Urban Design: Is There a Distinctive View from the
ANN FORSYTH* & KEVIN KRIZEK
*Department of City and Regional Planning, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA;
Planning, University of Colorado, CO, USA
ABSTRACT Would urban design considerations and practices be different if the
experience of bicycling was given a more central place? Drawing on a review of
international literature and practice, this paper compares the characteristics of cyclists
with those of pedestrians and motorists, showing that cyclists have a substantial number of
unique characteristics that warrant further investigation in terms of a special urban design
response. Focusing on four issues—community layout, cycling facilities, analysis and
design processes, and detailed design—the paper offers a framework and central
considerations for cycling-oriented urban design. It concludes with a call to take the
experience of cycling seriously in urban design. This involves moving beyond a concern
with safe and convenient facilities and complete networks to a more substantial interest in
the experience of the environment from a cyclist’s point of view.
Urban Design and the Experience of Cycling
Would urban design considerations and practices be different if the experience of
bicycling was provided a more central place in key dialogues regarding the future
Transportation via vehicles—bicycles, buses, trains, cars, motorbikes, etc.—is
a domain dominated by trafﬁc planners and engineers. To best serve such vehicles
they have helped build and provide for landscapes of wide travel lanes,
continuous rail networks, extensive safety and navigational signage, transit stops
and vehicular parking. In contrast, urban designers have long been keen on
attending to the pedestrian environment; many regard urban designers as key
experts on this area. In so doing, urban designers have focused on the overall
form, scale, materials, vegetation and furnishing of the street; and on sidewalks,
footpaths and off-street pedestrian paths.
Urban designers do have a signiﬁcant history of engaging with vehicles,
however. Some have suggested vehicles as a central organizing principle.
Examples include early 20th century parkway planning and mid-century
discussions about the formal potential of freeways and shopping centre design.
View from the Road by Appleyard et al. (1964) is representative, envisaging urban
design from the perspective of the speeding motorist. On the other hand,
Correspondence Address: Ann Forsyth, Department of City and Regional Planning, Cornell
University, 106 West Sibley Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA. Email: email@example.com
Journal of Urban Design, Vol. 16. No. 4, 531–549, November 2011
1357-4809 Print/1469-9664 Online/11/040531-19 q2011 Taylor & Francis
designers have also tried to tame the car—buffering pedestrians and cyclists from
motorists—through Radburn planning, neighbourhood units, and the latest
generation of shared streets, complete streets and trafﬁc calming of various types.
With a few exceptions, the focus of urban design in terms of cycling has most
often centred on creating safe and/or attractive facilities such as cycle lanes and
bicycle parking, or more recently on creating comfortable spaces to increase the
amount of cycling as physical activity. However, this somewhat limited purview
begs several questions. Should there be a more radical reconceptualization of
urban design given the speed, height, exposure, lighting requirements and
parking needs of cyclists? Are cyclists really just using another form of vehicle
similar enough to the car to make many of the auto-oriented design strategies
work? Alternatively, can they be seen as essentially a faster pedestrian, using
basically the same infrastructure? Or are cyclists different to both motorists and
pedestrians, with needs more complicated than safety and exercise, and with
implications for urban design?
This paper proposes that cyclists have needs from the standpoint of urban
design that substantially differ from pedestrians, motorists or transit users.
Furthermore, it is contended that full provision for their needs is unlikely to come
to fruition until their perspective is more formally acknowledged in research and
through design guidelines. Therefore, this paper aims to respond to three
questions. (1) What would it mean to create an urban design approach based on
the bicycle in addition to, or instead of the motorized vehicle and the pedestrian?
(2) What are the key dimensions of a View from the Road from the perspective of
cyclists? (3) What are the implications for processes of city building, particularly
sustainable design and urban redevelopment?
There are good arguments for cyclists deserving special attention. In practical
terms, cyclists can move further and faster than pedestrians, making cycling more
viable than walking as a mode of getting about in places that are large and with
dispersed development. In retroﬁtting existing urban areas to afford more
sustainable travel, particularly those places with lower densities and multiple
activity centres, it is unrealistic to think that walking can be the whole solution. A
more holistic approach would involve cycling; a more comprehensive urban
design strategy would make that experience delightful as well as safe. If cyclists
have substantially different experiences and needs then urban design needs to
stretch its repertoire to acknowledge that; pedestrian-, auto- and even transit-
oriented design is insufﬁcient.
This paper addresses the degree to which cyclists have signiﬁcantly different
needs, and if so, what are the design implications. It is composed of four sections.
