Anticipating the next wave of bicycle advocacy.

Cycling was mainstream throughout the industrialised world before WW2, not just in countries like Denmark and the Netherlands. Their rates were undoubtedly higher. Still, cycling would have snowballed in the Anglosphere too, except for one thing. Our countries weren’t occupied by the Nazis (let’s not worry about Jersey). We had less rebuilding and regathering to have to do in the 50s. So while Denmark and the Netherlands had to make do with the bike, our countries could go crazy with new roads and cars.


Thus our reactions were quite different to the gridlock cars started causing in city centres in the 1950s, and to the increasing danger of cycling on roads in the 1960s, and to the oil crisis of the 1970s. In the 1950s while we were demolishing housing in city centres, widening roads, and building car parking stations thus establishing business districts with nobody in them at night, Amsterdam (as a for-instance) was leaving the built fabric largely untouched. Cycling remained the best way to get into town, even if it was becoming more dangerous and even if cars were parked anywhere.

By the time the world wide bicycle advocacy movement began in the wake of the 1970s oil crisis, our respective fates had been sealed. The early advocates in the Netherlands would get network plans and new legal and financial regimes into law. We would get a few cycleways but capitulate to the John Forester led backlash against them. I’m very lucky to have been raised in a city where quite a few cycleways were pushed through in the seventies, before the vehicular cycling philosophy (and all of its bullshit like holding lanes and wearing helmets) put the kibosh on more until now.

Meanwhile cycleway building in the Netherlands snowballed. It has taken me months of independent exploring to appreciate the full gamut. Vehicular carriageways are broken by bike paths, not visa versa. The red asphalt for bikes takes you everywhere. By contrast following the grey asphalt in a car is to enter a torturous maze of no-through roads and one-way streets marked with thousands of bollards and no-entry signs. It’s quite incredible really.

But let’s not get too depressed. Some of the key arterial routes for Dutch cyclists look no different to cycleways anywhere. They follow rail lines and waterways and often lead through industrial wastelands. They’re not second best. Many people choose them as express routes.


We have the same kinds of bike routes in our countries and can leverage from them when it is our time to shine. Let’s not forget that Autodom is always poised to collapse, by its own weight and complexity. Any year could be the year when it fails to deliver either billions of dollars worth of new cars, or infrastructure, or energy. One lost war or burst bubble and down it all comes.

And next time it does conditions in the Anglosphere will more closely resemble conditions in 1970s Holland. Our city centres will have people living within them and again. Better still they’ll be rich. Rich folk who have already shown a propensity for protected bike lanes and mayors like Clover Moore. There will still be people living in car-centric suburbs, but by then they will be impoverished and disempowered (I should provide a link to Strong Towns with every post). The bicycle advocacy community is different now too. It has largely rejected vehicular cycling so is less likely to be partied to an anti cycleway backlash from within its own ranks. Here’s that spiel as a vlog up nose:

So the next time roads are left to get potholes, or energy prices go through the roof, or car prices double, we ought to be ready to pounce. Here’s why we won’t be.

Your suburban mindset has made you blind to what bicycling is. I don’t mean bicycling as a thing that you do. I mean bicycling as something that everyone else would like to do, but you’ve stopped them. Kids for example. If related phenomena like eBikes and sprawl, that the bicycle advocacy community seem totally fine with, turn bike traffic into something that kicks along at 25 to 35 km/ph it won’t meet the needs or our children so will stay as is. It will be something that you do. Hooray.


Pardon my photography skills. Bicycle transport is native to lassies like these, heading out on the town, because it is slow enough that their parents have always been happy for them to do it. It can be slow because they live in apartments, not houses, so their trip into town is quite short. What you’re seeing here is the indicator species setting the pace.

Sadly you’re also looking at a critical mass ride. On their own none would be so carefree. A few seconds earlier they had this twat on their heels revving and swerving until they moved over:

img_0175Every day the post war outer boroughs fire more mopeds on the city than the Nazis fired shells. The shooting would stop if the “haves” in the centre made room for the “have-nots” in the projects but here, like everywhere, housing has become an investment. If they can’t even get this stuff right in the city that was dealt all the aces, what hope is there for cities like ours? We’ll fill our cycleways with cheap eBikes, raise our children in cars and tell ourselves we’re just dandy.

Our frustration with rail and road networks.

