Walled cities for cyclists

This post follows on from my earlier post, about a “third way” to get cycling happening, in cities that left their run too late, by waiting until mainstream bicycle transport had faded from living memory, before trying, just now, to build some segregated infrastructure. The failures we’re seeing suggest it’s too late to build segregated bike lanes, without some hitherto unimaginable magic, to open the eyes of the car borne masses. My magical prescription — not blowing my own trumpet at all 😉 —  is to densely develop former industrial land lying vacant in our cities, then to use former rail corridors and waterfronts to connect up those brownfields. And I should mention, this parallel city on brownfields, would be walled off to cars.

So here is an image of my city, Newcastle Australia, with the redundant brownfield sites, waters edges and old and existing rail routes highlighted in black. Next is an image of Ancient Athens, when it was a walled city shaped like a dumbbell in plan. The walled road linked the port to the acropolis, the way non-vehicular railtrails and waterfronts could link bicycle oriented developments (BODs) on industrial land earmark for urban renewal. That’s all for now. It is Sunday. I will be presenting this idea at the “4th International Urban Design Conference” ten days from now. I’ll post a link to the online proceedings when they’re available.


  1. Anonymous says:

    What will prevent the motorist hordes wanting IN on your walled cities, and demanding you accomodate their preferred transport mode, monstrous though it is? How will you keep your design vision pure in the face of the motorist horde’s overwhelming superiority in monetary and political power? In other words, what makes you think they’ll let you build this?

    But let’s imagine you summon your own unimaginable magic and convince them to let you build it. Is it really a good idea to segregate the city by transport mode? In the early days of it the cyclist zones will be small and disconnected, and would lack the economic size and diversity to enable cyclists to live wholly within them, so cyclists will necessarily have to venture into the motor-zone for all the things they cannot get within their walls. Like visiting their auto-addicted relatives for example.

    Perhaps I’m being a little too grounded in everyday reality instead of dreaming the dream. But you are selling this idea as a political strategy as much as an architectural one, and politics is the art of the possible, is it not?

    • Steven says:

      Hi, great comment. And I think I can answer, to my satisfaction at least. Developers will have an interest, I think, in branding urban renewal zones as bike friendly. We have all that extra money to invest, and we live longer, so accumulate more wealth. Plus we’re growing as a demographic via conversion. We really are shaping up to be a demographic sweet spot in the residential market. As for offices, advice I got in Portland, is it is hard to lease office space if at the very least you don’t have a secure bike room and showers. That’s a trend that I’m guessing will magnify. And sure, I accept, commercial space will need to be within walking distance from car-land… unless maybe the drivers had folding bikes to keep in their car boots. Haven’t thought that one through.
      Ha ha, I like your next objection. It highlights the fact that I’m being a wee bit polemical. Of course cyclists will sneak out, and delivery vans and emergency vehicles will no doubt will sneak into our hallowed zone. But ideas like this are best explained in black and white terms. I won’t lose any sleep when they’re diluted.
      If you have a minute, what I wrote here about freetown christiania
      makes the point that a walled car free zone, can encourage emulation outside the walls. So I’m seeing this as an interim step, to kick start revolutions.
      Your last point about selling has lost me, which makes me think I might have a huge gaping blind spot, when it comes to politics. So if there is any more you can say, I would be most grateful. Thanks again, for giving my idea your attention like this. I posted this link on twitter, and was glad others retweeted, precisely because I crave reactions like yours. I’ve gone to conferences and gotten less feedback!

      • Anonymous says:

        My last point wasn’t very clear. In fact I’m not sure I understand it myself. Let me try again.

        I think I was reacting to your description of the City of Sydney’s cycleways as a “failure”, when to me they appear to be very promising so far (but we won’t be able to judge them for a decade or two). In terms of political strategy it seems to me that concentrating a push for cycleways among a “piety-belt” electorate is a better bet than trying to convince big money property developers to abandon the 98% of the market that demands car access. And aren’t there laws (or standards) that mandate shit like car parking? How to get around them?

        I’m not saying I don’t like your idea, but I am saying it seems less promising politically than the idea you brand a failure.

        • Steven says:

          Okay, I get you now. In fairness, Sydney’s bike paths are great, the city needs hundreds more quick, and the RTA should hurry up and be disbanded.
          Okay, I concede, keen cyclists, right now, are about 2% of the market. But double oil prices and the entire populations of the exburbs would want to live inside these metaphorical walls I’m describing.
          Laws about parking vary from city to city. Basically, only retarded populations like those in my city, Newcastle, and maybe Detroit, elect councils who insist on car parking for all new developments. The cities we tend admire, and would like to go to for holidays or to work, set “maximum” parking quotas, not minimum ones. Anyway, I’m working on a longer post, the basis of a talk I’ll be taking on the road about this, that I hope to post in a few days. Thanks again!

  2. Anonymous says:

    I think this is a great idea Steven, though it would probably work better with old walled cities that exist in the centre of many European towns and cities. No reason why it can’t be done here though, and as you said somewhere else, it could tap into those areas with no public transport and turn them into real estate areas desired by those with bikes!

    • Steven says:

      Thanks Vicki, I woke up with the wild idea of writing a short story, set a short way in the future, looking at this from a fictional perspective. I have a setting. Am looking now for a hero. Can I base her on you? 🙂

      • Anonymous says:

        I accept the call to herodom Steven 🙂

        It sounds like a great way to anchor your idea though and show how it would work.

    • Anonymous says:

      Wall-Ed World

      “it would probably work better with old walled cities”

      Walls exist in many forms that don’t look like walls. Think “barriers” instead and you might find many “walled” cities within cities.

      • Steven says:

        Re: Wall-Ed World

        I was really testing the water, gauging what impact the word “wall” would have if I used it as part of my rhetoric. From the feedback I’m getting, I can see it ruffles feathers, which is good. Le Corbusier never meant to demolish half of Paris to build his Voisin plan, but boy oh boy did he get attention, and did the idea then take off in other places!! Architecture is a rhetorical art form, that imparts visions, and the cycling cause could benefit from some grand visions at this point in time.
        But you’re right, they would be barriers, most likely not even physical.

      • Anonymous says:

        Re: Wall-Ed World

        Yes Anon, you are right regarding the barriers, and it is easier to erect barriers for cars (ie keep them compartmentalised) than it is for bikes, which can go over many terrains and through narrower gaps, making lots of areas accessible to them but not to cars. Is this what you are getting at?

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