Over the weekend, I joined a few friends to hear Mikael Colville-Anderson from Copenhagenize and Cycle Chic offer some insight into designing liveable cities. As part of the Edinburgh Cycle Festival and with the backdrop of Assembly Hall, it was a fairly intimate affair at £15 a pop.
But friends, it was worth every penny.
While I attempted to get my phone to tweet my favourite bits (my ol’ girl is great, but probably just for phoning my mom on Sundays) – I tried to capture the sentiment that resonated most with me. And quite a bit of it did.
It’s not just about cycling – it’s about enjoying your city, your body, appreciating the distance travelled, and feeling part of a community which designs itself to make your life better. It’s about a city which wants me to get from point A to point B (then to C and D and back to A) safely, quickly, and efficiently. Research shows, cities actually make a bit of money in health benefits from a Bikeable Jo/Saracen-like partnership. So really, Edinburgh – you’re welcome.
Streets were once social spaces where folks would gather, play, commune, and be good neighbours. Despite an initial resistance to the car back in the day, we now design cities around the routes of these mechanical beasts. What if we made cars uglier (a great idea proposed by a primary schooler), more expensive, and more difficult to drive (slower speed limits, more one-ways, etc)? What is cycling was the quickest way to get to work? In my case, it already is which makes my transportation choices easy.
Why not design cycling as we would a chair or service? Designers think about functionality, useability and user-friendliness and focus on concepts of pleasure (physio, socio, pyscho and ideo-pleasure). Pleasure!! Let’s take a holistic view to cycling and design our bikeable plans around that. I was impressed at how Copehagen’s design is fluid –they seem to listen and respond then listen again to their two-wheeled community. They support micro-design. There are examples from all over the city of cyclists creating ramps and the city acting by making those user-generated designs permanent and safe.
This leads me to desire lines. I love these guys. Desire lines are the routes taken, not necessarily the routes suggested by established transport infrastructure. As Copehagenize says, it’s not only where cyclists go, but how they get there. After a snow, these desire lines are revealed as shortcuts in parks, through front lawns and backstreets.
Again emphasizing the importance of the how, Mikael and his team did something great – an anthropological study of an urban intersection which is something a bit like commentary on bicycle choreography. You guys have to check this out. As it turns out, I’m not the only cyclist who scoots my bike across a sidewalk pretending I’m a pedestrian and not really a cyclist. This study helped his team reach a better understanding of the cycling experience, not just rely on quantifiable numbers which don’t always inform good design.
It was promising to see folks from the government attending, listening. and offering positive support for Mikael’s bikeable vision. And what is the first thing Mikael would do to improve the cycling experience in Edinburgh? Keep bikes on Princes Street.
I feel deep down in my bones that this isn’t just about cycling – this is about our city. Shams-i-Tabrizi said and Mikael repeated – ‘Cities are erected on spiritual columns. Like giant mirrors they reflect the hearts of their residents. If those hearts darken and lose faith, cities will lose their glamour.’ A beautiful and relevant thought for our own community.
Speaking of hearts and glamour – allow me to take this opportunity to also share my new bikeable boots…