First published as “10 Points of a Bicycling Architecture” in ArchDaily

1. Make bicycles handy things to use within buildings.

So much bike theft could be prevented if only we realised that bikes aren’t caked in manure. They may have been in the days of the horse, but these days wheelchairs and children’s strollers go from the street into buildings and nobody minds. So why don’t we take our bikes inside too?
Imagine the advantages to a parent. He or she would be able to ride from inside their apartment directly to the cold food aisle at the back of the supermarket. With a cargo bike they could take their sleeping baby along for the ride and use their bike as a trolley.
Or what if an office worker’s bike accompanied them like a briefcase? They could dock their bike at their office desk, then their home office desk, then the table at the café where they like to check emails. Their pannier bag could open out like part of a portable office.

2. Let the bike be the quickest way to leave home.

In apartment buildings that have aerial streets that slope to the ground (like 8-House in Copenhagen) or where a sloping site rises to intersect the planes of access galleries (as happens at Park Hill flats in Sheffield) the quickest way to the ground from a high level apartment can be on a bike. Steven Fleming is the inventor of apartment block types that push this idea even harder. Residential areas are conceived as bike reservoirs, discharging maximum numbers of people to the street with their bikes.  

3. Weather protection.

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Despite what a few apologists for bike transport might say, rain deters a lot of people from cycling to work or to school. Anyone who says commuting by bike ought to be different from driving or taking the bus, by not having a roof, has enjoyed way too much praise for riding to work in all weather. Naturally they resist design comforts that would get the lily-livered cycling as well.
Ignore their petty agenda! As architects we need to be focused on protecting citizen cyclists from the wind, harsh sun and the rain thus putting cycling on an equal footing with other all-weather modes.


4. Sculpt the terrain to control cyclists’ speed.

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At any place where bikes should slow down, like a cross-road or activity node, riders can be saved the hassle of braking if, as designers, we raise the ground at those points by one or two meters. People on bikes will slow as they rise, then regain their speed as they dip away.

5. Make peace between bikes and pedestrians

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Cars can be banned from our cities, or at least from broad tracts throughout them, but people on bikes and people on foot need to make peace. Consider this then: that cobbles are fine under foot but are awful to ride on, while an off-camber roadbed is no trouble to ride on but would cause a pedestrian’s ankles to roll. Now you join the dots. Also, carrying on from point 4, elevated shared zones can be linked with bridges, leaving low level, gravity-forced zones, for faster cycling.

6. Appreciate cyclists’ cognitive maps of their cities

Many drivers know what it is like to arrive at destinations through basement car parks connected by cross-city tunnels, while more than one subway user has caught two trains to go between points they later found were a short walk apart. Those of us who are habituated to bicycle transport have yet another image of our city, often dominated by waterfront and rail corridor trails, and linear parks. Architects need to take bicycling communities’ cognitive maps of their cities into consideration when analyzing sites, planning through-site links, and determining where to place entries.

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7. Cycling Dissolves the mobility/access dichotomy

Once we accept that the tool for transporting people across cities in record time, can be pushed or even ridden inside, the dichotomy we see in a car city between mobility and access no longer applies. Arterial bike routes can double as platforms for commerce.

8. Dispersal of shops

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People stroll at 3-5kph and bike at 15-25kph. This means that in a bicycle-oriented district shops can be five times further apart spatially, but no further apart if we measure in seconds. Rather than concentrating activity along avenues, which always leaves side streets with no passive surveillance, shop fronts can be dispersed.  

9. The mogul-field concept

Some of the earlier principles I have mentioned—dispersing shops, elevating shared spaces to help cyclists slow down and discarding old distinctions between access and mobility routes—give rise to an alternative to the traditional street as the basis of city planning. The ground plane can become a field of broad moguls. The ramped access galleries of helical apartment blocks overhead, and the entries to solitary shops that have been evenly dispersed across a wide district, would be found on the crests. Pedestrians could move between crests via bridges and people on bikes could use the gravity-forced zone lower down. Cycle tracks at those lower levels can pass beneath blocks overhead, letting cyclists make beelines between any two points in the city.

10. Provoke with proposals

What is the real lesson to be learned from provocative visions like Le Corbusier’s Voisin Plan, or Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City? If we think it is that provocations are dangerous, we miss the real lesson of history, which is that provocations bring change. That was a bad thing in the 50s when the new vision was to fill cities with cars. The situation is different now that cities need fixing. Chances are, a vision of a bicycling city, if it captured the public imagination, would be a force for positive change.
Images: Rob Maver, Abdel Sudan, Charlotte Morton, Harriet Elliot, Tom Hatton