Copenhagen’s Bicycle Snake is a wonderful ride and a fun design by Dissing + Weitling Architecture. Now the firm has completed a 7.6 km (4.7 mi) elevated bicycle path in Xiamen, China that they claim was developed “with a vision to inspire people to prioritize green alternatives, such as the bicycle, instead of the automobile."
The architects tell Dezeen:
Bicycles are returning in popularity among China's urbanites, mostly due to the omnipresent traffic jams, although many are also appreciative of its health and environmental benefits. Not to mention that grabbing the bike is an efficient, easy and fun way of getting around in the cities, especially for short commutes.
Now forgive me for dissing Dissing, but there is something wrong with this picture. Steen Savery Trojaborg of Dissing + Weitling justifies putting cyclists up in the air by noting:
In the densely packed Asian cities, you often experience urban life at different heights. Restaurants and shops are seldom only at the ground floor of skyscrapers, and in compact million cities like Hong Kong and Shanghai, the pulsating skyways often function as entrances to shopping centres and public buildings.
Yes, the do this, they fill the roads with cars to that a pedestrian cannot cross them without getting killed (and barricade them too) and stick the pedestrians up in the air where they can suck on all the exhaust fumes. It is not a desirable condition. It is not fair that pedestrians have to climb up and down stairs so that cars can rule the ground plane.
Now, instead of carving out a bit of ground for cyclists, they are making them huff and puff up ramps 5 meters (16 feet) separated from street life, places to stop, any of the things that actually make riding a bike more fun than driving a car. When Norman Foster proposed this for London many wondered why “the surface of the planet, which belongs to all of us, is to implicitly be reserved for motorists.”
I was curious to see if Mikael Colville-Andersen, Mr. Copenhagenize, had anything to say about this, and Surprise! he does.
An eight kilometer long shelf designed to place cyclists out of sight and out of mind. This is what happens when architecture gets drunk at the christmas party and sleeps with car-centric engineering, without listening to the wise advice of urban planning and anthropology.
He disses Dissing too, for having designed such a nice bridge in Copenhagen and then doing this.
When designed infrastructure or, indeed, anything involving public space, do we not also bear an enormous responsibility on our shoulders for teaching about urban life and development? Is it a sell-out to just cash a paycheque from a Chinese city so completely intent on maintaining a car-centric paradigm?
People on bicycles actually contribute to urban life, shopping, stopping for coffee, and bike infrastructure is pretty cheap. As Mikael puts it so elegantly, “they are best served at street level as integral threads woven into the rich urban fabric to contribute to the beautiful complexities of city life. Anthropologically, socially, financially.”
Spending a fortune to stick them up in the air simply so that they are out of sight and out of mind from the people in cars is not the answer, in China or anywhere.