Designing Bicycle Culture from the Ground Up

Came across this TEDxZurich talk on Urbanophile, in which Mikael Colville-Andersen of Copenhagenize talks about designing versus engineering bicycle culture in cities.

The general concept seems obvious, but hearing Andersen state them has a legitimizing effect to the things some of us have only thought about or held whispered conversations about.

I grew up in a city, and currently live in a city and what strikes me when I walk around is the built system of designated spaces for automobiles and pedestrians. Things are changing little by little nowadays, but it’s clear, when you stand at a corner and just watch the interaction of cars and people that the cities were engineered for automobiles—a system allowing people, in cars, to move from one end of a city to the other; to get from point A to point B without experiencing the city itself.

In some ways this is a shame because, as Andersen says at the beginning of his talk, streets are spaces for gathering, moving, and in essence, an extension of your home. Then the automobiles came and changed all of that. Streets didn’t become a space for social interaction but a utility of transport.

I am not a designer or an engineer by trade, but Andersen makes an important point in saying that creating a well-designed city (and bike infrastructure) shouldn’t be built solely by engineering software with models and algorithms, but through observational, social, and needs-based input from the very people who will be using the infrastructure and living in the city. When designing an urban space, it’s important to keep in mind the end user—people like me—who live and walk the cities rather than just the passerby in cars.

I am of the mind that good design is attractive and luring and respected. A well designed city attracts more people. A well designed bicycle culture will attract more people and strengthen that culture. And the more people who embrace bicycling—or other non-automobile methods of transportation—will help make the urban landscape a better place (and make our society healthier).

In Andersen’s words: the people are the architects.

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