I spent last week in Germany and it’s a machine. That is the problem. Machines relay actions in a linear and inflexible fashion. The piston turns the cam shaft that turns this cog and that cog and so on down the line to the wheels. But if any piece along the line doesn’t work there’s no way around. The motor at one end and the wheels at the other may both be 100% but the machine they’re a part of will be totally useless.

I had my first experience of the famed Autobahn and being overtaken by someone driving at close to 300. The autobahn is one machine I don’t want to see fail—not with my own eyes. I’ll spare you the gruesome shots. Here’s one to make the point, again, that there’s no way around when any piece fails.

Aerial view showing stuck cars on the highway A31 near Heek, westnorthern Germany on November 19, 2011 after an accident involved 52 cars. Three people died in the accident probably caused by the fog in the November 18 night. AFP PHOTO / CARMEN JASPERSEN++++ GERMANY OUTI’m happy enough with the odds of surviving to travel by rail though. It was with the same sense of industrial sublime wonder that people had in the days of the steam train that I looked at my soup staying perfectly still though it was moving faster than the aforementioned car.


Just as impressive was the itinerary that itemised every departure and arrival platform and time of 4 trains and one one bus, from Lindau to Amsterdam, right down to the walking time from the bus stops. It was impressive until one train was delayed by something else shunting and the whole schedule had to be thrown out the window. It reminded me that a train network is a machine, the way Germany is a machine.

The great thing about being on a ship on the ocean or a bike on the ground, is you’re not a part of a system where every piece stops if one falters.

I’m back in Amsterdam now where I don’t even stop for red lights. If I can’t run it, I’ll detour, which I can because every gap between buildings has bike infrastructure. I rode out to Bijlmer today, to check it all out, and the whole way maybe put my foot down no more than five times.


Amsterdam is not a machine—it just has some, that’s all. If you’re not on a train though, or in a car, you feel like a part of a root system. There is always some way around.


“e” stands for “Euro” in e-Bike.

EuroBike is funny:

And the girls there thought I was quite funny!


And I understood what I was there for:

But most of the exhibitors were totally lost. Ask them and it’s e-Bike, e-Bike, e-Bike. It’s as though they’re in a competition to build the best spork.


They all need reminding of what happened the last time small motors were added to bicycles.


The motors got bigger, the pedals became pegs and a machine was born more fitting in the countryside than the city.


The city has lots of people all crossing paths. It’s their maneuverability, not their maximum speeds, that is key to them all having short trip times. Putting them on or in fast machines means adding traffic lights to limit catastrophic collisions.


Expecting them to walk means funnelling them into busses and trains introducing a whole new set of delays.

Deterring people from using machines while letting them cycle gives everyone the best of both worlds: free movement at crossroads and enough speed to cross town. And this is why the bicycle remained the tool of choice for city dwellers even after the motorbike was invented.

Cyclists at Nørrebrogade in Copenhagen (1940-45)

Try thinking it through. Battery packs are going to get smaller and stronger until the e-Bike cannot resist turning into a motorbike. New sports disciplines will be invented around it. Some e-bikes will be made with the rear wheels meters behind the rest of the bike so riders aren’t flipped by the torque. All of this is very interesting to the history of motorbikes.

But to the history of pushbikes? I suspect the battery will be remembered as something the industry inadvertently swallowed, like an anaconda that thought it was food.





I no more want my life cluttered with e-bikes than electric umbrellas or raincoats I have to reproof. If the jolly thing isn’t ready to go when I want it, irrespective of the extent to which it has been neglected, then I’ll leave my bike and take a skateboard.

The idea that I will get home and plug in my bike before I go to the toilet or open a beer? Of course I won’t do that! Sure, a few geeks will convince a few newbie consumers that recharging is as easy as [insert simple instructions], but anyone who has made bikes a part of their lives will tell you that’s nonsense.

We want bikes with tires that never go flat, lights that always come on, drive trains we don’t have to oil and locks we don’t have to look for. The last thing we want are new burdens.

Every argument for the e-Bike is bleak:

  1. it suckers non-cyclists into giving cycling a try only to be bitterly disappointed and never go back,
  2.  it lets cyclists keep up with cars so that bike infrastrucutre never needs to be built
  3. it covers greater distances so we can go on defacing the world with urban sprawl
  4. it increases the cost of the bike so the industry can profit from a handful of buyers without cycling ever becoming mainstream.

