A glossary for bicycle planning


There have clearly been some leaps in bicycle planning in the past decade. The onus for safety has shifted from riders to planners. The concerns of prospective cyclists now carry more weight than those of the 2% who will cycle regardless. And who can ignore how the Dutch have been recognised as the hands-down leaders in bicycle planning!

Yet compared to planning for transit, driving, or humble old walking, bicycle planning is hopelessly limited in its methods and scope.

Methodologically it is almost exclusively focused on cutting and pasting Northern European road design guidelines upon cities with larger populations that are far more degraded with driveways, setbacks and plentiful parking. Butchered cities need innovative approaches. And whose purview is innovation in environmental design? It is that of avant-garde architects and architectural theorists. Town planners only have playbooks. Dilettante planners, who may have graduated from the ranks of bicycle advocacy, only have cutting and pasting.

As for its scope, bicycle planning lacks a grand scheme. It has no equivalent to Howard’s model for garden cities that was inspired by the train, or Wright’s Broadacre vision that was inspired by the car. This leaves the bicycle planner with something akin to a game with no rules and no way of winning. Can a bicycle mobility platform underpin population growth, and for how many people? What average travel times might be achieved? Would a newly built cycling city be completely indoors? Such questions haven’t been asked. Sadder still is that questions like these seem unthinkable to the planners and dilettantes currently in charge of bike planning.

As a way of bringing you into our headspace, which is informed by architectural theory, which is the cornerstone of innovation in environmental design, we will be compiling a glossary of the terms that we use in our practice as touchstones. Check back on this post as we add more. When completed our glossary will be published as a standalone page on this website.

B.O.D.: Bicycle Oriented Development.

Brownfield to Bikefield: The idea that redundant industrial sites can be unlocked for B.O.D. as the bulk haulage routes that once served them are turned into cycleways.

Cyclespace: Anywhere a person is likely to relax and daydream while cycling. The Sunday morning bunch ride constructs a fleeting kind of cyclespace. The performative occupation of space that accompanies bike share and critical mass creates cyclespace, by raising driver awareness.  However, truly stable cyclespace can only be created with physical barriers and the elimination of any on-grade interface between riders and drivers.

Cyclescaping. Sculpting the ground plane to suit cyclists. Aims include aesthetics (appealing to the arching, leaning bike riding viewer) or practical ones (elevating paths to help cyclists slow down without braking, for instance).

F.A.S.T.: An acronym formed from the tetrad of payoffs from bicycle planning: Fitness, Affluence, Sustainability and more Time in our days.

Helical Block: Terrace/row houses arranged in a coil. The convenience of internal access bicycle garaging afforded to residents of row housing is extended to those living off of the ground in higher density contexts.

Heterotopia: Literally means “Other Space”. A concept architectural theorists have taken from Michel Foucault to explain walled off places where rituals contrast and critique everyday life. Bicycle oriented developments (campuses and student housing for instance), connected by greenways, provide cities with a heterotopic layer that contrasts and critiques the mainstream car-centric development paradigm.

Image of the City: The cognitive map you draw of your city will have different paths, edges, districts, nodes and landmarks if you usually cycle, than if you usually drive or use transit. Unlike Kevin Lynch we don’t seek to unite every citizen of a city by giving them all the same image.

Production of Space: Henri Lefebvre argued that space is as much a social construct as anything that can be measured with Cartesian coordinates. It is a reminder that flawed urban districts, like houses on hilltops we cannot reach by bike, can be socially reconstructed as wilderness areas. We can agree to ignore them.

Toilet Bowl Lesson. In the same way toilet bowls have been used as fireplaces when they have been given to remote villagers, much of the world would see a Dutch cycle track as somewhere to park. The toilet bowl example is from Charles Jencks, a Postmodernist architectural theorist who didn’t see a stair, for example, as a universal symbol for rising, or a cup as a universal symbol for drinking.

Velotopia: A non-existent happy place bike planners can conjure on paper so their plans will be informed by a grand scheme.

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