The paper ﬁrst compares the characteristics of cyclists with those of pedestrians
and vehicles, suggesting several substantive differences such as speed and likely
participants that warrant further investigation in terms of a special urban design
response. It next outlines, through the lens of the cyclist, common approaches to
designing roads, paths and other infrastructure associated with movement, as
well as the surrounding buildings and landscape. In doing this it focuses on four
issues—(1) overall layout of neighbourhoods and towns; (2) specialized cycling
facilities; (3) urban analysis and design processes; and (4) detailed design. This
part also examines existing cases of good practices in designing for cycling,
generally reﬂecting the ﬁrst two of the four issues above—layout and facilities.
Drawing on this analysis, it proposes an approach to bicycle speciﬁc urban design
in the form of key issues and design suggestions, and concludes with a call for
532 A. Forsyth & K. Krizek
giving the experience of cycling stronger consideration in urban design. In doing
this cycling-oriented urban design would move beyond a concern with safe and
convenient facilities and complete networks to a more substantial interest in the
experience of the environment from a cyclist’s point of view. However, not enough
is known about the view from the bicycle. Research on cyclists’ perceptions and
experiences is an important area for future work.
Suggesting that urban designers more fully account for cycling is a relatively
new contribution. Take two examples from exemplary texts on urban design. Jon
Lang’s (2005) excellent Urban Design: A Typology of Procedures and Products is richly
illustrated, but only two images have cyclists in them (and these are in the
distance); City Centre Chandigarh (p. 29) and an image titled “Weather protection
for pedestrians Kyoto in 1992” (p. 367); bicycles are parked in two images from
India (pp. 87, 159) and may be visible in one architectural rendering. Similarly,
Carmona et al.’s (2003) Public Places, Urban Spaces, is exceptionally good at
providing images of spaces with people in them. In the substantial number of
images, however, there is only one cyclist, pictured in the distance in London
(p. 151). Bicycle parking is pictured in images on facadism (p. 152) and paving and
building materials (p. 159). The intention here is not to criticize these two works,
which are some of the most humanistic texts on urban design available and are
written by experts with substantial experience. Rather, the point is that the
cyclist’s view is typically not central in even the most comprehensive work on
The perspective and the paper overall draws on a review of over 300 articles
examining how to encourage levels of cycling and increase safety, as well as
dozens of review articles and manuals summarizing research or practice
experience (Krizek et al. 2009; Forsyth & Krizek 2010). Throughout the work it
became clear that cycling has been viewed in primarily functional terms in urban
design. The review did not deliberately omit the more formal, experiential
(perceptual), sensory, visual, temporal or social dimensions that are the focus of
much urban design (Carmona et al. 2003). There was in fact a gap between more
general work in urban design focused on pedestrians, work in transportation
planning focused on motorized vehicles where cyclists posed potential conﬂicts
with vehicles, and cycling research and practice addressing the importance of
promoting safety and providing continuous cycling networks. This paper starts to
ﬁll this gap in urban design by sketching out current practice, offering a
framework and other tenets to consider in understanding the experience of
cyclists, and providing preliminary design recommendations.
Vehicles, Pedestrians and Cyclists
In most parts of the world, the bicycle is legally recognized as a vehicle, but its
position in the vehicular hierarchy is often unclear. Such confusion is further
related to culture. For example, in parts of Asia cycling is commonly relied on as a
means of cargo transport; rickshaws and other similar devices physically compete
with other modes. In parts of the Netherlands and Denmark, cycling enjoys a
prominent role in the hierarchy.
In mainstream transportation planning for the Western world—the
predominant focus in this article—cycling is often coupled with pedestrians
under the moniker ‘non-motorized’ transportation. This is, however, a residual
category that in some planning contexts has also included riding in a bullock cart,
Urban Design 533
rowing a boat or riding a horse. Of non-motorized modes, in most places walking
is dominant; in the US according to the National Household Travel Survey of 2001,
10% of trips were by foot, including trips by foot to a transit stop; a far smaller
percentage is by cycling (Agrawal & Schimek, 2007). However, it can be
questioned about the degree to which this classiﬁcation—like a pedestrian, not like
a motorized vehicle—holds up to more detailed scrutiny. Table 1 outlines some of
the similarities and differences between bicycles, pedestrians and motorized
personal vehicles. Certainly the similarities between cycling and walking are
practically and politically important, but the differences are substantial.