The only “problem” an e-Bike addresses is one with simpler solutions. If the person you’re riding with can’t keep up and you’re both in a hurry, put your hand on their back or let them hold onto your wrist.

The e-Bike though is a creator of problems, not least for the bicycling industry. The money they’re investing in R&D now will be wasted without a decade or two of strong sales for these products, in which time e-bikes may be barred from bike infrastructure or the market taken over by motorbike makers who understand that kind of buyer.


In the meantime the market for actual pushbikes, that are ready any time to just roll out the door, can only get bigger. 3 billion people in the 3rd world are being lifted from poverty, not so much that they will be able to afford motors, but enough that they will want basic bike parts.

Meanwhile in our part if the world 1 billion people are embarking on a huge demographic shift from sprawling car suburbs to dense city living, where they will find that slow cycling is their best option. That’s a billion new buyers of no-maintenance push bikes that don’t even have to be cheap.


It’s time the plebeians all went on strike

I call on all Plebeians, it is time for a strike. Though I count myself not among you, I sympathise with you. The patrician class has relocated from suburbs to dense city centres but given no thought to the people they need to clean their houses, make them their lattes, be their children’s school teachers, be their police, etc. etc.. I am talking dear Plebeian friends about you.


They should do at least as the Roman upper classes did for their butchers and bakers and intersperse tiny flats amidst their big houses. But they want to exclude you from their neighbourhoods at night and have you back through the day. This cannot persist!


Tomorrow do not take your bike and try making your way past their Audis to go clean their windows. Do not ride the train for an hour to make their lunches. Let them do it themselves! Let them have no hospital nurses. No one to fight fires. No one to carry out repairs on their homes.

Force them to the joint realisation that cities need affordable housing and the removal of cars from the ground plane so the plebeian class can move freely by bike, and secondarily by busses that are not stuck in traffic.

Australia, where city living is outlawed.

When the law of the land makes living in the city more difficult than need be, can you say living in the city is outlawed? I would say that.

The thing about cities is they’re about cramming in people, not other big things like huge plastic rubbish bins that are emptied weekly by mechanical arms on the sides of huge trucks, or privately owned automobiles. But look at any new apartment being built in the city and most of the ground plane (where families could live) is taken up with car parking spots and places for big plastic bins. Look down at old districts on Google Earth. In Australia there are streets you can barely see for all of the cars and big bins that live permanently in front of the houses.


Ask local governments why they don’t just collect bags from the street two nights per week, as in older dense cities in Europe, and you will learn about single contracts with private rubbish removal companies whose focus has to be on the suburbs, where just about everyone lives. Ask why bike infrastructure can’t be built so that city dwellers can get rid of their cars, and you will be told suburbanites need access as well, and it’s too far for them to go without cars. Tell them both arguments are from the mind of a donkey who has lived its life tied to a one meter chain, and they will tell you that you only speak for a handful of voters.

So you say, “No, I won’t do it. I will take that rubbish bin to the community garden and sneak my waste into your park bins.” Have no doubt, they will go to forensic lengths to catch you and have you hung from a tree.

“In that case, I will live without a car and my family will use active transport.”

Well they have laws against that as well. If one child is under 14 the whole family might ride on the footpath, unless a police officer interprets things differently, but even if you’re waved on, what’s the use? The law lets shop owners block footpaths with signage and cafe tables.

With or without a minor in tow, you’re asked to chain bikes on the footpath (or to be precise, air) yet you’re not allowed to ride on the footpath to get there. Where do our law makers, police, and issuers of driving licences recommend families transition from high speed carriageways to footpaths and back?

darby street

How would they have us transition from designated “shared paths” (most about 1 meter long) that we are permitted to ride on, to carriageways, when pedestrian-only paths join the two? Are we all to dismount for pedestrian crossings even when the paths either side are legal to ride on? If a child rides a scooter is their parent allowed to accompany them, as they would if the child were riding a bike? What are we really to make of those 10km/ph speed limit signs on shared paths? In all fairness are we expected to see every “[bike symbol] ends” sign, and then what?

Then what? Buy a car and find nowhere to park it. Then what? Move back to the suburbs and go out of your mind. Then what? Find another country to live in.

After only a few weeks back in Australia you can see I am almost exhausted. I have September back in Amsterdam and hopefully can make it to Christmas back here without going totally bonkers.

