19 November 2009


Chris Hardwicke

It’s Monday morning. You grab your gear and strap your bag onto your bike. It is cold and raining, and the traffic’s heavy, but it’s only a few minutes to the bikeway. Here it is. A quick lane change and you are pumping your way up the onramp and gliding through the entrance. The street noise falls away as you join the flow. Already you feel the draft of the other cyclists blurring past in the fast lane, their steady wind pulling you forward. You relax into the rhythm and the tension leaves your shoulders as you let down your defences. No more cars breathing down you neck.
You ride along, matching your speed to those around you and looking through the raindrops on the glass-domed tube at the panorama of the city. Up ahead, you see a friend’s familiar bike trailer– he’s taking the kids to daycare. Pulling into the slow lane you chat for a few minutes before they get to their off-ramp.
Soon the bikeway opens up, widening to six lanes as you pass the commuter train station. Hundreds of suburbanites on yellow bikes merge smoothly into traffic. As you cross a valley, high above the expressway, the sun breaks through the clouds. You shift down, and take the next exit to work. Checking your watch, you notice you are early again.
Welcome to velo-city.

Velo-city is a highway for bikes, a network of elevated bicycle roadways connecting distant parts of the city. There are three lanes of traffic–slow, medium, and fast–in both directions, each direction having a separate glass-roofed bikeway tube. The separation of directions reduces wind resistance and creates a natural tailwind for cyclists. The reduction of air resistance increases the efficiency of cycling by about 90 percent, allowing for speeds of up to 50 km/hr.
Because it is elevated, Velo-city can be located in existing highway, power, and railway corridors, adapting to the built environment while requiring no additional real estate. Bikeways float above intersections and fit into spaces where trains, subways, and roads simply can’t go due to their size, noise, and pollution. Light and compact (you can fit seven bicycles in the road space taken up by one car) Velo-city produces no noise or pollution, so it can run right beside or even into buildings.
For commuters, Velo-city delivers total travel times that rival any other form of high-speed transit, and it is active rapid transit. In contrast to the passivity of taking a train or a bus; it includes exercise as an essential part of an urban lifestyle. Personal independence is expressed in individual freedom of movement. By working as a parallel infrastructure connected to subways, railways, highways, and parking lots, the bikeways expand commuting choices, while reducing congestion on our transit systems and highways. Bikeways are the ultimate in efficient, health-generating rapid transit.
Maintenance costs for Velo-city would be substantially lower than the expense of keeping subways and highways in good operational order, because the weight and vibration of bicycles is considerably less than that of automobiles or railways. And because Velo-city is covered, the lane surfaces would be sheltered from weather distress.
The culture of a city is often defined by its transportation system: yellow cabs in New York City, bicycles in Beijing, streetcars in San Francisco, freeways in Los Angeles, double-decker buses in London, scooters in Taipei, vaporetti in Venice, cyclos in Ho Chi Minh City, and the Paris Metro. Modes of transport create interdependent relationships with urban forms and city culture. Think of the relationships between cars and shopping malls, subways and skyscrapers, streetcars and main streets, scooters and roadside stalls. Over time, Velo-city will create a cycling culture for the cities it inhabits: kiss ’n’ rides, shower facilities, cycling fashion shops, velodomes, bike parks, health clubs, cycle path stalls, repair shops, bike couriers, bike picnics, car-free housing and intermodal stations. Velo-city would simply give bicycles the same level of dedicated infrastructure that other modes of transportation have enjoyed.

The bicycle has been around for more than a hundred years. It was a brilliant, modern invention back then, and remains one today. Bicycle enthusiasts have always been tenacious and devoted. And now, perhaps, it is an idea whose time has come back – bicycles now outsell automobiles in North America.

Hardwicke, Chris. 'Velo-city' On Site review, no. 21 Spring 2009
©Chris Hardwicke and On Site review

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