Social and Sustainable Streets

Model Streetscape

Perhaps the designers of this streetscape had already absorbed Robert’s message. Not only the shade trees (Cinnamomum camphora), but lots of heat-island reducing planters too. Not so many parked cars as in Bermondsey, but of course loads of bicycles and mopeds. The great majority of the mopeds in the picture are electric. So far, so sustainable. But, this is also a social streetscape. Behind the arcade on the left are the lunchtime restaurants, the vegetables are prepared on the pavement under the arcade and the customers enjoy a cigarette after their meal on the benches and raised walls in the balmy, late autumn sun. The large, evergreen shrubs – Osmanthus fragrens – fill the air with their light scent. Residents dry their washing on the clothes racks outside their apartment windows without the use of machines. One of many such streets in the Pudong New District of Shanghai, all not much older than 15-20 years.

23 thoughts on “Social and Sustainable Streets

  1. Tom Turner

    This is my view of how China’s streetscape should be developing but it is not my view of how China’s streetscape is developing. Is it that this pattern was used 20 years ago but is no longer popular? Or am I wrong that the new urban China is predominantly high-rise blocks with wide roads?
    Electric bikes are great – but do they need dedicated roadspace or should they share with (1) motor vehicles? (2) pedestrians? (3) cyclists? (4) all of them?
    Goretex-style waterproof clothing is so much better than its predecessors that I can see a time when electric bikes will become the preferred mode for single-person commuting in London. Someone needs to design a Goretex cape which provides good ventilation and does not catch the wind. The Japanese ride bikes with umbrellas fixed to their handlebars. This is OK if the rain is falling vertically and there is no wind. But it’s hell in a hurricane.
    Re the above photo: (1) WH Whyte would want the rims of the planters to be a little wider, so that they provide ‘many places to sit’. (2) Those upright seats do not look back-friendly or arse-friendly! (3) Are the curved steel structures just for locking-up bikes or are they intended to sheler the engines from the rain? (4) is the paving permeable or impermeable? (5) the floral planting looks uninspiring.

  2. Lawrence Post author

    Pudong New District is perhaps a special case in that it was stamped out of nothing on the agricultural marshlands east of “old” Shanghai, at a time when land prices were very low. A lot of it looks like this, although there is also a lot of high rise with wide roads. But this type of streetscape can be found throughout Shanghai, even around the tower estates that characterise the Puxi area west of the river. I often sit on both the planter walls and on the benches and find them completely acceptable for comfort. You have to lean forward with your elbows on your knees, this position being also good for spitting melon seeds onto the pavement. The structures are just to lock bikes to and are perhaps a bit over-designed. The paving is permeable. Electric bikes ride on the roads and on the footpaths and in all directions and also act as very cheap taxis for local trips. When it rains there are a variety of custom made shelters that the owners quickly mount on their machines, and even in tropical downpours everything above the knees stays dry. There are also sheets to hang on the front of the machines that protect the lower leg. When the shelters are up the view of the passenger is greatly restricted, which may be counted as a blessing when being driven diagonally against a red light into moving traffic across an eight lane intersection.

  3. Tom Turner

    Thank you for the information. Is it only Shanghai which has this type of ‘modern’ street development? Maybe it is another way of emphasising the city’s historic difference from the rest of China? I like the way Nanjing Street is treated.

    I wish some Chinese entreprenneurs would hasten the export of electric bikes, with good waterproofing, into London. Boris Johnson’s cyclehire scheme is working well, and I like the feel of the bikes, but it only works for short distances. I would like to see all private use of commuter vehicles banned from the City of London (ie the Square Mile) and would also ban all non-electric vehicles. It is an entirely practical way of making the City a far better place to live and work.

  4. Tom Turner

    The worst driving I have seen is in Iran (though it is said to be much worse in Afghanistan) but this does not mean that car driving is inherently unsafe. Could it not be that the high rate of accidents from electric bikes is caused by bad or un-enforced regulations, or a lack of special lanes for electric bikes?

  5. Lawrence Post author

    Poppy, I think you’ve spent too long in England. It’s a nanny state with rules and special lanes for everything where huge committees of experts have to convene to write reports and make submissions and flag up problems and to monitor pilot schemes and make further recommendations and so on and so on until nobody wants to think or hear about electric bikes again and just continue to drive their cars everywhere. The developing world is so very refreshing: electric bikes come on the market because they are a clear solution to a lot of problems, they are priced so that a lot of people find them an attractive method of transport and then those people go out and buy one and drive them on the roads and on the footways and anywhere else that is convenient. Obviously, a number of people have accidents, but this is a price worth paying for those of us that don’t. The problem with electric bikes is that they are extremely quiet and easy to walk in front of when one doesn’t look. The second and biggest problem are car drivers who drive their cars and don’t look either.