Table 1 raises the issue of different levels of skill among cyclists. This issue of
skill level is important as different types of cyclists travel in different parts of the
roadway (or off road), at different speeds, and with different levels of awareness
of their surroundings. For example, in the US practices employed by the Federal
Highway Department clearly recognize diversity in cyclists’ abilities and
preferences, dividing cyclists into three classes: A ¼advanced cyclists who put
a premium on speed and tolerate trafﬁc well; B ¼other adult ‘basic’ cyclists who
are ‘less conﬁdent’ about negotiating with trafﬁc; and C ¼child cyclists
(Wilkinson, 1994). Other guidebooks, such as those published by the American
Association of State Highway and Transportation Ofﬁcials (AASHTO) employ the
same A-B-C distinction; furthermore this guidebook goes so far to as to suggest
the diversity of different needs:
No one type of bicycle facility or highway design suits every bicyclist and
no designated bicycle facility can overcome a lack of bicycle operator
skill. Within any given transportation corridor, bicyclists may be
provided with more than one option to meet the travel and access needs
of all potential users. (AASHTO, 1999, p. 6)
Table 1 further demonstrates while there are important similarities between
cyclists and pedestrians, such as their modest parking requirements and
unlicensed character, there are key differences. Cyclists may not be well catered
for by typical pedestrian-type urban design responses given their location in the
roadway, speed and need to attend to other moving objects (pedestrians and
vehicles). While transportation planning has created a substantial body of work
on transportation planning for the bicycle, drawing on research on topics such as
accident rates, this does not make up for an absence of design thinking.
Urban Design Approaches
Overall Layouts, Facilities, Processes, Detailed Design
Comprehensive theories of urban design address a number of issues; for example,
Carmona et al. (2003) outlined six dimensions dealt with generally in urban
design: function; morphology; perception; social issues; visual aspects; and time.
In considering land use-transportation implications for design in communities,
Levinson & Krizek (2008) suggested there are four key tenets—hierarchy;
morphology; layers; and architectural content—that play out differently for
transportation versus land use issues.
Upon considering these and other views, it has become apparent that work to
date on cycling and urban design has focused on function (the top row in Table 2).
A more sophisticated approach would engage with at least some of the other
534 A. Forsyth & K. Krizek
dimensions of urban design, which are outlined in the rest of the Table. Such an
approach would need to do this at a variety of levels from overall layout and
facilities to detailed design and design processes. Table 2 sketches out some of these
issues and the text below examines the ‘levels’ of design attention in more detail.
Layouts: The arrangement of roads and paths is a key component of urban design
at the site, district and city scale. At the smaller scale it falls under site planning; at
the larger scale community design or physical town planning. Various approaches
to overall layout have gained prominence in different periods—rectilinear and
curved street patterns; circulation using a lattice or a tree-structure; pedestrian
systems that are virtually identical to the road system or largely independent of it;
arrangements with little hierarchy or a strong and well-deﬁned hierarchy, etc.
(Southworth & Ben Joseph, 2003; Marshall, 2004).
In some places the bicycle has been recognized in the initial layout of
communities. For example, early materials from the Regional Planning
Association of America often featured happy children cycling on separated
paths in newly developed Radburn-style developments (The City, 1939; Stein,
1957, pp. 55, 64, 74, 214). Innovative planning strategies—largely carried out in the
Netherlands and other Northern European environments—stress the initial
layout of places, rather than their adaptation. This has often resulted in exclusive
bicycle infrastructure, often reﬂecting the Radburn tradition of separate, largely
independent cycling networks. Examples include Houten and Almere (Crewe &
Forsyth, 2011; see Figure 1). Of course, cyclists can also share roads with other
vehicles but existing cycling-focused practice at the overall community level has
not tended to take that approach. Shared street approaches are more common in
retroﬁts of existing residential or central city areas (European shared streets,
complete streets in the US, etc.).
From a transportation planning perspective, motorized transportation net-
works are typically viewed as a hierarchy of local streets, collectors, arterials and
freeways or tollways. Municipalities and metropolitan areas with widely heralded
large-scale cycling environments have employed similar strategies for bicycle
routes to design or retroﬁt their system over time (most communities have not
been designed for cycling). For example, the Boulder, Colorado, Bicycle System
Plan identiﬁed such a network with primary corridors spaced approximately one
per 1.5 km except in higher density and high trafﬁc areas where they are closer.
Secondary routes target residential streets to support connections to destinations
(City of Boulder, 1996; Krizek et al. 2009).
