Cyclespace, otherwise defined

According to my earlier definition, we sense we have entered what I call "cyclespace", when we would rather be cycling than walking or driving. That is a useful definition when polemics are called for. And polemics do have their place. However, with this post, I would like to offer a modest, more productive way of describing cyclespace, in the language of planning, architecture and urban design. 

Cyclespace is a concept that can bring clarity and purpose to brownfield developments, where those developments occur on sites that once belonged to more extensive networks of former industrial sites.

Living in city that started as dozens of coal mines, all linked to our port via narrow gauge rail, has made me keenly aware of this kind of space. These days, our coal mines are bigger than cities, are far from the old town, and are linked via heavy rail to loading facilities further up river. Not only, therefore, have we inherited the kinds of spaces all former port cities have been "reclaiming" with park lands and politically appealing mixes of buildings, but we have also inherited former skip line routes linking our foreshore with the mining townships from which our suburbs first grew. Living here, as a cyclist, has helped me see how sites for recent and near future brownfield developments all string together. With the concept of cyclespace in mind, planners will not see brownfield sites in isolation. They will see how each is a step toward a future when those networks of industrial space, have become networks of cyclespace.

Why give so much space over to cycling orientated development (or COD, for those who like acronyms)? Because cycling is the most energy efficient, healthy, environmentally friendly and fun means of transportation. Simple.   

Cyclespace is not hostile to competing concepts like "walkability" or Transit Orientated Development (aka "TOD" — a real life and widely used acronym among planners). People are permitted to walk there. Trams or buses may snake their way through. However, cyclespace thinking only gives secondary consideration to the desires of pedestrians and users of public transport. The assumption is that, overwhelmingly, people will cycle. With regards to cars though, cyclespace thinking is openly hostile. Delivery vans, cars for the elderly or disabled, hire cars, shared cars, and taxis, are all deterred from coming even to within walking distance of cyclespace. The bollards will only go down for the police cars, ambulances and fire engines.      

Once planners have found it, and possibly zoned it, it will fall to urban designers to make cycle-spaces in which bicycle transportation is enjoyable. In effect, we will be asking them to provide as pleasurable a transportation experience for cyclists, as post-war subdivisions provided for drivers. "Lakelands", the c1990 subdivision near the top of the above map (click to enlarge), has long spiraling roads. Neither longer distances, or hills, bother drivers, for whom energy seems to be coming for free from accelerators. Stretched out streets stretch out the traffic, creating an illusion that there is no congestion, giving drivers the pleasure of expending all of that "free" energy there at their foot. Within seconds of leaving their cul-de-sacs, drivers are fast on their way.

 
Scaniaparken, a large brownfield development in Malmo, Sweden, where the residential heart favours walking, not cycling

To date there has been no such thing as urban design geared principally toward cyclability. Only walkability. But because walkability is itself not well understood, designing for it can sometimes actually do more for cyclability, as if accidentally. I refer to the water front promenade at Scaniparken, near Malmo in Sweden, an example of best practice walkable brownfield urban planning, that I had the good fortune of visiting in 2004. In an organically grown medieval town, a waterfront promenade such as this would be narrow, intimate, and even more popular. By trying not to look stingy in their allocation of public space, and by overstating the hierarchical importance of edge streets and boulevards, by making them wider, urban designers have made a space I would rather experience at 15km p/h than at walking pace. Likewise, mid block streets are far wider than any you might find in walkable medieval towns, and just look at how many bicycles are parked outside houses as a result! Nineteenth and twentieth century obsessions with sunlight, fresh air and greenery, are so entrenched now, as to render the possibility of recreating districts as walkable as those of the dark ages impossible. We might as well accept this, and look at the spaces we’re making as cyclable, more so than walkable. With that idea firmly in mind, no designer would have made that water’s edge pathway (image second from right) so narrow and jagged as that. Neither would they be as inclined to design narrow blind corners such as the one pictured far right. Staccato is not a term cyclists care to have entered into their lexicon. 

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