Amy Priestley, Urban Designer
Cycling infrastructure that women, groups of friends, families, young children and older people feel comfortable using needs to provide the greatest sense of safety and separation from traffic to be attractive and enjoyable.
At weekends, traffic levels in cities are often greater than might be expected, because those who would usually walk, cycle or take public transport to work find that getting about is now a family, social or group choice, rather than a personal one, with other needs to consider. For this reason and others, encouraging families to cycle for utility is vital to a successful active travel strategy, yet it’s rarely discussed or explored in policy.
Our recent StreetTour to Vienna showed the benefits of attractive walking and cycling infrastructure, and how this can be integrated into city streets. By providing generous walking and cycling spaces, alongside trees, street planting and greenspaces, Vienna’s streets are enviable places to walk and cycle as a group with family and friends (or even colleagues!)
Vienna’s characteristically broad streets, historic parks and waterfronts provided great examples of comfortable, relaxed and attractive environments that feel safe for a wide range of people. In places, strategic roads feel more like traffic-free green promenades.
Vienna’s Ringstrasse is a grand avenue circling the historical city core. The street was once the medieval city walls which, in 1857, Emperor Franz Joseph I ordered to be torn down and replaced by a grand boulevard. Today, the Ring boasts perhaps some of the most generous walking and cycling spaces a city can offer, and multiple, continuous rows of mature trees.
Traffic-free riverside paths and routes through parks are also to be admired, such as Hauptallee, a 4.5km dead straight and lit route that runs between Praterstern and the Lusthaus in the east of the city. According to wien.info, this historic route is lined by over 2,500 trees.
Back home, although many city streets are constrained in width, opportunities to create walking and cycling avenues have existed, do exist and could exist in the future.
Did you know for example that Victoria Embankment in London, which today has a well-used cycle track, was once envisioned to be a linear riverside park or avenue? Another example is Albany Road which frames the northern side of Burgess Park in South London. However, although the street now features a segregated cycle track, it does little to integrate with or take advantage of the vast park immediately next to it.
Victoria Park in East London is an example of both a useful walking and cycling route for utility cycling, and an attractive and popular park for the local community and visitors. Recent proposals to introduce vehicle restrictions on streets surrounding Victoria Park and Mile End Park could be a great opportunity to blur the boundaries between street and park and create a walking and cycling avenue.
Other opportunities to reimagine city streets may also arise. As more cities awaken to the many problems created by large volumes of motor traffic, oversized urban motorways and ring roads could be repurposed as grand, and green walking and cycling boulevards. I think Vienna helps to show how this might look.