Typically, a cycle network is developed by prioritizing routes between key
destinations. This is a substantial task of mapping—origins, destinations, routes—
and assessing where improvements are needed (Lawlor et al. 2003; Krizek et al.
2009). On the transportation side, having a continuous network of cycling routes is
increasingly seen as crucial. To date, these actions have focused on deﬁning safe
and continuous routes rather than creating comprehensively designed environ-
ments supportive of bicycling.
More could be done to explicitly consider the experience of the network—both
separated areas and those integrated with other movement systems. For example,
this may entail providing routes where cycling is uncomplicated enough to permit
cyclists to spend time viewing the scenery. Or, it might involve focusing routes
where the level of detail of the context is such that it can be easily perceived from
the speed of a bicycle—less detail needed than for a pedestrian but more than for a
motorist. Another key dimension—often absent in planning—is the degree to
Urban Design 535
Table 1. Cycling, vehicles and pedestrians
Dimension* Bicycles similar to motorized vehicles Bicycles similar to pedestrians Bicycles are unique
Participants Requires some training to use on roadways. Unlicensed. No age limits. Cyclists vary greatly in skill and have even
been classiﬁed as classes A, B, C (see below).
In most locations there are fewer cyclists than
pedestrians; in richer countries there are
typically far fewer cyclists than motorists.
Speed Skilled and ﬁt riders can go relatively fast (in
excess of 30 km per hour) and can travel with
vehicles in the same lane.
Focus of rider attention is on trafﬁc rather
than details of the street environment.
Slower than motorized vehicles, and lack of
enclosure, may mean they perceive more
environmental detail. This will be particu-
larly the case in off-road facilities and for
recreational riders moving at a slower pace
On road riders move in the same direction as
cars but at a slower speed; the opposite is
true of shared paths with pedestrians.
Riders in shared paths and roadways may
need to pay more attention to pedestrians,
motorists, and hazards (such as grates)
reducing ability to perceive their surround-
ings in detail.
Distance or range Can go relatively long distances. Distance is still a factor with a limited range. The range of cyclists is between the
pedestrian and the motorist with impli-
cations for their perception of the ‘neigh-
bourhood’ and other local areas.
Loads Can carry luggage and
Loads and passengers limited and often
require special gear, e.g. packs and trailers.
Bicycles have some unique business uses, e.g.
bicycle couriers, deliveries in congested
Safety concerns On-road safety is a key concern as are
Like pedestrians, problem areas include
locations where cyclists cross roads as well as
buffering as they move along the side of the
Less concern about crashes involving similar
vehicles (bicycles). Bicycles may pose a
hazard for pedestrians; in some locales
cyclists may have a propensity to ignore road
rules (Thompson 1977, p. 202).
536 A. Forsyth & K. Krizek
Table 1. (continued)
Dimension* Bicycles similar to motorized vehicles Bicycles similar to pedestrians Bicycles are unique
Movement Like motorized vehicles, cyclists can use the
ordinary travel lanes on a road.
Sensitive to road maintenance issues such as
Like pedestrians, cyclists often use special
lanes and paths along the side of the road or
away from the road altogether.
Sensitive to slope.
Barring stairs or similar barriers, can ride
both on and off road.
Parking Needs secure storage at both ends of trip. Parking requirements are modest. Often ignored.
Mix with transit Needs parking near transit stops. Can often be taken onto transit vehicles. Often an afterthought.
Who plans and designs Often part of the transportation planning
May be integrated with urban and commu-
nity design (e.g. with off-road paths, shared
pedestrian and bicycling facilities).
In a growing number of locations there are
specialist bicycle planners.
Bicycles are rarely the top priority for
mainstream transportation planners and
National, state/provincial, and local gov-
ernments provide funding through trans-
portation and public works departments.
Trails may be funded through parks
Many options but few dedicated funds.
Note:*Including mostly cars, motorcycles and buses. Column 1 in this paper reﬂects some of the categories described in Forsyth et al. 2009, Table 2. The rest of this Table is
based on the literature reviewed for this paper.
Urban Design 537
Table 2. Issues for approaches to urban design focused on cycling
Dimension* Overall layout Facilities Processes Detailed design
Function (the current
focus of design for
Complete cycling network. Safe and well-maintained lanes,
paths, and trails.
Opportunities for input from
cyclists of different skill levels.
Well-lit and signed travel and
parking areas, without obvious
Morphology Land uses close enough to allow
cycling, coarser grained than
pedestrian-oriented design, ﬁner
grained than auto-oriented.
