Architects and urban designers have no understanding of cycling

There is swathe of land from Holland to Sweden, where cycling is understood. Everywhere else, it is forgotten, and pushed to the margins. Homosexuals know how that feels, so they've learned to carve out residual space for themselves in many cities. Aaron Betsky wrote a book called Queer-Space, that describes an invisible layer in every big city, that you probably can't see, if you're not queer.

I've just written a book called Cycle-Space—at present with editors—that talks about the growth of cycling in similar terms. Today I'm at the 4th International Urban Design Conference, delivering a paper that grows out of that book. Here 
are the notes I'll refer to. The same ideas will appear in the refereed proceedings of the conference, a few weeks from now, with the usual attention to referencing etc.—though without the poetic licence I'm taking in my mode of delivery here at this conference. I'll provide a link to that paper when it is published.

For now, I want to make the point that the planning community in Australia/New-Zealand, does not understand cycling. Question time after one paper yesterday, turned into a brainstorming session, concerning creative new ways to screen multi level car parking stations. Only one person piped up and said, "Parking stations? Whose building car parking stations?" The crowd shut him up, and went back to saying they can be screened with unliveable units—yes, open your windows, and breathe in those fumes!

I doubt anyone at this conference would see it as a positive thing that the shared bicycle path here at Surfer's Paradise, where this conference is being held, is used for regular night markets. That pushes cyclists onto the road, where we know only 2 or 3 percent of the population feels comfortable, riding a bike. A good third of the population would happily use bikes for commuting, if they had spaces, like that promenade, made available to them. I'm talking about one or two hundred thousand people, living here on the Gold Coast, who would be cycling more, if cycling was not overlooked. They own working bikes, that they can't use, without being subjected to ridiculous dangers and inconveniences at every turn.

In Australia, I calculated, those bikes gathering cobwebs, are worth $5.5 billion dollars. That's a healthy, green, transit asset, going to waste. Anyone at this conference, who can't see a problem with a night market blocking a bike path, needs to wake up. Ten years from now, I'm sure they will have come out of this coma they're in. That's why I'm going to present this paper in a somewhat fanciful way, as though we've just woken up in a plausible future. 


  1. Anonymous says:

    Minor correct for you, Dr B.

    “…without being subjected to ridiculous PERCEIVED dangers and inconveniences at every turn”

    Whether or not the dangers are real is a debate for a different time, but the _perception_ of danger is (part of) what keeps normal people off bikes.

    • Steven says:

      Hi Tim, literary agents and editors will always say to be sparing with adjectives 🙂 I guess your main concern is I could be frightening people off of cycling? Instead of helping to generate a critical mass? Is that where you’re coming from?

      • Anonymous says:

        Just alluding to a couple of points.
        1) Cycling really isn’t dangerous. Injury and fatality rates are minuscule.
        b) Perceived safety and actual safety can be quite at odds with each other. Plenty of studies have found that separated bike paths have higher accident rates than (dirty word warning) vehicular cycling… mainly due to the increased number of intersections and driveway crossings.

        The general public need perceived safety to get them on bikes. Crash stats don’t matter. Separated infrastructure is needed… in spite of the fact that it is likely to be more dangerous than riding on the road.

        • Steven says:

          Hi Tim, in my region (approx. 400,000 people) we’ve had 8 bike deaths in 2 years, despite a 1.6% bike modal share (2006 figure). While I think I make it fairly safe for myself, and no doubt you do for yourself, across the population as a whole, it is pretty risky!

          Intersections can definitely be deadly to users of segregated bike paths. In Holland and Denmark, they’re much safer. You need a critical mass, before drivers start looking. But then which two countries have a critical mass? Those with universal segregated infrastructure. How do we get that elsewhere? I differ from most fans of Holland in my view that, as a first step, we should start with great recreational routes, along waterfronts, old rail lines, and quiet backstreets. (Sorry for using your welcome comment as an excuse to “get started”, on what has obviously become my own little hobby horse. It might be time I gave it a rest hu?)

          • Anonymous says:

            In Holland and Denmark bicycles cross the intersections during the green phase for pedestrians. In non-bicycle cultures, bikes are expected to cross simultaneously with other big vehicles.

            That alone brings a lot of safety. It essentially means that a car only hits a bicycle if it didn’t look for crossing pedestrians.

          • Steven says:

            thanks for that! Another thing I noticed, is pedestrians never seemed startled by bikes. Here, many pedestrians are unduly frightened, angry, or perhaps even jealous. I would love to hear a Dutch perspective on that.

  2. ronaldraygun says:

    Put the markets on the street, leave the bike path alone.

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