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Cycle Cities: a vision to transform London and Manchester

Sensemaking / Cycle Cities: a vision to transform London and Manchester

What will it take to put cycling at the heart of the UK’s future cities?

By Frances Mullaney / 25 Apr 2017

As more people in the UK opt for pedal power over petrol, interest in how cities should accommodate cyclists is rising. What would big urban hubs – like Manchester Piccadilly or London Waterloo – look like if they were redesigned to attract people on bikes?

That’s the question behind a cycle-first vision of the future, 'Cycle Cities', developed by Ribble Cycles in collaboration with urban designers. Think elevated cycle superhighways lined with solar panels, automated cycle storage units and elevators purposely-built for two wheels. Too ambitious, or a challenge to rise to?

Cycling infrastructure in the UK mostly relates to a system of cycle paths that are, in places, badly thought out, unsafe and uneven, plus the occasional traffic light system or kooky storage unit placed alongside a train station. Its development has been approached piecemeal, in line with popularity bids and brand campaigns: less as a meaningful tool for change. As urban designer Javier Inigo, who worked with Ribble in creating the Cycle Cities vision, says: "We mention London as a potential city to invest in, and yet it is a city that is a little behind, and still places the car at the centre of infrastructure planning.”

What would big urban hubs – like Manchester Piccadilly or London Waterloo – look like if they were redesigned to attract people on bikes?

Professor of Transport Engineering at the University of West England, John Parkin, agrees: if cycling infrastructure is going to become an actual 'thing', a thought process that places cycles ahead of cars must first be adopted. But putting this into practice will take much more than a thought process, he adds. A whole cultural shift is required to engage people with a different way of exploring and experiencing urban hubs: "We need to create an environment that's pleasant and different, using touch and feel materials while encouraging public art to create an identity and culture."

Of course, a cultural change cannot happen overnight, and unfortunately as far as infrastructure is concerned, money is a top priority for local councils and the wider government. No matter how innovative, safe and eco-friendly a particular idea may be, if it costs more money than it's likely to make, its chances of it being overlooked increase greatly. But this isn’t the case everywhere – argues Graam Titchener, Regional Director at York City Council:

"Germany has a cycle budget of €15 million. We need to make things less about revenue, and instead try to push boundaries for cultural change.” For this, he adds, private sector backing is essential.

If you look across the world, the Cycle Cities vision isn’t that outlandish. It took inspiration from Tokyo's existing automated storage units and solar roads in the Netherlands. The key insight from the visioning process for Ribble was not the technology itself, but the need for a very different approach to infrastructure planning: it must be part of a holistic vision that incorporates economy, environment and culture.

To see the futuristic designs and for more detail, please visit

What might the implications of this be? What related articles have you seen?

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