  6. Poppy

    Not really, Lawrence. I think China does need “rules”, not only for landscape planning, but also for other issues. I am not sure whether you have joined in the traffic stream in big cities of China (ie,Beijing,Tianjin). How chaotic it is! Bikes,electric,motorbikes,cars,lorries…so that, it is clear that rules are needed.

  7. DAN

    I have not been to China Im afraid but the roads of India are also a chaotic balance of mopeds, rickshaws, cars, buses cyclists & cows!

    There is a lot to be said for roads of no apparent lanes or rules with the only rule being:
    he/she who beeps loudest is the one who will be turning right any moment now, and it is he/she that everyone knows is there…

    it makes for noisy streets but exciting ones

    Designated lanes are all well and good but when separated, neither car nor cycle tend to look out for the other any more…

  8. Tom Turner

    I have cycled in both countries. In India, every space is shared with every type of vehicle and animal – so they all look out for each other. ‘Horn please‘. In China I felt very safe on those wonderful cycle lanes – and was lucky to escape with my life from several near-accidents with silent electric bikes rushing up from behind.
    John Forester, a civil engineer who wrote a book on Bicycle Transportation, argues that shared roadspace is safer than separate lanes, so he would expect cycling to be safer in India than in China. He has statistics to support his argument (though I do not find them entirely convincing). Dan is agreeing with Forester’s point. But to make this system work there need to be appropriate punishments for users of engine-powered vehicles who hit human-powered vehicles. I would not send them to prison very often, or castrate them very often, but they should have to pay very heavy fines and they should have their motor-vehicle licenses extinguished.
    As for cycling in London being in the control of a nanny state, no, no, no. Boris is no nanny and London’s police mostly talk to each other or zoom about in flashing cars. Cyclists, me included, behave like cowboys and the roads and pavements of Central London are getting more like the wild west every day – as cyclists fight for their rights and their lives.

    See comment on planning separate lanes for every type of vehicle.

    Poppy and Lawrence: I do not see China as in any way chaotic. It is very well-run, if with a few glitches. Try India, or Africa, or Naples, or Tehran to get a measure of what traffic chaos means.

  9. DAN

    I agree with you Tom in your punishments to motorised road users vs the human powered – however there will always be a two sided coin and it is never clear cut in the eyes of the law with regards to whose fault ‘it’ was.

    The shared space approach is working on the Walworth Road and though cycling up there every morning is busy – it is usually quite a good run.

    However, the roads are tighter in central london and this approach might not be the answer here. The flip side is that the designated cycle paths for instance the one from Great Portland St heading east to Islington way are so narrow and delineated with high kerbs, it is hard enough for 2 cyclists to pass each other let alone any overtaking.

    I would rather see in London, some small roads pedestrianised and cut off from cars altogether. Not huge stretches but little cut throughs here and there. Jan Gehls theories would support this.

    This would make more suitable routes through the city for human-powered transport, not necessarily for the whole way but cars would have to go round a circulatory route and peds and cycles could pass through here and there keeping the inner streets full of people and place rather than cars & taxis.

    Little closures here & there would lead to more & a network would begin to evolve.

    Soho would be a good place to start. We could leave vehicular access for deliveries and waste management for the buildings between the hours of 2-6am perhaps.

  10. Tom Turner

    Another screamingly obvious thing to do in London is to follow the example of Berlin and, WHERE SPACE IS AVAILABLE, mark cycle routes onto pavements. They did a little of this by the Haygate Estate (near where the A2 meets the Elephant and Castle roundabout) but they put the cycle path beside the wall instead of beside the road. This disconnects it from the ordinary flow of cyclists. The solution is to give the job of designing and planning cycle routes to confirmed cyclists who are also landscape architects (eg Dan!). The marking should start with painted lines. If the route proves safe and popular the painted lines should then be replaces with a high quality cycling surface (ie smooth and beautiful without being slippy). They use small stone setts for Berlin cycle paths and this is not a good idea: they look nice but they are bumpy and can be slippery. There is a great need for international research on cycle planning (ie comparing practice in different countries with regard to safety, beauty, convenience, cost etc).