The Dutch Indifference

I doubt there was ever a time when the intelligentsia wasn’t forced to retreat in some way. We’re not to be pitied. No one says the Medicis weren’t happy in their confinement to the corridor they built for themselves between the town centre and their palazzo in Florence.


I like to think of my city’s cycleway network as something like the Vasari Corridor. It’s the kind of place where I am more likely to meet you than the plebeian scum, and if I do encounter someone low class I know at least he is noble of heart.


This rarified existence gives me no appetite for street level banter. I was bothered by police two weeks ago for not wearing a helmet and thought: what do I care about this hundred year war to have mandatory bike helmet laws dropped? I said “sorry sir” in a tone only my mother would recognise as sarcastic, and was given a pardon—even after all his palaver. I thought if that’s how they want to play it, then fine, I’ll acquiesce to their ignorance.

I have been feeling dear reader that my cycleway snobbery could be developing into what I would have known as its End State: “The Dutch Indifference”. The way our Dutch friends will speak at seminars in countries like ours about their bike path story as though all we need do, worthless Englishmen us, is adhere to their story like some kind of script… well I am acquiring the same smug manner myself, probably by spending way too much time in their dreary cold country.

But I do feel as though the secret corridors via which I go in Australia, and via which you go in Canada or Japan or wherever you are, have the Netherlands as the palazzo they lead to. Let’s think of our bike tracks that way, shall we, as tendrils leading to and back out from the Netherlands, the Motherland of bicycle transport.

Some crazies I keep company with in Amsterdam have had the idea (that knowing them, they will probably make happen) of a global bike path comprising all the world’s best bike infrastructure, joined up and uniformly signposted to make something symbolic. What the olympics is to obscure sporting disciplines, the global bike path will be to our community of urban bike transport believers.

May I remark though on the palatial splendour of the palazzo, the one to which our cycleways are hidden corridors? One doesn’t do so much cycling alone in the Netherlands as forced to elsewhere. It’s more common to ride with someone beside you. We had a mass riding event here in my home town last weekend. If it wasn’t for one person’s boom box and a few kids it would have sounded like a funeral procession. At 31 seconds in the following clip you will see and hear me riding by yacking at some random tandem in a big wig about the Object/Subject divide. But other than me, and the children, how many others do you hear talking? They’ve been trained by door zones to treat cycling as something one does on their own. Having spent my life riding shoulder-to-shoulder either with roadies in Australia or Dutchies who have never known any different, I get the heebie jeebies seeing so many of these people riding apart.

Next week though I’ll be back at the Amsterdam office, completely indifferent to Sue Abbott‘s work (that it is time we all funded!) But to the Dutch, bike helmets are anathema. They have no idea why an ad to encourage Australians to vitis their country had a helmet photoshopped onto a rider:


They can’t see anything wrong with this photo of my friend’s daughter on the front of my bike. Carelessly I let the local press have it, and now I am known to police. r0_306_3264_2142_w1200_h678_fmax

But to wear a helmet in space geared to cycling in Holland, or even put one on your child, would be like wearing a bullet proof vest to a shooting range. People would question your intentions. Scooter scurges aside, cyclists are protected in the Netherlands by separate infrastructure and drivers who assume responsibility. Such is not even in the case in Copenhagen, thus helmet use, sadly, is on the rise there. Watch this and you will see more helmets in two minutes than you would in two years in the palazzo:

That is not to diminish Danish innovations and ways cycling there is better in some ways and more relevant to other countries, but it can’t be compared. With the exception of a handful of consultants, seventeen million people in Holland don’t even know how things are in the regions, how for those of us living in exile, the best we can do is create Holland as a cognitive construct that we see when we look down corridors. If you haven’t already, I wish you the opportunity to spend a good length of time at the end of your cycleway network. Just remember you will probably have to come home.




Superblock hopscotch in Barthelona

Perhaps my critical faculties are just sharper than other peoples’ but I don’t see cause for celebration in Barcelona’s “superblock” plan. While it will be possible to play hopscotch on two-thirds of the streets, crossing the remaining one third will be a game of hopscotch itself.

superblock1 2

There is nothing in the plan to suggest a reduction in car parking, or motor scooter parking spaces. They could in fact double. All the streets where the volumes of traffic are set to be lowered, could switch from parallel parking to 90 degree angle parking. Given every parking space in a city is another reason to drive or ride motor bikes into a city, Barcelona could be on track to have more motorised traffic than ever before.

