Response to article in Journal of Urban Design

If you have access to Journal of Urban Design via a library, here’s a great read: Karl Kullmann (2013): Green-Networks: Integrating Alternative Circulation Systems into Post-industrial Cities, Journal of Urban Design, 18:1, 36-58
I was hooked from the first sentence:

Many post-industrial cities are infused with ready-made spaces for non-vehicular circulation in the form of webs of linear voids that often result from industrial era infrastructure.

As one who has struggled to put that idea into many a sentence, my interest in Kullmann’s perspective was primed. A few pages later, I was delighting in the presence of an eloquent wordsmith, who also knows the history of linear parks and related urban design concepts better than I know my Brooks leather handgrips.
If only Kullmann’s own cognitive map of cities weren’t biased toward what he calls the “grey network”—in other words, roads. It is apparent to me that he does not personally rely on bikes for the majority of his own transportation. If he did, he would see non-vehicular routes as primary routes, and roads as the “exotic”, or “alternative” network. Okay, so his way of seeing cities is normal, and mine is not. I speak for a handful of queers prepared to orient their lives around concrete cased creeks and rail-easements. To mainstream society, greenways are some kind of Narnia on the other side of the wardrobe, enriching their lives with the prospect of escape, even if they only get around to escaping once every couple of years.
One of my regular routes through my city, includes a short stretch of narrow footpath, sandwiched so close to a highway that I can eyeball the car-bound when red lights force them to stop for me to cross. I wonder what streets could have fed them onto such a wide highway, and where their highway could be heading. Are there houses at one end and jobs at the other?
If they asked the same about me, they might think I lived less than a few hundred meters away: the furthest they could imagine anyone riding. In that case, I would live in a park, and my workplace would be down a rabbit hole. I wonder what Karl Kullmann thinks of cyclists when he sees us from his car window?
Like authors on the subject before him, he thinks cyclists are of value insofar as we bring vitality—which is rather like saying immigrants are good for their restaurants. But in the case of these “webs of linear voids” that bike riders habituate, our speed and unwelcoming presence could make us spoilers. The discourse on greenways that Kullmann cites, reiterates an argument that greenways be preserved as realms to escape to. They should provide an escape from mundane things such as speed and commuting. Drivers want greenways as places to reflect and go slow, not to be reminded of commerce by angry cyclists rushing to work. As a result, Kullmann sees some of the best sections of the Santa Fe Rail easement (in his home town) to be those where sports courts and playgrounds totally block any kind of through-passage. This “results in a more vibrant environment than the mono-cultural cycleways that are found elsewhere along the same easement”.

a more vibrant environment than the monocultural roadway

a more vibrant environment than the monocultural roadway

By all means, add attractions to greenways. Bike commuter are more than willing to share.  Urban farmers, trout fishers, the cafe set… there is room along greenways for far more attractions and people than there are currently. But I know where there is even more space: on the grey network. Why shouldn’t it be the network that’s blocked to make sport courts and vibrant attractions?

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