The ambiguity of cycling and urban design

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The term “urban design” has been a source of ambiguity among researchers focusing on cycling for a few decades now. Although commonly alluded to, urban design often lacks a precise definition in relation to cycling, and when used to describe cycling, is often referred to in conjunction with other ideas, such as planning, transport, and land-use. For example, a Google Scholar search for the term “urban design cycling” lists a mix of various sources, including literature like “Environmental Correlates of Walking and Cycling: Findings from the transportation, urban design, and planning literatures” (Saelens et al., 2003), which provides an overview of transportation literature and little to none on urban design. This is reflects the general state of cycling research, and Krizek et al. (2011) attests that that cycling has been viewed primarily in functional terms in relation to urban design, and that comparatively less research has been done on the aesthetic and experiential aspects of cycling. They also articulate the gap between the urban designer’s social and experiential focus on the pedestrian realm, such as sidewalks and plazas, and the traffic engineer’s operational focus of flow and speed in the motor vehicle realm of highways and intersections (Forsyth and Krizek, 2011; Hamilton-Baillie, 2004). However, this raises questions on the ambiguous role of urban design within the domain of cycling, and how urban design methods and processes can be used to address problems related to cycling and space. Furthermore, it must be understood why these problems fall specifically within the realm of the urban design discipline, as opposed to the expertise of urban planners, traffic engineers, or many of the other disciplines that also engage with cycling. In particular, this paper investigates the role and opportunity for urban design to expand the qualitative approach for framing the relationship between cycling, mobility, and space. Working on the assumption that the domain of cycling can benefit from a comprehensive overview of the various fields of literature it draws from, including urban planning, transport, mobilities, and public health, this paper is a critical evaluation of existing literatures and the role urban design can play here.
Book of proceedings: Annual AESOP Congress, Spaces of Dialog for Places of Dignity, Lisbon, 11-14th July, 2017
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