9 August 2011

the Incredible Shrinking City

More thoughts, slow in gestation, from our recent trip to Copenhagen:

The steady pace of cycling in Copenhagen's cyle lanes, combined with the subjective safety they create in ones mind has the excellent effect of shrinking the city to a different scale. We happen to be well versed in the art of walking around cities and understand the scale and possibilities of distance and time as pedestrians. But this bike contraption thingy shrinks distance and opens up opportunities in an incredible way, when combined with the simple device of a safe, dedicated cycling infrastructure. Freedom from the mysteries of public transport, freedom from the motor car and the niceties of parking, directions, maps and getting lost. This exhilarating sense of freedom in all senses must have been what drove millions of people to take to the bicycle a century ago.

In urban planning, we often see masterplans prepared which attempt to consider the idea of "walkability" - whereby facilities and functions, or connections to other transport opportunities, are designed to be within certain walking times or distances. This is clearly a sensible and laudable way to proceed. But, I wonder what impact there might be on the flexibility and practicality of masterplans were an additional layer of "cyclability" to be added.

If the infrastructure was to be put in to a new development from the beginning, to allow this secondary layer of cyclability to operate beyond the normal walking radii, many possibilites might open up. Putting the car just a stage lower down the mental priority list might also help cut the short, local trips that get in the way of the journeys that the car is clearly very good at - long, fast trips from point to point over a regional scale. Not the quick trip to the shops or picking the kids up from school. And I hold no truck with the idea that just because it hasn't been done before, or done elsewhere that this would be a waste of time. Presumably, the City of Copenhagen started with just one cycle lane somewhere. Look what they managed in the meantime.

With the simple addition of "Cyclability" into the design mix, the Incredible Shrinking City would have neighbourhoods that were more civilised, more attractive and just that little bit more gentle of pace.

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