I sometimes read things that make me think there’s this naive, almost Kum-ba-ya-ish belief that the world’s great bicycle friendly cities resemble Disney-style theme parks replete with manicured lawns, beautiful cycleways and no bumps or litter along the way.
This point was driven home earlier today by a comment I read concerning a proposed warehouse development in Indianapolis. The poster is someone whose stuff I’ve read before. I don’t know him personally, but he strikes me as young and idealistic. His heart is in the right place.
This gentleman wrote that he is opposed to a warehouse development in the city because it would bring big trucks in. He implied that such developments should be placed elsewhere…he didn’t say where. Maybe he was arguing they shouldn’t be allowed at all. I don’t know.
Here’s what I do know. Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Malmö are three of the best places for bicyclists on the planet. I’ve been to all three…more than once. I’ve walked their streets and gotten to know them, a little, at least. Here’s the image they present to the average bicycle advocate.You know that’s just marketing, right? It only tells part of the story. Here’s the other part. The simple truth is that the world’s best bicycle cities are still cities, first and foremost. They’re places where people live and work and play. There are still cars…lots of them. There are still trucks…really big trucks. There’s still crime and dirt and grime. Different strokes for different folks.
What these cities understand, though, is that all of these different folks can coexist provided a little thought goes into the places where they interface. Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Malmö have lots of big trucks in the city center because they’re build around ports and the port is almost always smack dab in the middle of the city. To the extent things can be moved around, they are, but there are still interfaces. Proper planning makes them manageable.
Cities work best when mixed uses are allowed and encouraged. Such cities are more vibrant and alive. It is easier for people to choose to walk or bike to work, even when work is yucky, if it’s located in the middle of town instead of out on the ring road. It’s easier for people to get out of their cars when the factory or warehouse or sewage treatment plant is just down the street.
The challenge is to recognize that this is not an all or nothing proposition. We don’t need to go far to find examples of how it might look and work. We had such cities here in the States as recently as the 1950s. It’s time to bring them back. By creating vibrant spaces with a combination of residential, commercial and, yes, even industrial space, we will make it easier to bicycle and walk instead of drive a car. That’s a win for everyone.