  11. Tom Turner

    Copenhagan has a functional cycle network, which is the most like the Chinese system of any European country. The photos are representative of the Copenhagen cycleway system as I remember it. But the cyclepaths are not beautiful – and I think they would be a lot better if the system was part of the landscape architects sphere of work.
    The modern bicycle is about 125 years old and the bicycle path can only be about half as old as this. There is a long long way to go making really good cycle networks – and it may never happen it the work is left to car-driving highway engineers. My view is that cyclepaths should be planned with the geometry previously used for the horse-and-cart or the horse-and-carriage. They had big wheels and similar turning circles. Motor roads have the wrong geometry.

  12. Christine

    I am a friend of both the car and the cycle and hope that a solution can be found for that is best for both forms of transport.

    Depending on the attributes of the city, restricting access by the car in the centre of the city is a great idea.
    [ ]

    The more ways that can be thought of to promote different forms of movement in, around and between cities which are safe and friendly to the environment the better we will all be and the more interesting our day to day lives.

  13. Tom Turner

    The Cyclingcities comparison is very interesting. I have been thinking about writing about Cycling Countries but maybe it is right to talk about cities instead of countries. In the UK, the difference between Birmingingham and Cambridge is very marked. The US has some cycle-friendly cities It seems that cycling is more a sport than a means of commuting in Australia

  14. Christine

    Perhaps a good place to start is with the ‘cycling’ culture of each city/country. Australia is a very sports oriented country, so cycling seems to be seen in this context.

    The earliest cycle race held in Australia is the Austral [ ] of which velodrome (speed) cycling is the heir. Australian olympians are very strong in this sport.

    Road cycling also has a long history in Australia. [ ]Australian’s with a heritage from the European cycling countries ie. Italy, probably did much to reinvigorate road cycling (touring) as a sport before the ‘green’ credentials of cycling as a form of transport became a trend in the environmental movement.

    So to urban cycling. Often groups of cyclists will be out riding at dawn when the roads relatively quiet and will congregate at early opening coffee shops. Cycling in this incarnation is linked to fitness. Cyclists invest in very expensive cycles and the full cycling attire (shoes, cycle pants, lycra shirt, gloves, helmet and sunglasses). No doubt these same (majority male cyclists) later drive to work!

    The student population is another factor in the popularity of cycling. In this context it is often an economic form of transport and suitable outlet for youthful energies. It extends to other forms of wheeled transportation such as the scooter and the skateboard. Risk taking behaviour is part of the ethos, so road rules, safety (including safety conscious clothing) is not part of the general attitude.

    Then there are the philosophically committed cyclists that cycle for lifestyle reasons including saving the environment. These cyclist are most likely to cycle to work, to advocate for cycling as a form of transportation, and to consider ways of integrating cycling into a 24/7 lifestyle.

    Jessie Pengilly is a champion Australian cyclist who tragically died at age 27 in (an unrelated to cycling) car accident.[ pengilly&searchLimits= ]

  15. Tom Turner

    France was primarily a sports-cycling country until about 20 years ago. Now it is doing a lot to encourage commuter cycling. Students are very often good cyclists, even in Italy (‘even’ because it is not a country where urban cycling is popular) – in fact cycling is much more popular in North Europe than in South Europe.

  16. Christine

    Perhaps the Italians feel a little restricted after riding on the open roads? Cadel Evans is a fan of cycling in Italy.
    [ ]

    Or perhaps the Italians need to advance the ‘fashion’ of urban cycling with a business wear range before they are fully convinced of the value of cycling to work?
    [ ]

  17. Tom Turner

    That’s a great idea about the shoes and the principle needs to be extended upwards, so that people look more glamorous on a bicycle than anywhere else. Most people look dreadful in Hi-Viz clothing. What can be done about us? I bought a really expensive cycling jacket recently but, no, it does not make look dashing (and I don’t think anything could).

  18. Christine

    There is ‘Dashing Tweeds’ [ ] – but it might not be the ‘look’ your looking for? I not sure whether the offerings of The Milan velodrome would make you look dashing either! [ ]

    Perhaps reviewing cyclists street-style (a la Carnaby Street) [ ]
    might be more productive? [ ]

  19. Tom Turner

    Thank you for the style research. The flowing capes in Milan look the best for me but cycle wear in a stormy climate has to be very functional. The tweeds are in camouflage colours and would soak up the rain. The capes look as though they would let your legs get wet and would flap into your face when the wind changed. I’d like to see cyclewear designers derive a high style from thorough analysis of functional requirements.


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