Cycling Visionaries Awards – Project Details



A strategy to introduce cycling-based public space (though not exclusive to cyclists) into the city’s unused pockets via D.I.Y. (“do-it-yourself”), informal urban experiments.

BLACK, WHITE AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN – A Manifesto for an Urban Cycling Culture

We, the cyclists, occupy the grey zone. Without a space to call our own, we manoeuvre the residual specks of the highly contested territories of urban infrastructure. Designed first and foremost for the car, and secondly the pedestrian, this unfavorable urban condition is a social construction, a ‘bad habit’ to which North American society has become accustomed. This cultural phenomenon has over time gravely reduced the city’s spatial allocation to other modes of transport and usable public spaces.

Today, urban centres around the world boast great plans to develop bicycle-friendly cities but in reality, these plans accomplish little more than lip service to appease the cyclists who demand them. The City of Toronto is a case in point in the degree of ‘seriousness’ taken by the government to provide real transportation alternatives to the car. A city bike plan developed in 2001 proposed the implementation of 495km of bike lanes within a 10 year period. It is now 2013 and at 117km, we’ve barely managed to scrape one quarter of our goal. Despite much protestation, last year the city sadly witnessed the removal of bike lanes. However, for many, this is viewed as a ‘cycling’ issue and if you don’t ride, who really cares? Cycling is just not a part of our ‘culture’. What can we do to expand this conversation and engage non-cyclists in our cause?

What better way to advocate for the social re-construction of the city – to cultivate a cycling culture – than to plant its seeds into the city’s leftover development pockets, its grey zones? Here, in its vacant/abandoned territories, we will focus on creating the types of spaces that we need to support bicycle culture, spaces which promote social interaction and build community. After all, cycling is more than just a vehicle for transportation, more than getting from point A to B. We are in a way, herein developing reasons to explore in between A and B. Black, white and everything in between.

Society has demonstrated qualms about ‘eating up’ space for bikes in transportation infrastructure. But what happens when this very same space is instead appropriated for pedestrian use? The prevalent negative attitude towards monthly Critical Mass events, in comparison to the welcome closure of roads for non-cycling related public activity (street festivals) presents a clear bias, as both inconvenience the usual functionality of public space. What is deemed acceptable use of our public space is clearly a (learned) state of mind.

We propose a strategy to introduce cycling-based public space (though not exclusive to cyclists) into the city’s unused pockets – to build novel, FUN opportunities back into our urban fabric – spaces with meaning and social purpose. Imagine an abandoned, overgrown lot equipped with stationary bike stands where one can participate in a neighbourhood spin class? Or riding through a colourful network of sheltered arcades cast into the city’s existing laneways, framing intimate spaces which bring people together, lined with homegrown art? These spaces will serve as a visualization tool of the (awesome) life you could have if you had a bike! Bikes are no longer viewed as an inconvenience – because we propose opportunities where all bikes (any shape, colour and size) are welcome. It is a systematic method of building new behavioural patterns, conditioning ‘bike-friendliness’ through participatory action in urban space.

It all comes down to the way we define our city spaces – we don’t want to propose expensive, flashy solutions – they take too much time/cost too much money at a time where cycling is largely underfunded. In fact, most of our tactics can be conducted as relatively economical D.I.Y. (do-it-yourself), informal urban experiments, engaging with D.I.Y. bike culture, and merging with the work of other cultural activists similarly seeking to transform urban space for social purposes.

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Patricia Joong

Toronto, Canada

Category: Urban Planning and Urban Design

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