The best cities occasionally transform themselves. Edinburgh for the Fringe. Rio de Janeiro for Carnivale. New Orleans for Mardi Gras. New York for the Marathon. This morning, Adelaide hosts the 4th Australian Cycling Conference which kick starts a fortnight of cycling mania.

Since it first started in 1999, January’s Santos Tour Down Under has transformed the streets, roads and public spaces of Adelaide’s city for a week-long festival of the bike. The Tour forms part of the global UCI road racing calendar and, for a week, lycra rules. Professional race racing teams bring road bikes, support vehicles and merchandise designed for every aspect of the sport.

It’s now accepted by governments at all levels that cycling is not only one of the most sustainable transport solutions for city mobility, but is increasingly understood for the health-related benefits of reduced heart disease and obesity. Cycling is also a more affordable means of transport than private car use with some estimates comparing annual outlay of around $800 for a cycling commuter with an cost of around $8,000 per household per car. And unlike the cost that cars impose on a city (land and development costs, parking, health costs associated with traffic-related disease and injury, maintenance of infrastructure), designing for cycling is an exercise in designing for people.

 

___________________________

City cycle paths in New Yorkand Sydney, and city bike share programs like London’s Boris Bikes integrate cycling culture in established urban centres through on-road and separated bike lanes, low intrusive signage and amenities like bike racks, rails and shelters that make cycling easier and more desirable. Often these are located near cafes, or in parks creating a safer area and servicing the small business commerce so essential to cities. New York City’s Department of Transportation “Street Design Manual” includes highly visual graphics that literally ‘colour in’ the place for cycling in city mobility. It goes beyond the technical and the statutory to show the ‘how’.

New York has transformed its street network over the last decade. In December 2010 Reuters profiled New York’s Commuter Cycling Indicator – compiled from surveys taken at particular points around the city. In short, it reported a 400% increase in cycling in the past decade and a doubling in the last 4 years (coinciding with the appointment of New York’s dynamic Commissioner for Transportation, Janette Sadik-Kahn). Adelaide City Council’s Bicycle Action Plan charts an increase in cycling of 61% between 2001-2006 (yes, up to date data is needed). And in Adelaide, approximately 3,200 people ride in the city each weekday. Reuters concluded that “if you build bike lanes, cyclists will appear to fill them”. Makes sense.

Plans, strategies and targets exist. So what more can we do to promote cycling in Adelaide? How can we encourage an extra 250,000-odd people to cycle to work over the next 30 years to meet the targets in our State Strategic Plan? Well, build bike lanes and cyclists will appear to fill them. So more bike infrastructure is essential. But it also helps to broaden the appeal of cycling to ensure children, commuters, weekend dawdlers and the Lycra Ones all feel catered for.

Since the Santos Tour Down Under joined the UCI World Tour in 2008, a road race has become that ‘festival of the bike’, supported by events and symposia through cycling organizations such as BikeSA and Adelaide Cyclists, cultural enterprise and local businesses like Rundle St East.

Adelaide’s path to becoming Australia’s premier cycling city was given a further boost with the December announcement that Adelaide would play host to the European Cyclists Federation Velo-city 2014.

 

___________________________

Events like Velo-city 2014, the Santos Tour Down Under and the Australian Cycling conference all play a role in keeping momentum in cycling. But the work of artists and designers can broaden the appeal of cycling through programs like those emerging in Adelaide and around the world, such as:

Bike Art Adelaide is an umbrella program for a variety of art events that explore, express and celebrate everything ‘bike’. Through events and installations, Bike Art Adelaide engages the city’s creatives through pavement art in the Park Lands, art in shop windows in the East End; photography in Adelaide City Council’s Tour Village booth; bicycle jewellery; and a bicycle-themed market at Hindmarsh Square.

Adelaide visual artist, Peter Drew has both a studio practice for his work with AP Bond Gallery, and a ‘non-commissioned’ practice within urban landscapes across the UK, Europe and Australia including paint, stencil and paste up.

 

Local design and manufacturing, James French designed and manufactured the BiTronic Electronic Gearbox all within a few blocks of where he trained at the University of South Australia’s School of Art, Architecture and Design and with the collaboration of local cycling businesses, Raceface and Craftworks. Initial sketches of ideas and options were then developed through prototype for user testing – importantly, trialled by inexperience (not expert) cyclists. The result is a better performing gearbox that’s more reliable, and more intuitive to use (and it’s even better to hear that the long road to patent-hood has started with the support of UniSA).

Treadly The return of the simple, fixed gear ‘commuter bike’ has brought back to city streets the art of building and repairing bicycles that was an essential part of 20th century neighbourhood culture. The Treadly store in Adelaide’s East End is owned by trained Landscape architect, Sam Neeft and features the artwork of local graphic designer, Matt Stuckey

But beyond the shopfront, Treadly runs events that occupy the wonderful Ebenezer Place and re-introduce the gentle art of cycling into the fabric of the city. Sam’s entrepreneurship extends to movie nights, weeknight bike polo (taking over city basketball courts), and weekend street workshops cutely titled  ‘Pretty Lady’ (placing a focus on womens cycling and womens bikes). It’s the best kind of commerce – the sort that enlivens the street, builds a community around a common interest and rebuilds the movement for low emission mobility. This can only happen in places with the fine grain of Ebenezer Place with low-to-no traffic volumes and pleasant, wide footpaths that allow merchandise out on the street along with a small milling crowd.

___________________________

So what’s the future hold?

Global design research, technology and advanced manufacturing are all helping to make cycling more ubiquitous and to better integrate the very human needs of safety and lifestyle choice in to the life of the city itself.

HelmetHub Students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology designed a vending machine to dispense helmets to rent or keep for Boston’s Hubway bike sharing program

Hovding Inflatable helmet Conceived as an airbag for your head, this prototype inflates in the event of an accident to protect your head. Designed by industrial designers Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin following six years of research.

 

Download Tim Horton’s presentation at the 4th Australian Cycling Conference 2012