New London Architecture

Low Key Cycling in a Post Covid Capital

Thursday 24 September 2020

Linda Thiel

Linda Thiel

Director, White Arkitekter London Studio

I was delighted to read Susan Claris’ piece ‘Cycling for Everyone’ on the latest research into the lack of diversity in cycling and the barriers we must remove if we are to engage groups, beyond the Lycra-clad commuters on London’s Cycle Superhighways, and unlock the full value that cycling offers. 
 
In Scandinavia, there’s a neighbourhood approach to cycle strategies, that is much more inclusive by design, and removes one of the major barriers, that of perceived danger. These ten-minute and twenty-minute neighbourhood cycle routes make it easy to walk your kid to school and cycle on to work, do a ten-minute cycle as a new learner, or take a 20-minute cycle to the park or town centre. It is something Stockholm, in particular, has done very well: its equivalent to the New London Plan highlights key destination points and includes a long-term strategy to connect pedestrian and cycle routes to reach them.
 
This Scandinavian approach has influenced our placemaking project in Barking, where for example, it has been interesting to learn that cycle stands are empty outside the schools, mainly due to issues regarding safety on the surrounding roads. For more children and families to cycle to school, stands are just part of the picture. 
When thinking about placemaking, we try to think in terms of creating an urban living room, with an illustrative carpet for bikes; one with clearly marked routes, restrictive speed limits and wider pavements, that make cyclists feel confident and safe. Cycle storage and signage should introduce something joyful, and inclusive, not just technical and functional. Cycling must be integral to an urban fabric, not an intervention, or afterthought. 
 
Similarly, when designing homes within a neighbourhood, bike storage must be positioned with easy access to these local routes, not tucked away in a basement, but ideally as active street frontage, with windows for safety, potentially in combination with a cycle repair hub. These spaces may not be occupied on day one of a new development so could adopt an alternative, interim use to enhance a feeling of community, until critical demand is reached. 
 
To create join-up in a neighbourhood, you need to consider where a 30-minute cycling radius takes you. Retail and food and drink establishments need a safe and easy bike lock up – especially as studies show that cyclists spend more time in local shops than drivers, and stations and transport hubs need safe routes and easy access secure bike storage so more people can commute car-free. And to improve air quality, schools and town centres must be designed to allow for pedestrians and cyclists to drop in and drop out.
 
The concept of the ‘15-minute city’ is gaining traction amongst city-leaders across Europe keen to bring back the convenience of city living, but it’s a concept that needs joined-up implementation. If you are lucky, a London borough will have a small team working on a cycling strategy, but not always. And they will not always be joined up with the neighbouring borough. When it comes to influencing cycling behaviour, we need oversight at GLA level, with focus on the greater London network, plus an understanding of travel across and between borough boundaries. 
 
We’ve heard, time and time again, that the pandemic will teach us to live differently, and to live locally. Yet we run the risk of pushing people back behind the wheels of their car, to go about their ‘localised’ lives. This is the moment to embrace low key, non-elite cycling, that doesn’t carry the usual barriers, of an expensive vehicle and a specialist kit, and that can save you finding your car keys and risking a traffic jam or not getting a space. 
 
Cycling is a way of life, a behaviour, a mindset. But one that is most likely to be adopted with the infrastructure to support it. To seize the moment and push for a greener city, London needs to be fast on its feet, joined up in its thinking, and outward looking, harnessing the trials and errors of other major cities like Melbourne, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen, as they go about translating the ‘live local’ philosophy into action. 
 
 


Linda Thiel

Linda Thiel

Director, White Arkitekter London Studio


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