one bomb car, then one bomb motorbike, I went to back to cycling at age 22, and have never looked back.) I see your point, but would say driver awareness can’t prevent accidents form occasionally happening, and when they happen, the cyclist gets hurt. Nothing beats a greenway, to my mind. It might not go exactly where you would like it to take you, but it at least gives those of us who prioritize cycling a route about which to arrange our lives, and not have to look at our kids and imagining them soon being orphans.

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