Let's design and build cities that encourage walking and cycling.
"Who or what are cities for? This is an important question. I have watched as cities have debated the notion of how to become more people-centric, with many jumping on the bandwagon pedalling all sorts of wacky ideas. While a handful of cities have taken action transforming themselves into places that put people before everything else – Copenhagen for example – I wonder why London and the rest of the UK is lagging behind.
This conversation is not about cycling per-se, to me it’s clear a city that is good to cycle in is doing something right for its people – cycling can be used as a barometer of how effective a city is at being people-centric. I love London as a truly global city which has been improving, albeit slowly. Over the past 10 years or so, I have witnessed an explosion of cycling in the city but sadly there has not been a commensurate improvement in terms of culture or a properly inviting, secure and connected cycling infrastructure.
As cycling gains political traction and the chorus of voices advocating active movement grows, we have seen well-intentioned but sporadic, fragmented and expensive investments in bike infrastructure. There are cycling lanes, but they do not connect, and they speak different languages. What is needed is simple strategic approach across all the boroughs, one that puts people and cyclists first. You can’t just put the ingredients for cycling in and hope for a perfect city, it takes more thought, understanding and attention to detail to make it really work.
It's not just cyclists who struggle in this environment, ultimately my main concern is people and what makes them feel welcome in any one place. The Buggy Test is a simple way to measure this: as you walk around the city centre, make a note of every instance of narrow pavements, poor surfacing, high curbs, any other obstructions and where they disappear totally. These obstacles are sending a clear message to pedestrians that you shouldn’t be walking or cycling, you should be in a car or on a bus.
Crossrail has been a significant investment for the city and when it opens there will be benefits in terms of the positive environmental impacts. But there will be a considerable increase on the pedestrian loading on the pavements in central London, which will create problematic situations as the rate of conflict between vehicles and pedestrians is bound to go up! There needs to be a rethinking of who the city is for, with priority given to pedestrians.
I don’t understand why now, with the irrefutable proof of the links between pollution, lack of activity, ill health and mortality, the positive way towards change is so controversial. We need to create almost vehicle-less city centres by choice. Doubling the parking prices, putting up congestion charges and in the meantime widening the pavements and creating safe, connected cycling infrastructure.
Success will be when – whether you own a Rolls Royce or a Reliant Robin – if you're driving anything with an internal combustion engine you will feel that it is easier to leave it at home as the invitations to walk, cycle and be active are so obvious, powerful and truly irresistible."
Riccardo Marini is an urbanist, architect and chartered town planner, after working with Jan Gehl he set up Marini Urbanismo. He is considered to have a deep knowledge of how to deliver people-centric solutions. He believes people, their culture and their art should be central to the planning process.
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