Life in the fast lane: accelerating the pace of the city with bikes.

Others have said that every 20 minute bike trip equals AUD$14.30 to the Australian economy, that cycling is worth DKK1.22 per km to Danish economy, and that accounting for fuel and health savings and factoring in the value of saved lives, Portland OR gains $5 for every $1 it spends on bike infrastructure. Facts like these are usually taken as evidence that slowing the pace of city life is in some counterintuitive way, good in terms of economics. I think that’s a misreading.

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Quite aside from the health and fuel savings, cycling increases mobility and access in a city. Cities with good cycling amenity draw more economic activity from each person living there, every day. How much more could each of us achieve every day in a city actually designed around cycling? I don’t want to waste my life nibbling at car space. I want to inspire someone, somewhere, to build a new city from scratch, without any cars. I want to see a city with the population of Sydney, but covering a land mass one-twentieth the size, and I want there to be no cars in sight. I don’t care if this happens in the first world, or third, or if it has to happen on urban wastelands. I just want it to be shown to be feasible, and advantageous, to give the entire ground plane of a city to cycling, and let people make bee-lines to their destinations with no interruption from motorised vehicles.

Vision for Tasmanian docklands, Steven Fleming and Rafael Upcroft

Vision for Tasmanian docklands, Steven Fleming and Rafael Upcroft

According to the Bureau of Infrastructure Transport and Regional Economics, unjustifiable congestion cost Sydney $5.4billion last year. The sister city I would like to build for Sydney, would streak ahead to such a degree that transport economics would need to be reinvented.

Car-centric urban design principles from the Modernist era captured hearts and minds with a hollow promise of reduced trip times. What few comprehended is that cars reduce the time it takes to reach places (e.g. mountains and beaches).  but that cars increase travel times between people in cities. Institutions that exist for people to meet (schools, shops, offices, entertainment facilities etc), get pushed apart time-wise in a city where everybody comes wrapped in a car.

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When I say my expertise is bicycle urban design, I think most people assume I would like us all to slow down, take a step back, chill for a while, and turn our backs on machine-age design theory. I think the opposite. I would like, before I die, to fulfil the Modernist promise of reduced trip times. I can’t promise the shortest trip time to mountain tops or to beaches. But a bicycle city could get everyone to work and to school a lot faster than with a car, bus or train system.

2 Comments

  1. Jimm Pratt says:

    “…I want to build a new city from scratch, without any cars. I want to build a city with the population of Sydney, but covering a land mass one-twentieth the size, and I want there to be no cars in sight…”

    I’m with you 100%, and would be glad to be at the forefront to help make it a reality, *but* there are just some services that a motorized vehicle (even an electric one) will be advantageous.

    Ambulances, for example. If I had to choose between dying en-route to a hospital on the back of a cycle-ambulance because it took 20 minutes to get to the nearest hospital, or surviving because it took 5 minutes with a properly equipped Ambulance, the motorized Ambulance wins every time.

    Or does your dream include factoring in a fully staffed hospital or medical center every kilometer or on the ground floor of every housing block (next to the grocery store and police station) ?

    “…I could get everyone to work and to school a lot faster than with a car, bus or train system…” Only if you could design smaller, self-contained, *circular* or hexagon-shaped cities where the longest trip is rarely more than the diameter of the city borders. http://i.imgur.com/Mn2ptDD.jpg or http://zeitgeist-ny.com/files/2010/11/roxanne-tvpd2.jpg perhaps.

    • Steven says:

      Hi Jimm, I’m going to wash my eyes and pretend you never showed me those circular cities. Density is the key, not shape. But never mind.
      Of course, twin turbo ambulances, cop cars, and fire engines can go wherever they like. No argument there.
      And may I emphasise the notion of cars “out of sight”? If enough private car users see value in tunnelling under a city, at their own expense, and in ways that don’t impact us Eloi, I could live knowing there were a few Morlocks beneath my utopia.

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