Flashback Friday: Cycle-friendly places vs People-friendly ones

If you’ve been anywhere near Cathedral Square lately, you might have noticed the works that have been going on in the southeast quadrant (near Distinction Hotel) to improve the look of the area. It’s part of a wider project to upgrade the whole Square area, particularly in conjunction with the Cathedral reconstruction. A few years back, there was an even more creative vision proposed for the Cathedral Square area. While the focus of these initiatives is often on creating spaces that people like to enjoy walking and lingering around, I’d argue that this also makes them quite nice for biking around too – as I suggested in this post, originally from June 2018

You may have seen the new Cathedral Square concept plans released last week by Regenerate Christchurch. They have certainly generated lots of comment (positive and negative), and you might argue about the architectural merit of some of the development ideas. But there is no mistaking what the main intent of the exercise is:

“Anchored by rounded pavilions linked by a lattice-style overhead shelter, the new plan combines green and paved surfaces aimed at creating people-friendly spaces.”

Plenty of people – and even a couple of bikes

So what exactly does “people-friendly” mean? We hear it a lot. A people-friendly place usually means that it is good for a wide range of people to move about, hang out, interact and engage. The proof in the pudding is when there are lots of people present in the space and they want to be there.

Usually the term people-friendly tends to focus on the pedestrian environment, i.e. what happens when you separate people from their vehicles. But does that mean that “people-friendly” should also be “cycle-friendly”?

Vienna shopping street – friendly for people walking and biking

One word you won’t generally find mentioned at all in the Regenerate Chch material for Cathedral Square is “cycling” or “cycleway”. Actually I found one mention:

“There was strong support for making the area more pedestrian and cyclist-friendly, but clarity was needed regarding how transport and parking in and around the Square will work for hotel guests, service deliveries and taxis.”

This might lead some to think that cycling has been ignored (again…) and the centre of the city will be horrible for cycling. I tend to think the opposite will be true; the proposed revamp of Cathedral Square is likely to be very cycle-friendly too. This is because many of the same features that make a place good for pedestrians also make it good for cycling, including:

  • Very little (or no) motor traffic allowed in an area
  • Slow traffic speeds to improve the safety of unprotected users
  • Wide open spaces to spread people out and reduce conflicts
  • Lots of places to stop, chat and watch the world go by
London: a nice square for walking and biking
  • Easy to get to/from different destinations (including linking with other travel modes)
  • Active frontages for shops, cafes and other developments
  • Engaging activities for people of all ages and backgrounds to enjoy (including families)
  • An inviting place that is secure at different times of the day

There are lots of good resources out there on this topic, e.g. Project for Public Spaces. The key principle that enables these things to happen is that more of the street space is taken away from a pure motoring function (including parking). The upshot is that both walking and cycling get a greater piece of the pie, rather than often fighting over the same small slice.

In summary, making a people-friendly place generally results in a good cycling environment too. The reverse is also generally true; good cycling environments tend to be pretty good for walking but, for the sake of politics and inclusiveness, it may be a lot shrewder for advocates and decision-makers alike to call for a people-friendly city rather than a cycle-friendly one.

This kid seems to find the new plans cycle-friendly…

What do you think? Does “people-friendly” = “cycle-friendly”?


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