Foto Friday: (Re)Designing Cities For Socialization

Amsterdam June 1-77
Getting around is more enjoyable with a companion. Photo: Bike Portland

Jonathan Maus was recently in Denmark and The Netherland and had a series of posts documenting his visit. I thought it was worth sharing his thoughts on redesigning a city for socialization.

In great bicycle cities, the quality of the bike network creates a riding environment suited to conversation. In fact, in both Denmark and the Netherlands, bikeways are designed specifically with socializing in mind. In the Netherlands, fostering a healthy “social being” is a core design element. On busy streets, completely segregated cycle tracks are wide enough for side-by-side riding (Copenhagen has some 16-foot wide cycle tracks with “social” lanes (a.k.a. passing lanes)). And on lower volume streets, traffic is so calm it’s easy — and quite nice actually — to chat while you ride.
The maneuverability of bicycles is also a factor. In a good bike city, users of bicycles can take their vehicle nearly everywhere. Unlike a car, with its massive physical footprint and public transport, which runs on fixed routes, it’s easy to stop a bicycle if something catches your eye or pull over and chat with a friend. Social cycling is also possible here because most people have a fully upright riding position. If you look at some of my photos from the belly up, the subjects look like they could be walking.

Another thing that works into the social cycling mix is that people here are extremely skilled at riding. They can have conversations (on the phone or with a friend next to them) while pedaling through a chaotic intersection rife with bumbling tourists, trams, cars, buses, and so on.

These social interactions that cycling makes possible have a profound positive impact on cities. We learned from a Dutch cycling expert today about the concept of “experience as an economic tool.” That is, cities with attractive public space are full of people having experiences and those experiences lead to economic activity. And it’s not just felt by people who are riding. Cities in the Netherlands with high bike mode shares have vibrant sidewalk cafes with tables and chairs facing right onto the street. The main reason it’s so pleasant to sit and talk at places like that is because there are so few cars rumbling by (in Amsterdam, bicycling is the majority mode of travel).

Amsterdam the magnificent-33
Photo: Bike Portland

Here in San Diego as we begin to implement quality bike networks with dedicated space for riding on what is currently mostly unpleasant roads, it is important to think about the change not in terms of a loss (such as the loss of parking on public space for private vehicles) but in terms of how much there is to be gained. Sure, a city with its residents riding is good for the environment, for one’s health and one’s pocket book. But creating space to ride and converse in also makes a city worth living in. And if quality bike networks serve as a conduit to building and strengthening social connections and thus a more robust city, why not build it?

I’ve been a little busy taking care of some personal issues to write updates here. Things will be back to normal next week – Sam.