Cycling lanes, paths, trails and
parking help maintain design
intentions regarding enclosure/
Formal analyses could separ-
ately assess cycling environ-
Buildings and landscape deﬁne
space at scale of bicycle (height
Perception Cycling network forms a logical
hierarchy with easy wayﬁnding.
Travel lanes allow safe and
attractive views to surround-
ings; help focus cyclists attention
on other vehicles where appro-
Cyclists’ perceptions and mental
maps are incorporated into
Built elements can be perceived
clearly from a faster speed than
the pedestrian, i.e. detailed
design is bicycle-scaled as well
as human-scaled and/or auto-
Social issues Cycling can be used to connect
destinations for all types of
cyclists from preschools to gro-
cery stores and senior centres.
Allow for cyclists to ride side by
side and in other groupings and
for cyclists to interact socially
Engage with different types of
by age, income, skill level and
Allow for clusters of cyclists to
park and interact.
Visual/ aesthetic Larger environment legible at a
Avoid visual clutter from mul-
tiple facilities while still provid-
ing multiple options (mode, skill
Incorporate cyclist-eye view in
visual preference studies.
Balance complexity and diver-
sity with the need to understand
the environment at cycling
Time Lay out cycle paths considering
use in different seasons and
potential for changing patterns
over time, e.g. if more seniors
Plan for evolution of facilities
over time, e.g. adding parking,
adding on or off road lanes for
riders of different skill-levels.
Account for snow removal in
Opportunities for adaptation
and redesign over time.
Make seasonal change visible
(e.g. falling leaves) without
interfering with cycling safety.
Note: *Dimensions are from Carmona et al. (2003).
538 A. Forsyth & K. Krizek
which a network links key urban places, important to different types of people, in
a way that can contribute to public space use, vitality, and legibility.
Facilities: Facilities for cycling have received far more attention than network
layout from urban design and even transportation. Numerous cycling design
guidelines provide information. Many focus on designing the road carriageway
and the larger right of way for safe cycling through on-street cycle lanes, separated
bicycle lanes and street sharing approaches, as well as intersection signage and
marking. Sometimes separate path systems have been developed that are either
shared with pedestrians or not. Complete streets approaches are merely a recent
example of this. Other design guidelines emphasize creating bicycle speciﬁc
facilities such as bicycle parking, signage and lighting.
There are many types of such facilities, particularly different approaches to
designing the road carriageway (see Figure 2). While it can be difﬁcult enough to
accommodate even one type of cyclist, it has been argued that from a user
perspective it may be useful to have more than one type of environment in a given
place—Class A cyclists mixing with the trafﬁc; Class B on a separate lane; and
children in Class C perhaps sharing paths with pedestrians (Krizek et al., 2009).
Examples of such ‘redundancy of facilities’ are further shown in Figure 2.
New York City’s recent move to encourage cycling has involved a number of
urban designers in their planning department (City of New York, 2007).
Enthusiasm initiated by restricting autos from one of the busiest intersections in
Almere and Houten in the Netherlands are well known for their layout that provides continuous cycling
networks, serving a variety of user skill levels and trip purposes, and integrated with transit. They also have
typically well-designed and maintained facilities.
Figure 1. Almere and Houten
Urban Design 539
the US—Times Square—quickly spread to other corridors and bicyclists. Other
examples of increasing cycling infrastructure typically involve planners as well as
engineers. The London Cycle Network (2010), implementing the London Cycling
Action Plan of 2004, is a partnership of many agencies and organizations, and is
served by engineering consultants. The related London Cycling Design Standards
focus on networks and facilities (Transport for London, 2005).
Shared facilities with automobiles
Shared Streets (shared with
pedestrians and some cars)
Cyclists on low-speed
Traffic calming, Utrecht,
Wide kerb lanes
Tsukuba, Japan Combined (shared) off-
road facilities for NMT
(bicycles sharing with
Izumi Park Town, Japan
Bicycle boulevards (lanes
shared with cars) Berkeley,
On-street bicycle lanes–
counterflow Boulder, US
On-street bicycle lanes –
same direction as traffic
540 A. Forsyth & K. Krizek
For transportation planners (but also for other disciplines), the issue of
separated facilities versus cycling on streets has been a topic of extensive debate.
An emphasis on what has been referred to as ‘vehicular cycling’ argues that
cyclists should be treated as vehicles in roadways and has subsequently resulted
in decreased emphasis on dedicated cycle paths. Furthermore, separated cycle
paths have been controversial as the research evidence, on balance, ﬁnds that they
increase accidents where they intersect with roads (Wachtel & Lewiston, 1994;
Summala et al., 1996; Ra
¨nen & Summala, 1998; Aultman-Hall, 2000; Pedler &
Davies, 2000; Krizek et al., 2009; Forsyth & Krizek, 2010).