So, if it is not a plan to reduce traffic volumes, what is it? Well, simply stated, it is a plan to take traffic from this street and that street, and dump the whole lot on the third street along.

Poor Street Number Three! Not only will it have all the traffic of streets One and Two, it will now have cars and motor scooters circling the block for their opportunity to get off of this matrix of ring roads cast like a net across the whole city.


It might be worth sacrificing Street Three if it could be known, with absolute certainty, that Heaven was about to descend on the 144,000 blessed souls on Streets One and Two. Their likely fate though is purgatory.


The new bollards that will be planted to stop cars cutting through the middle of the superblocks won’t stop that menace of the Mediterranean, the motor scooter rider, cutting through at top speed to evade being caught. Curbs could be placed there to stop them, but that would stop cyclists as well.


Which hardly matters since cyclists get nothing from the deal whatsoever. The sales diagrams leave no doubt about that. They don’t show a black grid with a green grid on top. They show a green grid with a black one on top. The black lines are continuous. The green ones are broken. Just as we see in other car-centric cities that have a grid of greenways out of phase with a grid of regular streets (Portland Oregon and Milton Keynes for example), travelling along the traffic calmed routes is like playing hopscotch. In Barcelona two out of three streets will be easy to cross, but make a mistake when crossing the third…


But at least two thirds of Barcelona’s kids will be able to play actual hopscotch in front of their houses! Well, that is the hope. Motorised traffic has made Barcelona an unattractive place to raise children, and thus an easy place for people to leave in their thirties and forties, right when their earnings have peaked. The problem for parents though is that the superblock concept may end up converting current drivers to motorcycling (because with motorbikes people will be able to transgress the new traffic regime), while the mode that many parents think they need in the city to keep their kids safe, driving, is the one that will be most disadvantaged. Once it is apparent that clowns won’t be activating their block every weekend, painting kids’ faces and handing out dog-shaped balloons, parents could be moving to the suburbs and regions in greater numbers than ever.


It’s time now to step out of this headspace. The geniuses behind the superblocks concept have spent quite enough time there already and have come up with no more than another traffic management plan than manages to make extra traffic.

barcelona beelonesIf the ground plane were cleared of all encumbrances to cycling (and by that I mean no machines whatsoever, maybe just a few golf carts that fall in behind cyclists), then Barcelona’s short chamfered street grid would mean the actual distances on the ground between points would be scarcely any longer than distances as the crow flies. What a winning combination: short average trip distances, low rainfall, high density and next to no basement garaging.

I often refer to Barcelona when I’m asked to give talks because it so perfectly placed to win the race between cities. If only they could stop though and think systematically. The vehicle that they would win with, counterintuitive though this may seem, is the bicycle.


Let Barcelona be one giant superblock with one proper ring road around the outside and let that ring road define a non-motorised city within. This way one kind of street (one with no street lights, curbs, bollards, signage or markings), would deliver what the superblock promises with two kinds of streets: liveability at the scale of the neighbourhood and connectivity at the scale of the city.

Politically palpable paths to bike bliss

As a boy I recall looking upon that wee street there in front of my house, and thinking to myself, “Master Behooving, that there is the same street that passes in front of everyone’s house across this brown land Australia.” I was in possession of my very own 10 speed mens racer with dyno lights. There wasn’t much traffic, or at least I was too dumb to know cars could kill me. ’twas nothing to me that taxi drivers and postmen had new names for this band of bitumen as it turned one way or the other. It was all the one stretch in my eyes and it united every address in the whole of Australia.  I could go  anywhere.

brick_pavement_0111_02_thumbIt is nice to imagine children growing up in the Netherlands looking at the cycle paths in front of their houses and thinking (in Dutch one supposes with snoring sounds instead of Gs) “Ggggosh that’s the same cycle trrrrack that passes everrrry house in this countrrrry!” Most don’t look out upon cycle trrracks though. The typical residential street in the Netherlands is a no-through road that bikes and cars share. They pave them red to suggest they’re for bikes and that drivers are guests. But if they were paved in a manner that reflected the way they are used, red and grey pavers would be evenly mixed. Only as Dutch children grow older and start venturing beyond sight of their mothers, then beyond their own streets, do they see the way car flows and bike flows are refracted for drivers and cyclists further afield. In other words they see the red diverge from the grey so the grey can go faster.


