By Gerald Dlubula
“Contrary to belief, our cities are alive and well, and we ought to be designing them as such, with walking, biking, and transportation modes that offer better and easier access.”
So says Andy Clarke, Director of Strategy at Toole Design Group, one of the nation’s leading planning, engineering, and landscape architectural firms specializing in bicycle and pedestrian transportation.
“The perceived importance of bike and pedestrian planning in developments is still not quite clear though,” Clarke added. “It still seems more likely to come up at the end of discussions about the master plan design, or even later on, in redevelopment situations, rather than up front where it should be. And even then, it’s by no means a given. While it should be included in any plan, there is still plenty to do in the methods to measure any practical results.”
“Bike and pedestrian planning seem to still be an afterthought,” says Clarke. “When planning a city’s transportation needs, there still, even today, is a strong tendency to start by planning for motor vehicle traffic first, and if there happens to be any space or resources left, then maybe, just maybe the leftovers can be assigned to bike and pedestrian traffic. It’s really an antiquated and backward way of looking at the design for our cities, which contrary to conventional wisdom for decades, are alive and well.”
True Sustainability Demands A Change In Thinking
Clarke knows that change is always hard, especially when it involves our way of thinking and lifelong habits. What does he think has to happen to bring about a change in how planners and designers think?
“In order to build communities in a sustainable way, i.e. taking into account everything from climate, energy, culture, social responsibility and more, the priorities during the initial design demand change. Realistically, we ought to be designing for pedestrian movement, bicycle commuting, and sustainable, locally based transportation needs first. Then we can work our way towards connectivity of all these transit options, and then worry about motor vehicle traffic flow after that.”
“It’s what people want, we know that,” says Clarke. “Walkable and bike friendly communities are not only possible, but when achieved, they really do provide the most spectacular places when allowed to grow organically. People are out and about, enjoying the community in which they live.”
But as Clarke cautioned, “It’s a huge ship to turn to get this type of thinking in the mainstream.”
Listening, Bike Parking And Storage Are Key
Clarke stresses that you can’t have a discussion about cycling and pedestrian based, sustainably-designed cities without including bike parking and bike storage options. So why not include the end users in these discussions?
“Parking racks and bike storage rooms are extremely important when discussing bike planning, whether in communities or in the workplace,” Clarke says. “More employers are looking at installing and providing bike parking and storage rooms, and that’s great. They need first and foremost, to be located close to the entrance/exit of the facility. If the parking racks aren’t placed in the right spot, meaning convenient, easy to access and use, and near the entrance to the destination, the cyclists will simply park their bikes where they want, somewhere close and able to handle a lock,” says Clarke. “Cyclists will tell us where the most appropriate, ideal places for parking and storage are,”
Clarke adds, “And we need to listen to them, otherwise those parking racks will end up tucked somewhere out of the way, being unused sculpture-like accessories instead of useful, inviting, bike parking solutions.”
“We need to use cyclists and all experienced riders as sounding boards, then use that information combined with focused thought and a deliberate approach to our planning and design.”
Clarke does see a trend in many employers’ views on bike commuting these days. With more of the workforce turning to bike commuting, they’re starting to pay attention and take action, realizing that it’s another way to draw and keep top future talent in their organization.
“More and more employers are realizing how valuable it can be to attract commuting cyclists to their company workforce,” says Clarke. “They are installing more usable bike parking for sure, but many are going beyond the basic bike rack, and making available higher end options like bike rooms for more secure storage, as well as shower facilities and personal storage lockers.”
Important Points On Location Of Bike Rooms And Storage
According to Clarke, whether installing bike storage areas or building bike storage rooms, there are important conditions that should be met:
- Bike rooms need to be in close proximity to the entrance of the building or development. High visibility breeds trust.
- Safety and security should be a priority. Bike parking facilities and storage rooms should be well lit, and in safe, guarded locations that are in close proximity and in full view of or inside the facility they are developed for. With the cost of specialized bikes approaching five figures, the rider should expect and receive the same safety and security as if they are driving a car and parking on premises.
- Quick, easy, non-complicated access and operation is a must. The ability to park and store commuter bikes shouldn’t come with highly specialized instructions or intimidating rules. Make the storage facility and parking area as straightforward to use as possible. Hands-free operation can be a great help if the rider has arms full of backpacks or work satchels.
- The space needs to be kept clean, with receptacles available to help the area stay free of litter and trash.
- Parking areas and storage rooms are best trusted if the user is able to customize their options to fit their individual needs, like unique, personal codes for accessibility.
- Seldom used but highly appreciated accessories can be kept in the storage room, like inflators or a basic tool set to use when needed. It can be protected by individually customized access codes.
- Adequate floor space is essential. With the inherent designs of bicycles, we all know how easy it is to get them tangled or hung up on other bikes when piled into a rack system. Adequate space allows the rider the space to park and maneuver around without the fear of knocking or damaging their property or the property of others.
Clarke has been in the business of bike and pedestrian planning for a long time, sporting three decades of experience in national and international bicycle and pedestrian policy, planning and program experience, including 12 years as President of the League of American Bicyclists.
And although it hasn’t happened nearly fast enough, he has seen changes in bike commuting, specifically in larger metropolitan areas like Washington DC, New York, and Philadelphia.
“But the most important thing you can do in planning and design of bike and pedestrian cities,” says Clarke, is “ask the users. It sounds like common sense, but you’d be surprised how many decisions are made for people that haven’t been consulted as to what they really need. That’s not the way to build trust.”
“Bike sharing has become a viable and economical alternative to other modes of transportation,” Clarke says. “And that’s a huge, critical change in commuters’ perception, seeing it as a viable means of travel, particularly for everyday, practical use.”
Solutions For More Successful Bike and Pedestrian Design
In order to keep this positive news trending in the right direction, and hopefully accelerating the growth of bike and pedestrian planning and design, Clarke offered these insights into what must be done:
- Make bike and pedestrian design a priority in the planning phase, not an extra benefit only if resources allow.
- Start training and hiring engineers and planners with legitimate credentials, insights, and experience within the biking and pedestrian community. Quit hiring old school motor vehicle traffic engineers and expect them to prioritize bike and pedestrian design.
- Support, promote, and believe in the decision to prioritize bike and pedestrian planning and design.
- Treat and approach all new projects as dependent ecosystems. There should be no more individual, singular focused projects. They will all affect one another in some way, so the bike and pedestrian plans and designs, which will still demand strong engineering skills, must now be approached on a multi-disciplinary level to be successful.
In so many current situations, bike and pedestrian paths start and stop, disappear and reappear randomly, leaving the rider and walker confused as to where they are supposed to go from one area to the other.
This type of planning, which is happening in many cities that are now trying to retrofit bike lanes into their motor vehicle paths, is confusing, dangerous, and a main reason that bike commuting doesn’t grow and remain sustainable.
With clearly marked, accessible bike infrastructure, you are allowing more people, both experienced and those that are newer to bike commuting, a chance to get on a bike and ride, knowing that they have a clear, safe path to follow.
As far as Andy Clarke is concerned, “It’s about 30 years overdue.”