On the other hand, most cyclists are unaware of such research and perceive
dedicated facilities as safer (meaning that such paths may encourage people to
cycle, and places where many people cycle tend to be safer places (Jacobsen, 2003).
For example, in a study of 608 people in King County, Washington, Moudon et al.,
(2005) found that closeness to trails—along with the presence of clusters of ofﬁces,
clinics/hospitals and fast food restaurants—predicted cycling at least once a
week. Other variables were not signiﬁcant, including (on-street) bicycle lanes,
trafﬁc speed and volume, slope, block size and parks. Similarly, in a study in the
Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Krizek & Johnson (2006) found those who
lived near trails cycled more.
A central touchstone of the debate over the merits of separate facilities relates
to the intersection, which is where most accidents happen. A difﬁcult intersection
can also create a crucial gap in the network. Various intersection treatments have
Figure 2. Facility types. Source: Photographs by the authors.
Bicycle boxes and bicycle sheds
Hangzhou, China Shared and rental cycling
Trip end facilities/stations
for cycling (parking plus
gear changing facilities, etc)
Milton Keynes, UK
NMT mode specific facilities
Redundancy of facilities
for differing user types
Tauranga, New Zealand
Separated bicycle facilities
Almere, Netherlands ‘Copenhagen’ bicycle lanes
Urban Design 541
been posited including: coloured markings to demarcate space for cycling;
‘bicycle boxes’ where cyclists get to wait at intersections in a special area at the
front (speciﬁcally, a sideways extenuation of the bicycle lane in front of the
adjacent vehicular lane); underpasses and overpasses. While often built, there has
been surprisingly little research on how effective such treatments are in terms of
safety (however, see Hunter, 2000).
Considering a more macro perspective (less focused on speciﬁc facilities but
aggregated over an entire region) suggests countries that have invested in paths,
markings and other facilities have heightened levels of cycling. It is worth noting,
however, that countries such as the Netherlands and Germany pursue varied
initiatives (including education, promotion, pricing, parking) to promote cycling.
It is difﬁcult to disentangle the contribution of facilities alone (German Federal
Ministry of Transport, 1998; Pucher & Buehler, 2007, 2008; Ministerie van Verkeer
en Waterstaat, 2007). Whatever the situation, such debates are focused on the
safety of the facility far more than how it is experienced.
However, safety and separation are only two aspects of the design of cycling
facilities. There is scant literature commenting on the experience of cyclists as they
travel, such as how facility design can heighten social interaction. Safety—not so
much in terms of crashes but violations from others—remains an untapped issue.
Does providing more of a sense of enclosure for cyclists, or a cycle-eye street wall,
have negative safety implications? It remains unclear if additional cycling
infrastructure clutters the street environment, creates visual noise and under-
mines the experience of other users. Furthermore, in terms of the temporal
dimension of design, how can facilities be designed to age gracefully as they
evolve to support different kinds of users or levels of use?
Processes: The term ‘process’ refers to a variety of techniques—designer-led and
participatory—used in the activity of doing urban design. Visual assessment
techniques, part of some urban design analyses, have long engaged with
transportation. These include work on: visual impacts of infrastructure such as
highways; audit tools related to walkability with some mention of cycling;
cognitive mapping techniques that often focus on street patterns and paths; and
precedent types of studies focused on street patterns and dimensions of exemplary
There is also a modest amount of environmental psychology research,
although much of such research on roads is focused on driver safety. However,
some studies of user experience engage with more varied users of streets.
Urban designers could certainly use such tools to examine cyclists. However,
typically cycling audit tools look at functional issues relating to facilities and
networks (e.g. network completeness and routing, trafﬁc volumes, hazards, latent
demand) (Moudon & Lee, 2003). Similarly, with other tools such as participation
(charettes, workshops) and visualization, design for bicycles is incorporated but
typically in a functional way—locating paths, adding parking, locating areas of
likely conﬂict with motorists and pedestrians. More could be done. One striking
example, however, is the ‘procedures’ chapter in the London Cycling Design
Standards (Transport for London, 2005). This deals with such topics as steps to
create a cycling project, consultation with stakeholders, and various audit and
assessment tools (risk assessments, road safety audits).
