Healthy Streets: New Wave Cycling

Chapman Taylor’s Transport & Infrastructure team provides support on many of our mixed-use urban development projects, which require a progressive, joined up, multi-sectoral and multidisciplinary approach.

COVID-19 has triggered a step change in how we design the urban public realm and how that interfaces with transport infrastructure and functions. In a new series of Insight papers by Chapman Taylor UK Transportation Director Peter Farmer, we explore five interlinked aspects influencing our approach:

  • Rebalancing the street: a shift in street priorities
  • The “Elastic Street”: the need to reconnect with our environment and transport options
  • The new wave cycling boom and its impacts (this paper)
  • The street and buildings: new demands of the interface with the public realm
  • Street charging: accommodating e-cars and bikes in urban residential streets

In this the third paper, we consider the impacts of the recent cycling boom on our streets.

As we have seen in the previous paper in this series (Rebalancing the Street and Elastic Streets), the nature of urban travel is changing and this has potentially been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cycling has been growing in popularity for some time and COVID-19 has triggered significant further interest. The UK’s largest bike manufacturer, Brompton, saw a fivefold increase in online sales in the six months after April 2020. Cycle repair shops have also seen a surge in business as people have brought unused bikes, stored in garages and sheds, back onto the roads.

Cycling is becoming increasingly recognised for the contribution it can make as a sustainable and healthy form of transport for trips within and around our towns and cities. To support this, local authorities all over the country have been putting considerable effort into providing measures that make the decision to cycle a more convenient one. Some retailers are also being encouraged to provide discounts to those that shop by bike.

This boom has led many local authorities to rethink road priorities, and it is likely that many test schemes will remain. A number of cities around the world are temporarily reallocating road space from cars to people on foot and on cycles to keep key workers moving and residents healthy and active.

We need to adapt our approach to public realm design and think more deeply about how buildings and built environments need to change to accommodate the phenomenon. This rethink must encompass the provision of cycle storage, entrances, how buildings meet the public realm and the priorities of the spaces between buildings.

Public Realm

One key area to reconsider is the type and use of public spaces, what the dominate use type should be and the nature of the space we are seeking to create. Once we do this, we can then start to layer uses, set priorities and introduce facilities and controls.

As cyclist numbers increase, they will come increasingly into conflict with pedestrians and other modes of travel, a problem which will be compounded by the growing use of e-bikes and e-scooters. In the UK, we have always tended to accommodate cycling and other categories of transport through spatial segregation. The previous paper touched upon Dutch-inspired ideas about respectful integration that may be more appropriate for our streets. These should be easily applicable in the UK.

Segregation is not always possible, however, and, as we develop urban masterplans, cycle and scooter routes need to be given more thought than just providing a segregated width of carriageway or footpath. These routes must be integrated with the wider network and we need to ensure we understand the aims and desired paths of these users.

Through-routes need to be kept as clear of other users as far as is practical and, at the same time, cyclists need to be aware of, and be respectful towards, other users. Routes should be easily navigable, both intuitively and through the use of well-considered wayfinding tools, with good sightlines for both cyclists and pedestrians. Some councils provide zones on pavements for pedestrians and cyclists, but the differentiation of these can be almost imperceptible, leading to confusion and a higher risk of accidents, particularly among visitors to the area.

Cyclist through-route

E-bikes present a new challenge as they mix with other modes. They will inevitably move faster, both in line and away from lights and junctions. However, they are generally perceived by others as being just like normal bikes and this can lead to misjudgements by non-riders. The engines on e-bikes are fitted with a cut-out device to ensure they go no faster than 15.5mph, but it is relatively easy to disable the device to allow the bikes to reach much faster speeds. There has been one fatal incident in London which allegedly involved e-bike use and this prompted a great deal of debate about their safety.

Public realm interface

Cyclist customers will become increasingly important to commercial businesses and so retail and F&B premises will have to consider how to accommodate them as part of the public realm/building interface. Many of us can remember the scene of a bunch of children arriving at the local sweet shop and all dropping their bikes on the pavement outside the shop. Our challenge is to create a solution for children and adults alike.

Some commercial premises, such as “grab and go” coffee shops, are already having to accommodate cyclists within their premises, as cyclists do not want to take the time to lock up their bike, even if the opportunity exists, while they grab their coffee. Perhaps one solution might be a cyclist “grab window”?

We need to provide adequate, well-considered space and parking close to entrances that provide capacity without disrupting pedestrian flows and safety.

Parking and storage

Today, larger developments nearly all provide “cycle hubs” as a component within their plans. However, these do not necessarily suit all users, so such plans should also accommodate other users as well as opportunistic visitors.

In the Netherlands, the solution has been the adoption of street furniture as cycle parking. Cyclists will commandeer almost anything anchored to the ground to secure a bike.

Locked bike in Amsterdam

We will need to accommodate more app-based secure locker and stands schemes and services such as Bikeep or Erain. In more space-constrained areas, we may start to see robotic systems above or below ground, such as E-Bike Mobility in Germany or Bicycle Bunker in Japan. An issue for all bike-parking areas are abandoned “orphan bikes”, but app-based systems can help with this, linking the bike with a cyclist’s identity.

Bicycle Bunker, Japan

Urban redevelopment often seeks to stimulate an extended, more socially and economically sustainable city life. In such mixed-use schemes, flexible evening or night-life pop-up cycle parking can play a part. These can literally “pop up” or be areas specifically designated for cycle parking at certain times, perhaps in areas that are needed for footfall or other vehicles during the day. These can be highlighted for cyclists through, for example, lighting for evening and night-time use.

Core design considerations include:

  • Providing more bike racks
  • Spacing racks out so there is plenty of room for panniers or those with trailers
  • Locating bike racks close to the store entrance
  • In grocery-shopped venues, making sure there is a trolley park next to the bike racks
  • Using signage to welcome customers on bikes

Cycling will probably continue to grow, if at a slower rate than recently. Cycling, along with other forms of micro-mobility, is now a more significant influence on the design of our urban realm and building design and needs to be given the prominence it deserves in planning and designing for our towns and cities.

Pop-up bike racks

About the Author

Peter Farmer (BArch(Hons) BA Arch(Hons) RIBA)

Director, UK

Peter heads up our Transportation sector in the UK. He undertakes a key role in the continuing development of this sector, related research, masterplanning, due diligence and sustainability.

With over 25 years’ specialist experience across the UK, Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Australia and the Caribbean, he has an in-depth understanding of the political and business drivers of projects with multiple stakeholders and complex design and delivery teams.

Areas of expertise:

Commercial / Transport

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