A Glossary

Any innovative new field of endeavour is bound to spawn some new idioms and some new jargon. It is no different with bicycletecture. Following are most (I think) of the peculiar terms we return to in our design conversations. We would love to know if any help sharpen your thinking, how you think the terms could be sharpened, or if you think bicycletecture calls for terms overlooked in this list.

B.O.D.: Bicycle Oriented Development.

Brownfield to Bikefield: The idea that redundant industrial sites can be unlocked for B.O.D. as the bulk haulage routes that once served them are turned into cycleways.

Cyclespace: Anywhere a person feels empowered and safe on a bike. The Sunday morning bunch ride constructs a fleeting kind of cyclespace. The performative occupation of space that accompanies bike share and critical mass creates cyclespace, by raising driver awareness.  However, truly stable cyclespace can only be created with physical barriers and the elimination of any on-grade interface between slow cyclists and faster machines.

Cyclescaping. Sculpting the ground plane to suit cyclists. Aims include aesthetics (appealing to the arching, leaning bike riding viewer) or practical ones like helping cyclists slow down without braking.

F.A.S.T.: An acronym formed from the tetrad of payoffs that come with bicycle planning: Fitness, Affluence, Sustainability and more Time in our days.

Helical Block: Terrace/row houses arranged in a coil. The convenience of internal access bicycle garaging afforded to residents of row housing is extended to those living off of the ground in higher density contexts.

Bicycle Heterotopia: The second word literally means “Other Space”. It is a concept architectural theorists have taken from Michel Foucault to explain walled off places where rituals contrast and critique everyday life. Bicycle oriented developments (campuses and student housing for instance), connected by greenways, provide cities with bicycle heterotopias that contrast and critique the mainstream car-centric development paradigm.

Alternative Image of the City: The cognitive map you draw of your city will have different paths, edges, districts, nodes and landmarks if you usually cycle, than if you usually drive or use transit. Unlike Kevin Lynch, who invented the term, we don’t seek to unite every citizen of a city by giving them all the same image.

Production of Space: Henri Lefebvre argued that space is as much a social construct as anything that can be measured with Cartesian coordinates. His is a reminder that flawed urban districts, like hilly suburbs that preclude cycling, can be socially reconstructed as wilderness areas. We can agree to ignore them.

Start of Trip Facilities. We all know the concept of an end of trip bike parking facility, usually serving an office. We use the term “start of trip” facilities as a reminder that apartments must accommodate bikes. The suburban house gives the driver internal access from the garage to the kitchen; the same level of amenity is required of apartment blocks designed to serve cyclists.

Toilet Bowl Lesson. In the same way toilet bowls have been used as fireplaces when they have been given to remote villagers, much of the world would see a Dutch cycle track as somewhere to park. The toilet bowl example is from Charles Jencks, a Postmodernist architectural theorist who didn’t see a stair, for example, as a universal symbol for rising, or a cup as a universal symbol for drinking.

Velotopia: A non-existent happy place bike planners can conjure on paper so their plans will be informed by a grand scheme.


  1. Anonymous says:

    I am fond of the distinction between bicycling as a technique and “bicycle culture,” which inevitably gets interpreted as some kind of gloss on the Northern European modes of bicycling. One side effect of the study of velotopias is that it becomes more obvious that the specific models of bicycle in fashion in certain areas are in fact reasoned responses to the local conditions, not worldwide paragons of bicycle design

  2. MK says:

    This is going to hard to believe by the time you have finished reading this comment but I’m not always as arrogant as I’m about to be now. That’s the direction my mood is taking me at the moment, however, so here we go…

    I think the terms “bicycle”, “cycle”, “velo” and other bike specific terms should be minimised in the suggested idioms except where car specific counterparts are required. We should instead make it known through our nomenclature that bike centic urban design is inevitable and obviously the best direction to steer the future development of cities and, thus, no specific reference to these terms is generally required. We should use nomentclature which dispenses with the notion that bike centric development and cycling as a mode of transport is some kind of alternative or fringe idea.

    In the same way that governments, corporations and other interests have hoodwinked the masses over the past fifty or eighty into assuming by default that “roads are just for cars”, “of course every house needs a garage”, “the economy will collapse without cars”, etc, we need to use language that asserts superiority of the idea that, of course, urban development should move away from car centricity.

    Granted, some of these are slightly hyperbolic, but you’ll get the idea:

    “Brownfield to Bikefield” becomes “Progressive Urban Reclamation”

    “Bicycle Heterotopia” becomes “Urban Pilot Study” suggesting that this will inevitably happen on a wide scale and it’s just in the process of being tweaked.

    “Alternative Image of the City” becomes “Livable City Image”

    “Velolounge” or “Cyclepod” instead of carpark. These would be similar to carparks in being places to temporarily and securely leave your vehicle (a bike in this case) but, unlike carparks which are analogous within the context of a city to an obese person unceremoniously taking up two seats on a bus or train, these would be compact, stylish and pleasant to visit. Think of the foyer of a high class office building or hotel but with integrated bike storage.

    “Cyclespace” becomes “Civil Recovery”. A term for a state of being as in “I really felt that I was on the way to civil recovery when I rode to work today” and the and the act of taking back of money and space from oil companies and car manufacturers who have been coercively extracting these assets for their own interests over the past many decades by locking people into car usage.

    • Steven says:

      I am totally changed by your argument. Thank you! Am meeting publishers here in Holland next week over a manuscript, working title “Velotopia: Corbusian thinking in the age of the bicycle”. The two biggest objections to the last few years of work (steered by me, but harnessing the imaginative output of many people) is that it is utopian and reminiscent of Le Corbusier, so I’m heading off both objections in the title. I never thought though that Velo was a kind of a marker like “wo” in woman. So what do I do?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.