Such processes could be easily expanded beyond these functional issues to
involve cycling-oriented visual assessments, mental mapping exercises, personal
crime-related safety audits, and other urban design approaches. It may be
important to incorporate cyclists’ perceptions of paths, landmarks, districts etc.
542 A. Forsyth & K. Krizek
Houten, Netherlands—a separated bicycle
path leading to the downtown, a path that
allows relatively high speeds. Buildings
nearby are scaled to be interpreted from a
bicycle with some human-scaled elements
but also repetition.
Almere, Netherlands—two cyclists on a
separated path pass through expansive green
space that appears well scaled to their
activity. It might be (perhaps) a little dull to
pass through as a pedestrian but details
would (again perhaps) be largely un-noticed
by a motorist.
Utrecht, Netherlands—older streets in the
central area mix pedestrians and cyclists at a
slow pace. The two women cyclists can
sociably converse and in this environment.
Nara, Japan—two women cyclists look
around and engage with their environment.
The streetscape demonstrates typical
Japanese cluttered signage that provides a
high level of visual complexity and diversity
that is likely still legible to cyclists because
of the slow speed of the street.
Melbourne, Australia—The bridge provides
a moderate level of texture and visual
variety. This is interesting enough for
pedestrians but better scaled for cyclists.
Almere, Netherlands—Bicycle parking is
scaled to be perceived when riding at speed
and as public art it is comprehensible to
Figure 3. Cycling-oriented design. Source: Photographs by Ann Forsyth.
Urban Design 543
Table 3. Design guidelines
Key issues Design recommendations
Part 1: Networks
Create a seamless network without discontinuities.
Provide options for those wishing to go at different speeds—(a) faster
commuters or Class A recreational cyclists vs. (b) slower Class B and C
cyclists and those who wish to do more sightseeing or ride in sociable
Connect to other modes, primarily transit.
1. Provide a hierarchy of cycling streets, linking key urban places, that
overlaps but is probably not the same as the hierarchies for pedestrians
and motorists. Make this legible through physical and other cues.
2. Conceive of slightly separate networks for what in the US context has
been referred to as Class A versus B and C riders, with the former sharing
vehicular roadways more often and the latter having separated bicycle
paths or sharing paths with pedestrians, skateboarders, etc.
Part 2: Facilities Create a mix of levels of separation appropriate to the place in the
network and types of cyclists: separated completely, shared with cars,
shared with pedestrians and shared with both.
Decide how wide to make separated or shared lanes depending on
volume or riders, need for sociable riding, and so on.
Design the separation, if there is one (e.g. raised strip, striping, bollards,
Detail how separated paths meet shared routes at intersections and
crossings (with implications for accidents).
Use other strategies to avoid accidents at intersections.
Provide clear signage and signals.
Use space effectively for parking.
Prevent visual and physical clutter in the pedestrian environment.
Provide appropriate levels and forms of lighting.
3. Space the high-speed/bicycle-arterial part of the grid more closely than
is typical for motorists.
4. Design carefully for potential conﬂicts on shared paths or lanes
(auto/cycle or pedestrian/cycle). These will likely require additional
5. Duplicate facilities may be needed on key routes (e.g. on street lanes for
Class A and B cyclists and off street paths for Class B and C folks).
6. Match detailing of adjacent buildings and landscape to cycling speed,
considering visual quality and social interactions along with safety (see
below for more on this topic).
7. Avoid making intersections too visually complex given that adding
substantial cycling capacity will do that anyway through added striping,
signals, and signs.
8. Provide for informal bicycle parking (e.g. poles), small-scale formal
parking (e.g. racks), and large-scale parking lots as appropriate. In doing
this it is important to consider the needs of pedestrians for free
544 A. Forsyth & K. Krizek
Table 3. (continued)
Key issues Design recommendations
9. Design smaller-scale parking to perform multiple functions (e.g. as
public art, bollards, tree protectors) in order to reduce the perception of
10. Provide lighting that caters to cyclists in terms of height and the area
illuminated (e.g. cyclists may need clearly lit road edges while
pedestrians need lit paths and motorists the central part of the road
11. Illuminate off-road paths that are meant to be used at night and clearly
indicate those that will not be lit (considering their place in the network).
Part 3: Processes Represent all types of cyclists in the urban design process.
Use measurement and analysis tools that take into account the cyclist’s
Allow for evolution over time.
Acknowledge expertise from transportation and urban design.
12. Actively encourage participation of cyclists who vary in skill-level,
age, income and cycling purpose because their experiences will differ.
Participation would be in planning processes and also in changing the
environment over time.