The Netherlands is the only country that has ever, will ever, or could ever embark on a complete nation-wide refraction of bike and car traffic. None other is as flat. None other has the population density and wealth that they can afford the colossal refraction (check below for a footnote.) In fact, right now, countries are looking for infrastructure types to drop from their remits, not new ones to add.

But what if we stopped looking at the question as adults? What if we looked at the non-refracted bike-and-car space that children can ride on right now, in front of their own houses, that if it were in Holland should be paved as a red and grey checkerboard, and asked if all of that space can be amalgamated into one whole?

Here is a map of my neighbourhood with places a child can be on a bike coloured green. The situation looks pretty good, with lots of quiet streets and paths within parks.

Newcastle East


But that’s not how eight year olds see the world. They’re told by their parents to play within ranges bounded by the busier roads that their parents don’t want them to cross. My own children and the others growing up in our enclave had our street and the beach to roam without supervision. Kids growing up in the next enclave to the West, separated from our enclave by just one road with through-traffic, were a whole other tribe. It was as if they were raised on a distant island separated by tempests and maelstroms.

newy east




If this were Holland and we had their infrastructure budget to play with, these islands could be joined in the process of reengineering the through-roads with cycle tracks and Dutch style signalised intersections and roundabouts that gave proper consideration to cycling. Still though, we’re looking at the problem as adults. Adults understand cities by the major roads that Adults are used to driving along, or riding along at big bully mens speed on their bikes. From such perspectives adults can only see solutions that would cost millions.

If we gave the problem to neighbourhood children to solve, I think they would more likely propose safe crossing opportunities that aligned with the laneways they play in. Kids don’t want to press a button and wait for green lights, or go the long way around Dutch roundabouts. They want to run across without looking. What would suit them are raised and cobbled chicanes that force cars to slow down and give kids right of way. The two islands I’ve mentioned could be joined with one such chicane for around 50K. For less money than it would cost to build one or two Dutch intersections and a few hundred meters or curb separated cycle tracks along the through-roads in one neighbourhood, chicanes could be added to link every quiet back street in the city. Here is a map of the whole inner city showing 30 separate enclaves that, with chicanes on the through-roads, could function as one.

newcastle exploded

A child growing up in Australia today—with soccer mums, texting P-platers, and genuinely suicidal middled aged men at the wheel—could look upon the street in front of their house and see something like the street I saw growing up: a surface to ride on to any kid’s house in their city.

Does it bother me that some ill-informed Nederlandophiles would see this as less than universal best-practice? I’m about as upset as a politician who just disenfranchised the one-millionth idealist. Does it bother me that bicycle user groups would rather see bike infrastructure pennies stretched to serve the whole sprawling city? I don’t care about that at all. Long lonely cycleways, regardless of how often I use them myself, in the end are just life support for the suburbs and the suburbs ought to be left to die with some dignity so their land and fine plumbing may be given to farmers.

In the past decade we have seen left-leaning, neighbourhood gardening, worm farming, home cooking parents discharging literally zillions of barefooted brats with chic bowl-cuts onto the street to free-range while they sip craft beer with their new yuppy neighbours and fantasise about orgies. If all the quiet back streets and alleys were to coalesce, as I propose, then Gen-Y yuppy mums will no longer have to get out of bed to walk their designer-children to school, or walk them to their friends’ houses, or drive them to their Scottish Highland dance classes, etc.. What I am proposing is something the electorate can understand, that cyclists can use. Beggars can’t be choosers now. You get what you get and you don’t get upset. That is my advice to bicycle advocate in the new lands.

Footnote: Singapore could afford a nation wide cycle track network but the government there is addicted to its “railastate”  and driving tax revenue streams. 

Bicycle evangelism, consumerism and urbanism.

It is a relief, I should tell you, having so little to do as I do nowadays with the bicycle advocacy community in places like the US, Australia, Singapore, Britain, Canada… all of these place. I became so tired by the end of the conversations at outdoor cafe seats where they so love to admire and talk about all of their tediously particular bikes. Conversations were more about upgrading these than upgrading the shonky settings around them. One is let to believe that bicycle advocacy is purely a pattern of spending.


