People often ask me, “Dr. Behooving, why do you want cities with undulating ground planes, like skate parks for pensioners? Why the über bike city? What’s wrong with level ground planes that have been proven to work for pedestrians and cyclists?”
The quote marks are phoney. My interlocutors are rarely so eloquent. Nevertheless, that is the gist of people’s sentiments, seconds before they dismiss me as a nutcase who wants to turn their favourite street into a pump-track.
My position, broadly, is that streets should be restored to favour their original uses. Streets in nineteenth-century districts that were built for walking, should be completely pedestrianised and any traffic (including bike traffic) be limited to 15 kilometres per hour, the maximum speed of the horse-drawn buggies that those streets were designed for. On the other side of the coin, is suburbia, that we aught to just accept as a driving environment. That way, it will die quicker. Bye bye Detroit.
I’m interested in the streets we haven’t yet built, particularly on redundant industrial land earmarked for redevelopment. The 1980s saw masterplans drawn up for these sites (former docklands, predominantly) imagining them as pre-automobile districts. Subsequent development booms saw many developed with multilevel car parks with monolithic apartment blocks on top. In the foreground of this image are some examples in Rotterdam.
An interesting study was conducted by researcher at T.U. Delft in the Netherlands who fitted tracking devices to residents of the apartments pictured above, built on a reclaimed dock just a few hundred meters from Rotterdam’s main shopping district. The researchers found residents of these apartments weren’t leaving via the front doors of their buildings and walking or cycling to nearby shops and eateries. They were leaving via their basement garages and driving to malls in the suburbs. 
Most would say, “naughty residents”. I say, “naughty designers,” if we don’t learn from these examples.
The first thing to learn is that wide footpaths and cycle tracks (as required with all developments in the Netherlands) won’t generate walking and cycling if people have the option of driving. The next thing to learn, is that the idea of the walkable city, while it is being used to rehabilitate old streets that were originally built for walking, is not being used to inform the design of new streets, in urban growth areas. Lenders, developers, buyers, governments: none of them believe it. They all insist on the garaging that, we can see, leads to driving, and little walking/street life.
As a development model, the walkable city is an idea that has not taken root, despite 50 years of promotion. It has had dozens of books to trumpet its virtues. It has the entire town planning profession onside as advocates, plus megastar champions like Jan Gehl and Jane Jacobs. What is more, the pedestrian city exists. It can be explored, loved and studied. Wherever an eighteenth or nineteenth century urban core hasn’t been butchered by car-crazed engineers, you will be able to find an intact example. Yet it hasn’t been taken up as a model for city growth or redevelopment.
If in fifty years time, my ideas about a bicycling city have given rise to real estate hot-spots and have the backing of the planning community, yet lenders still demand basement garaging, I will gladly hang up my boots. And I won’t be too quick to criticise anyone exploring fresh alternatives to the car city if, at that time, it is still the dominant model.