13. Perform at least some analyses from a cyclist’s view. Appropriate tools
could include ‘windshield’ surveys using a clip on microphone, urban
design checklists, photovoice or day with a camera exercises,
neighbourhood tours, crime-prevention through environmental design
(CPTED) assessments and map-based analyses using the cycling network
as the base network, e.g. accessibility assessments.
Part 4: Detailed
Consider the experience of the built environment at a speed beyond the
pedestrian but slower than the auto (or transit).
Provide for the physical and social needs of the cyclists, through details
such as lighting and parking, in a way that contributes to overall urban
design, e.g. legible at cycling speed but also comprehensible for
14. Consider several urban design dimensions that vary in terms of the
speed at which they are experienced such as complexity, texture.
15. Consider how the environment is experienced at different cycling
speeds, e.g. low speed on mixed routes vs. higher speeds on separated
paths. This will have implications for the level of complexity and scale of
urban design elements.
16. Create visually interesting environments for cyclists but do not clutter
the pedestrian or vehicular realms. Consider artful detail.
Urban Design 545
into data collection. There is also potential for designers to provide opportunities
for cyclists to modify the environment over time—through a planning process, by
creating movable parts, or via programming. Given that cycling lies squarely at
the intersection of the domains of transportation planners and urban designers,
planning and design processes have much room to acknowledge both areas of
Detailed design: It is at the level of detailed design that spaces are typically
experienced: street volume or proportions; street wall transparency; building
complexity; furnishing provision; planting character; material colour and
texture; etc. This is also a key area where building and landscape style becomes
Detailed design is perhaps where design for cycling has the most to offer in
developing a new perspective. Cyclists’ speed, height and skill diversity present
challenges and opportunities for urban design in terms of scale, texture and
change over time. How can the scale of buildings and streets reﬂect cycling
dimensions and views, particularly in dedicated paths? What level of visual detail
(materials, plantings, openings, etc.) is most appropriate for cyclists given their
speed and safety concerns? Could detailed design allow for more social
interaction on the paths and at destinations through well-designed path pull offs,
parking and alternative slower-paced routes? Can design for cycling make
environments more artful, rather than more cluttered? What design details can
reﬂect change (of time of day, season, and year)?
Examples in Figure 3 illustrate some possibilities, demonstrating the potential
for cycling-speciﬁc urban design at the level of detailed design.
Design for Cycling: Redesigning Context and Detail
The central argument posited in this paper focuses on the degree to which urban
design would be different if the experience of bicycling was given a more central
place. It is argued that it would be different, although subtly so. Currently the
literature on urban design and cycling focuses on increased safety and better
connections, mostly as efforts to encourage use. There is little research or practice
focusing on the quality of the cycling experience.
This ﬁnal section proposes in more detail how urban design for cycling would
differ from a focus on motorists and pedestrians. It lays out key issues that form
the foundation for a series of guidelines. There are several similarities between
general principles of good urban design and a form of urban design that would
engage with more dimensions of the cycling experience. Relying on the categories
introduced earlier—overall layout, facilities, processes and detailed design—
Table 3 describes the implications for users with different skill levels and cycling
purposes and proposes design recommendations.
Cyclists do not always require their own specially-designed neighbourhoods,
facilities or processes, let alone multiple ones for different types of users.
However, they should be considered as important users of many different types of
environments. Where they have separated areas or processes, these should
centrally consider the view from the bicycle along with others. Where they share
streets and paths with others, there is additional room for their needs to be more
prominent and not on the margin. Safety issues are an important part of this
approach, with implications for intersections and crossings. However, safety is
546 A. Forsyth & K. Krizek
just one element. From lighting placement to the level of complexity of facades,
the implications of cycling for urban design are substantial.
While the authors hesitate to call for more research, at present the design of
cycling environments is hampered by an almost exclusive focus on functional
issues and on cycling facilities and networks. Additional research could engage
with several important topics related to key issues in urban design (see Table 2).
What types of forms are best perceived by cyclists given their height, position and
speed? How can social interaction between cyclists and others be best considering
both safety and the quality of experience? What level of visual complexity is most
appealing for cyclists in different contexts? How can cycling environments evolve
In sum, there is need for additional research on the experiences of different
types of cyclists, in addition to the more technical issues such as safety and route
connectivity. Some of this investigation could be informal and incorporated into
participatory processes. Other research may require more substantial personnel
and funding. With such research ﬁndings urban designers will be in a better
position to design with the cyclist in mind.
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