Car centric cities are failing.
They have the worst commute times, poorest health and highest emissions. Not surprisingly, jobs, people and wealth are shifting to cities with more transport choices.
Conventional wisdom tells us to densify city centres and add public transport, in other words, replicate the late nineteenth-century booms of Paris, New York, etc.. But with today’s governments being much smaller mass rapid transit is not keeping pace with densification. In any dense city where the ground plane has to cope with most transportation, average car speeds drop below 18km/ph. At that point car transport hinders bike transport, that if freed of impediments could deliver average speeds of 15 to 20km/ph, no matter how dense a city became.
That image describes a modal shift that is occurring naturally as densities rise and people opt for the bike out of frustration with driving and transit. What it doesn’t describe are cities that see the inherent superiority of cycling as the mode for the city, so prioritise cycling at every road junction. Insofar as cities are machines for connecting the greatest number of people to the largest possible markets, cities of the Randstad conurbation—Amsterdam and its neighbours joined by frequent/fast trains—are emerging as winning examples. Recent modal share data shows cycling dwarfs driving, especially near the centre and the central train station.
Twentieth-century development was done on the cheap in Amsterdam, with more bike infrastructure than transit investment or freeways. But out of those superficially dispiriting circumstances Europe’s capital of innovation was born. Most of Amsterdam’s 800,000 inhabitants enjoy a lighting fast, healthy and free bike-centric lifestyle in the four inner boroughs, while at the scale of the Randstad megalopolis (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, etc) cycling is the lynchpin of a rail network that connects 7 million people. Cycling is a mode cities can afford, that affords them greater connectivity. And let’s not forget that Amsterdam was not even purpose built for the bike. So much more could be done in growing cities.
I co-founded Cyclespace, the public/private partner of the municipality of Amsterdam representing its cycling strengths to the world. With my first book Cycle Space I announced a bike-centric development trend appearing organically all over the world, with implications for architects, planners and urban designers. My next book, Velotopia is being promoted as the book Garden Cities of To-morrow and Radiant City would have been, had their authors not overlooked cycling. I continue to work with a Harvard University research team exploring the link between health and building for cycling. I handle regular requests from peak bodies, policy makers and the media to speak on the subject and am a brand ambassador for Shimano.
I am also the owner and director of Cycle Space International P/L, an Australian based design and professional advocacy firm that has served clients in many nations—Norway, Spain, the US, Japan, Colombia, Australia, etc.. We help public and private clients stay on the right side of the shift toward cycling as their cities get denser and car traffic freezes. We are the world’s only bicycling agency focused on the needs of architects and property developers, having been the first to recognise that with “start of trip facilities” (super bike-friendly housing) developers can do as much to increase bike use as those who build bike infrastructure.