Now it is all well and good chaps that with your latest Butchers and Bakers cargo bikes with electric assist you can ride 5km to your kids’ private schools, then to your hilltop yoga studios, and off for an hour at your co-working spaces and around and around like that until salad time, but please keep in mind that you and our type are lunatic freaks. Anyone else, Plebeian or Patrician alike, with so much to spend on new wheels would buy cars, can’t you see that, if they need to make trips of such lengths through the day? All the top spots in the smug race have already been taken—by you and I. What reasons have we left to them cycle?


Your Brompton’s titanium rear triangle isn’t bicycle evangelism. It’s bicycle consumerism. In any case evangelism is for selling things that do not exist. If the virtues of cycling in your city need selling thus, it stands to reason, does it not, that your city is bereft of bicycling virtues? You would see what I mean if you stopped buying bikes.

Do you remember the first day you ever returned home from the grocery store with brussels sprouts? You felt so grown up, knowing you had spent your own money on the world’s blandest food. You were eating with your mind not your taste buds. Well you can have that great feeling again. The moment you stop buying the bikes you imagine everyone riding in Denmark or the Netherlands, and be like actual cheese heads or Danes (who only manufacture those bikes for the American bicycle advocacy market), you will stop being an advocate for shiny new toys, and consider advocating the cause of bike transport in cities.

You won’t though because the prime-mover, demiurge, ultimate reason, and big bang of all cycling is the consumer choice you will never make: a shoe box apartment without any garaging. Oh how you need a lambasting for the fat on your bourgeois soul!

The Future of Bicycle Urbanism

The pendulum swing to urban decay then renewal isn’t unique to the industrial city. Fortified cities from feudal times went through the same cycle. Think of Venice. As early as the 1500s people were leaving for the Po Valley where, if they could, they built villas.
Venice’s fortunes returned with tourists. First they were arriving in their hundreds on their grand tours. Now it’s in their thousands by train, coach and cruise ship.

The importance of this to the wider world was that cities contained by defences, once they were brimming with wealth and easy to visit, gave late twentieth-century urban designers an inspiring and alternative model to the city of highways and villas, a.k.a.: the car city. The hope among some was that brownfields would become sites for modern interpretations of Venice and that urban sprawl could be stopped.


What happened was the medieval walled town would become the model for the car-city’s shopping malls. My own professor when I was a student, Barry Maitland, measured walled cities for his PhD then published text books for designers of shopping centres. I’ll have to ask him what he thinks of Vallagio Mall in Doha Qatar.

These days it is non-fortified cities from the industrial era that are being gentrified. Like Venice their overnight populations are equally split between rich folk and tourists while at street level you mostly find gift shops. Think of Amsterdam Centraal and Lower Manhattan.
In the wider scheme of things the fate of the hundred million or so middle class (mostly white) people who are able to be housed in whatever the first world had built before turning to villas doesn’t matter much more than the fate of Venetians. It is the influence their urban environments will have on future development that we should be more concerned with.
While we can’t predict the future, or do much more than write books and give talks to steer it in any direction, we can take note of big trends. Two are germane. One is the phased removal of cars from 19th-century districts and their replacement with bikes.
The other is the growing size of shopping malls that are looking more like 19th-century cities and that aren’t just for shopping. It is becoming increasingly common to find lift lobbies within them to residential towers above.
Dubai-MallIn the future the shopping mall could be the city. A shopping mall 15km in diameter with residential towers above could house as many as 6,000,000 people. Well before we get to that point, we will put walking aside as a mode and replace it with biking, skating and PRT. Any of these could transport a person between randomly selected points in a 15km diameter mall in less than half an hour on average.
 s053Bicycling itself would be a huge winner—and this is a bike blog. The privately owned and managed space of the mega-mega mall would never have private automobiles for the same reason airports don’t have them: they block circulation. Only a government, that doesn’t own a city but manages it on behalf of its bribers, would sabotage circulation for the sake of a privileged few. In some ways mega-mega malls might be more sustainable too. Direct competition between them for residents would force them to offer the best cost of living.
There is no saying either that privately owned public places will be as bland and homogenous as they have been to date. When they’re the size of whole cities there may well be room for those who aren’t so disruptive, like buskers and beggars. I suggest it would only be dog owners, smokers, drummers and drivers who we banish to life in the suburbs and they can all jolly well go and get fucked.