Bicycle Urbanism

Seamless mobility, starting right at your doorstep, continuing throughout your city is not a dream. It is already reality for many cyclists and a promise bicycle urbanism may fulfill at a city scale. This post will look at ways to integrate cycling into residential housing and how this can contribute to quality of life in the bicycle city of the future.

Why developers should build less car parking and more bicycle parking

The provision of, in many cases indoor, car parking facilities into residential housing is often a mandatory requirement for developers of residential projects. The current legal requirements to allocate valuable floor space in residential housing to car parking differ from place to place. In many cases these laws are defined on a municipal level which makes a generalization difficult. So let’s look at two examples.

In New York City the current zoning law requires developers to build on average 43 car parking spaces for 100 housing units. Staten Island shows the most intense legal support for car parking with the requirement to build 122 car parking spaces per 100 housing units.

In Vienna, Austria developers are obliged to provide one parking space per housing unit. As this parking spot has to be located within the grounds of the residential project, parking is usually located indoors to keep ground-level space open. This leads to underground parking facilities of two or sometimes even three floors.

Querschnitt Kopfbau Prager Straße. Copyright: OEBB Immobilien.

Cross-section of the mixed-use residential and business project "Wohnen an der Koloniestraße" in Vienna showing two floors of underground parking space. Image by OEBB Immobilien.

 

Building such facilities to uphold a car-oriented mobility paradigm comes at a high cost for developers and residents (whether they rent or buy the flats). Much of this infrastructure within residential buildings is already underused, especially in urban centers or close to public transport.

In the near future, the need for excessive car-parking facilities is only likely to diminish as mobility patterns change in many cities in favor of active transportation and urban cycling. The provision of ubiquitous car parking appears as a luxury we cannot afford in many cities anymore. We may therefore shift towards thinking about urban cycling when it comes to providing a mobility choice for future residential housing projects.

So which ideas are already out there and could be combined for designing and building residential projects in terms of bicycle urbanism? Here are three cases to learn from:


“Fahrradloft” Berlin: Self-governance and hands-on urbanism

The “Fahrradloft” - bicycle loft - in Berlin is a residential project geared to support urban cycling as the preferred mobility choice. The project is institutionalized as a Baugruppe, which is a self-governed development model for residential projects quite unique to central Europe. In this post by David Roberts the Baugruppe model is described very well:

The basic idea is that a group of people comes together to work directly with architects and designers, bypassing developers, to build a shared dwelling that they own collectively (a co-op, basically). Taking developers out of the picture saves money — 25 to 30 percent in Berlin, where baugruppen are common — and opens up space for much more ambitious, innovative, and sustainable architecture. It also fosters cooperation and community among members of the collective.

Ground-breaking ceremony at the Fahrradloft. Image copyright: Fahrradloft.

Ground-breaking ceremony at the Fahrradloft. Image by Fahrradloft.


Joining the Baugruppe development model with the idea to support urban cycling is an awesome aspect of “Fahrradloft” Berlin and a very promising bicycle urbanism strategy. So next to a self-governed decision making, what are the specific measures in which the “Fahrradloft” supports urban cycling in terms of infrastructure and architectural layout?

  • Not one single car parking spot provided in the entire development;
  • Elevators wide enough to carry bicycles or cargo cycles (but as well children’s buggies or wheelchairs);
  • Generous bicycle parking facilities on all floors;
  • Large balconies for each housing unit also usable to park bicycles.

 Fahrradloft Berlin. Piktogramm Konzept.

Pictogram showing the life inside of "Fahrradloft". Image by Fahrradloft.

 Fahrradloft Berlin. Ground floor plan.

Ground floor plan of "Fahrradloft" showing indoor bicycle parking facilities. Image by Fahrradloft.

 

“The 8 House” Copenhagen: Seamless access to the global street

Thinking about an example for a bicycle-optimized typology, the "8 House" in Copenhagen, built by the architecture company BIG, comes to mind. The project features housing units connected by a sloped pathway where residents can cycle from the street directly to their balcony, also being kind of their backyard.

The idea to bridge various levels with a ramp accessible by bicycle is rather unusual and very promising. Such seamless access by bicycle is a typology worth exploring in future residential projects.

The experience of departing from a flat in 8 House is remarkable. You can see in some videos, here or here, how the residents of 8 House can feel every day when they start cycling right at their doorstep.

S House Copenhagen. By Luis Rodriguez.

The "8 House" with the cyclable ramp on the right side of the building. Image by Luis Rodriguez

Bicycle Parking at 8 House. Image by Luis Rodriguez.

 Bicycle parking at the "8 House". Image by Luis Rodriguez.


“Bike City” Vienna: Adding value on multiple scales

Some recent residential housing projects in Vienna, Austria do include the support of urban cycling as preferred mode of mobility. These projects embrace the idea to reduce car-parking spaces to free up space and funds to create a surplus value for all inhabitants.

One such lighthouse project in Vienna is “Bike City”, a bicycle-friendly residential housing project with 99 flats. The project supports bicycle mobility by a variety of measures:

  • At least three bicycle parking slots per flat;
  • Parking space for bikes and lockable bike storage rooms on all floors;
  • Parking space directly in front of flats;
  • Special parking rooms for children’s bikes;
  • Indoor bicycle parking for visitors;
  • Elevators with a capacity for three bicycles and three persons;
  • Significant reduction of underground car parking slots as compared to other residential housing projects in Vienna. (Bike City has 56 underground car parking slots for a total of 99 flats);
  • One car-sharing vehicle provided within the project;
  • A bike workstation with water connection and tire pump.

The spaces and the funds freed by the reduction of car parking have been re-allocated to supply the project with community spaces, gymnastic spaces and a wellness (sauna) area. Not a bad trade-off indeed! The demand for the 99 flats in "Bike-City" was enormous with over 5000 people on the waiting list requesting a flat in “Bike City”.

The success of “Bike City” has triggered another bicycle-supporting residential housing project, “Bike & Swim”, with around 250 flats where funds saved for car-parking facilities allowed the building of a rooftop swimming pool for residents.

Opening of "Bike&Swim" where a bicycle was used for good PR. Image via derStandard.at.

 

More urban cycling, more added value, more quality of living

The above examples tell us that a support of urban cycling in residential projects frees up space (and of course funds) previously dedicated to follow a car-dominated paradigm for urban development. Leaving this paradigm behind does create spaces new qualities for the residents while the residential projects foster a more sustainable urban way of living.

In future, developers will increasingly recognize the growing market created by potential residents who do not want cars to dominate their living environment. This shift in urban development will have to be supported by respective legal changes to zoning laws and building. A bicycle urbanism approach to building residential projects may be especially beneficial in times of austerity and limited budgets.

The cases described in this post show that the provision of a mobility choice in favor of urban cycling can go hand in hand with creating living spaces of high quality. In this way a bicycle urbanism approach to the provision of residential housing does not only make our mobility more sustainable but also increases urban quality overall!

Combining the approaches from the above cases would help us build residential housing projects in terms of bicycle urbanism: Self-governed residential buildings with seamless access for cycling mobility and a diverse offer of spaces in support of active mobility and community.