What urban morphologies would result if we designed cities for cycling?

Although Utopian diagrams of ideal urban models are frightfully daggy these days, they can nonetheless throw big ideas into focus. Thus I posit for your learned consideration, an urban form diagram built on a cyclescape (far right) beside one giving primacy to a landscape (far left) and one proceeding from a notion called “townscape”, that we attribute to Gordon Cullen’s sketches of the early nineteen sixties. In the model on the left—Le Corsusier’s Plan Voisin, as you well know—the pedestrian experience on the ground is to be of a landscape, or continuous park, with slender white towers going unnoticed above. The pedestrian experience in the kind of town shown in the middle image (loosely based on diagrams I remember Leon Krier used to draw), the pedestrian experience is of streets framed by buildings, to give the impression each is some kind of room.

The pedestrian experience of my archetypal cycle-space city (right) gets no consideration at all. People can walk there, but there is no message from my mind to the minds of pedestrians. I’m thinking purely of cyclists, who will find an undulating ground plane between rounded buildings, forming valleys where I want them to go fast, and mounds where I want them to roll to a stop or slow down. Of course buildings don’t need to be circular (how boring if they all were!), but it would help sight lines if they were at least rounded. They will be big, because financiers of projects these days are huge, and seek economies of scale to increase their profits. To activate the street they will have commercial and public facilities at the ground floor, then 10 or more levels of apartments above, arranged in spiraling forms with wide access balconies around the outside. Yes, people will ride to their apartments, and buildings will not require lifts, or even fire stairs. Pretty neat hu!    
Post-script: in response to comments, I have drawn a few variants. I’m about to accept I don’t have a clue, and don’t believe either in “ideal” solutions.


  1. Anonymous says:

    The spaces would be filled

    I think those empty spaces between the round buildings would end up filled with services (to-go shops, repair huts, other smaller buidings…). When you drive a car there’s no reason to stop mid-way but a bicycle is more aware of the surroundings.

    So you’d end up with a city of streets, though the bends and visibility at junctions would be softer and more open than at middle age towns.

    I don’t understand too why the entire building is round. A bicycle can bend in a twenty-meter radius; it’s not like a speeding car that actually needs that giant curves.

    • Steven says:

      Re: The spaces would be filled

      Hi, thanks a lot for that comment. I think you’re absolutely right about smaller buildings filling the ground plane. The spacings are wide because buyers of apartments prefer distant outlooks from their living room windows, and in such situations it is only right that the ground plane have “huts” as you say. I would place those on mounds, where gravity slows riders. I agree too that the big circles are distracting in the diagram I’ve shown. I want good sight lines around the base of buildings, and spiraling access balconies. Plan shapes though are going to be determined by site constraints, or whims, or whatever. There is also a case for putting sharp turns into those balconies, to stop riders descending at insane speeds! Maybe that’s another reason for coiling the access balcony on the inside of each block, instead of the outside, which was going to be more social, but a real test of glass balustrades’ impact resistance.
      But I do struggle with these generic morphology diagrams: they belong in the mind, not the real world.

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