Using urban space as its designers intended

The government. Why ask the government to spend money on bike infrastructure? If your brother is a communist dictator, sure. But otherwise, the moment you ask, a million car-dependent voters are going to start about cyclists free-riding. “They don’t pay road tax!” they’ll say, and you’ll say there’s no such thing as road tax and rabbit on like a fool. Take a lesson from Abdel with the doner kabab shop. He’s given up trying to convince half the world that he’s not a jihadist. He lets them believe what they like. 

In any case cycling isn’t the victim of under investment. The best thing for it are assumed liability laws that cost nothing, and its infrastructure costs little more. Regarding infrastructure, look at Vicenza. Last week I took twenty architecture students on a bike tour of that sweet little mecca for the Grand Tourist explaining why the city centre is so vibrant and has so many grannies on bikes. If you don’t know much about Italian approaches to urban cycling, it’s all about historical centres and keeping the cars out. Unlike Dutch cycling which is about getting there, Italian cycling is about being there. You get there on adequate but relatively shitty separate bike infrastructure and narrow road shoulders. When you are there, you share space with pedestrians with a grace some Dutch cyclists would not understand.

IMG_1219IMG_1228IMG_1238IMG_1242IMG_1249IMG_1253

There are contra flow bike lanes in Vicenza (Palladio’s town) that are protected from traffic by nothing but parked cars and paint to indicate where they should park, i.e., a meter out from the curb. In your own town you could do the same with cheap wobbly sticks, armadillos, or even just water-filled barriers. So it’s not a question of money. It’s a question of space. And even then it’s not usually a question of dividing the width of the carriageway.

Small minds have a way of becoming fixated on details and one-size-fits-all “solutions”. Gentlemen readers of Behooving Moving prefer looking from afar, from whence they find clarity.

To thinkers like you and I, it seems obvious that roads and streets surveyed since the 50s have been surveyed for the car and more or less belong to the car. Any of us wanting to cycle in car-land know the best thing is to lobby for contiguous networks of linear parks. We map out what parks already exist and any available non-vehicular easements that we may use to stitch them together. We look at Singapore as an example. Everything is so clear there. Park networks serve recreational and commuter transport cycling. Neighbourhood cycling occurs on the footpath. And roads—most of which were built for cars under Lee Kuan Yew’s rule—are paid for by the ones who use cars. They pay astronomical, but completely fair taxes on driving. The highest in the whole world. Singapore warms a man’s heart as much as his tackle—remember gents: loose linen trousers.

Recreation_New Elevated PCN across AYE_low res 640

Roads and streets surveyed between the late 1800s and 1940s were surveyed for the tram. That’s explicit in Barcelona where blocks have been chamfered for the turning circles of trams that aren’t there.

7bbcf90e66f3ff9c998a5e3e61a3f2c8Designers of tram districts assumed all modes would swarm together at around 20 kilometres per hour. So what would thinkers among us lobby for here? Why, 20kph speed limits, of course! We would electronically track everyone speeding on streets such as these, publish their addresses on child-killer websites, and awaken the vigilante spirit in any of our followers who are slightly unhinged.

Continuing with this train of thinking, don’t you think roads and streets that were surveyed before motorised modes should remain human and/or horse powered? Shouldn’t we make drivers park their cars somewhere in tram land or car land if they need to come into horse land? It would seem easy enough to provide them with iron-horse-sharing stations.

hubway_bike_share_station_at_south_station_6468.a77q5qi4h6gwg4ckk008g0swk.c4xtg9uu3r404wggo4ss0ss8s.th

Only when we have a clear understanding of what various urban districts were surveyed for, and therefore work best with, can we design for contingencies, know where we’re heading, etc..

The enlightened Behooving Moving reader will now be thinking of the production of  new urban space and modes of transport that are yet to inspire their own unique patterns of urban expansion. What would a driverless car city look like? What would a roller skate city look like? Capisci?

Why must we ask seemingly ridiculous hypothetical questions? Some need it explaining.

It has become clear that we are never going to build more districts for horses. Jan Gehl and his predecessors going back to the 60s have been appealing for narrow streets and narrow buildings and no one has listened. The idea that European town centres will be replicated on a post-industrial scale is promulgated by people with a myopic view of the city. They don’t appreciate the needs of outer/poor boroughs and don’t understand the internal programming and efficiencies of high density building types. Ask them about lift ratios, mechanical systems, sewerage, green power, cross-ventilation… they don’t have a clue. I shudder to think how poorly Jan Gehl performed as an architect designing actual buildings before he found his niche with park benches.

We’re not going to build more tram-urbanism either. It doesn’t connect people to markets at the scale of the million-plus city.

In cities with limited space to grow outward we will continue to see new-towns clustered around nodes of mass-rapid-transport. But before any of us get too excited let’s spare a thought for our proletarian friends crushed in like sardines coughing epidemics into each others faces. Just yesterday I experienced the most crowded subway ride of my life in the Devil’s own city, Rome. Holy fucking bejeezus old mate! I was reminded that the dérive arose as a reaction against the metro, not against driving. It was the metro the Situationists identified as an instrument of capitalist control of the masses. Transit oriented development is the best advertisement there is for free standing houses and driving.

So that’s what we build. All over the world the car-and-bungalow paradigm continues to dominate urban growth, and where does one even start on the list of negative outcomes!

And this is why we need to explore hypothetical new models of urban expansion around new modes of transport. The obvious new mode everyone is looking at is AV (autonomous vehicles). However, the “new” mode of most interest to really deep thinkers is one that’s quite old,  and that’s cycling. It’s new though as a generator of urban form.

Out of those two, AV-urbanism and Bike-urbanism, which do think could allow for the fastest connections relative to population? Which would win the cost/benefit challenge? It’s a design challenge worthy of a highly paid international design competition. Here is an entry from a close personal friend of mine:

v3_2_2-1

And if bike-lands or AV-lands will ever be surveyed, and brought into being, where will we see them? On private land, obviously. Campuses, airports, mega malls, hippie compounds, gated communities, gated whole cities… what Foucault calls heterotopias.  Can you really imagine a democratically elected government working with a development paradigm that isn’t at least 80 years old? Of course they won’t. As always, we hold the future in our hands. When I say “we” I mean we captains of industry. I defy to David Byrne to explain:

Leave a Reply