Sunday, November 25, 2007

Jan Gehl for Darlington (on a Bike)

As Darlington approaches the end of the 6 month trial period for cycling in the Pedestrian Heart, and the final year of Cycling Demonstration Town funding, there are some crucial decisions about to be made about the future of cycling in the town.

Small town (UK) thinking (of which there is much here and around the country) says that cyclists are not popular, dangerous, anti-disabled etc etc. National thinking, leading experts in the field, and best European practice says that cycling in the Pedestrian Heart should only be a first step towards less car access to the town centre, and much much more public transport, cycling and walking access.

Copenhagen urban planner Jan Gehl confronted similar problems 40 years ago - before today's best practice was developed. Indeed, many argue that he has been personally responsible for much of today's progressive transport/urban planning thinking.

He has advised London, and even Wakefield and Castleford, in the past. Surely it is time for him to come to Darlington. Can I suggest that, should the Cycle Demo Town monies not run to bringing him here, and we get a silly decision on Ped Heart cycling, we invite him to join a mass protest ride through the town - along with members of Cycling England, who have so generously funded cycling in Darlo?

Thanks to John Wetmore from across the pond for directing us to this interview he carried out with Jan Gehl in London. John is a great pedestrian advocate - and friend of cyclists. You can see more of his american public broadcast videos here.


Anonymous said...

I interviewed Jan Gehl at the first Walk21 conference in London a few years ago. You can see the interview on Episode 44 of "Perils For Pedestrians" on Google Video at:
John Z Wetmore

An Inconvenient Truth said...

Thanks for that. An interesting man. I'm downloading the video, and will try to get it down to the Jan Gehl interview to embed on this site.

Anonymous said...

Lets try and set all of this into a public policy context and see if we can develop a harder hitting case to put to our civic leaders.

Surely the overarching issue is a need for the Council to secure strong economic performance in Darlington

This is not to promote unsustainable growth rather it is about creating the right conditions for growth to take place.

Chief amongst these is creating a high quality place for social and economic interaction.

Surely thats what Jan Gehl has pursued all his professional life.

Sure we need employers to create quality jobs and we need quality people to fill those jobs but for this to happen we need attractice places for quality people and quality employers to meet. This includes a need for good housing, open spaces and parks, safe streets, low traffic congestion, good arts and cultural activities, access to leisure, tolerance etc etc etc

Darlington is generally a nice place but it could be so much better.

We have allowed the town to be dominated by the car - the Council has made a start in addressing this with the pedestrianised heart - but it now needs to follow this up by actively promoting a coherent strategy for accessing and crossing the town centre by modes of transport other than private car.

This will require place improvements across the town and that includes making residential streets safe for people not people driving along in their cars.

Eddington Stern Dft and CLG have all provided some guidance on the way ahead but we need to ensure that our Council takes puts policy into action and pays more than lip service to these and their own policies.

The Council could start by implementing its own cycle policy and undertaking to observe new and emerging DfT guidance.

We also have a role to play and that is to continually remind our civic leaders and their officers to that they must continue to improve Darlington as a place for economic and social activity and they can start by implementing best practice and developing a programme of place investment not the ad hoc offerings we,ve suffered to date in the Town in Motion experiment.

So what does all this add up to?

We need the Council to turn its cycling policy into an Action Plan with a costed programme of investment which can be delivered and paid for within a wider place investment programme for the town.

In this way we mainstream investment in cycling infrastructure - it becomes an essential part of the place offer and hopefully along the way with help from Council staff working to move people out of their cars we move cycling away from its image as an exclusive sport for lycra clad anarchists into a normal mode of transport.

An Inconvenient Truth said...

Excellent response, anon. The high quality context for economic and social interaction argument is one that we can develop with the new cabinet member for transport - starting tomorrow. He was previously a long-time holder of the economic development portfolio.

At the moment, many councillors fear the wrath of their voters if they back cyclists in the Ped Heart, yet are also aware of the wider need to encourage cycling. Maybe we need to help them out of their difficulty, though I actually believe that the issue is anti-social behaviour, not cycling. Non-cyclists simply mix the two up all the time.

The Campaign will take up some of your points with the Borough Council when we meet them.

Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Im happy to help off-line, I left contact details at the last Friday night meeting.

As an aside I was in IEPER recently and had the pleasure of dodging hundreds of kids arriving at school (next to my hotel) on their bicycles - proper utilitarian transport with mudguards - chainguards - luggage rack, no lycra or dayglow, no helmets, no chelsea tractors dropping them off just normal kids using a normal means of transport. Interesting to observe few dedicated cycle lanes,other than on orbital roads, no pedestrianisation in the City Centre (rebuilt along original lines after Great War) and a high degree of tolerance from car drivers. Also bear in mind it was mid November and the weather was cold and wet.

An Inconvenient Truth said...

and a high degree of tolerance from car drivers says it all - we've argued from the beginning that the real problem is motorist behaviour. I think you could add pedestrian behaviour, given the high degree of intolerance in the Ped Heart. But then the majority of pedestrians have probably arrived by car anyway.

miketually said...

"But then the majority of pedestrians have probably arrived by car anyway"

I thought that only 1/3 of town centre shoppers arrived by car? Most arrive on the buses.

John Z Wetmore said...

The program mentioned above, "Perils For Pedestrians" Episode 44, has moved to YouTube at:

Other episodes can be seen at