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Cycling through an Urban Landscape

Posted on by Jameson Skaife

I’m a bit of a bike enthusiast, so I might be a bit biased, but I think that seeing a city by bike is the best way to experience an urban landscape. I have found this to be especially true when visiting a new city.

When landscape architects and architects are designing in an urban context, we are designing an experience people will have while moving through the space.  People very rarely experience a space from a plan view or from a single vantage point, but instead as a series of perspectives while moving through or around it. The amount of detail you’re able to perceive is related to the speed at which you’re moving.  The slower your speed, the more detail you have time to notice.This can be a bit of a problem when you’re on vacation and time is of-the-essence and you want to take in as much of the city as possible. Most people walk around a city they’re visiting to experience the sites and scenes. This can be limiting because it takes most people about 20 minutes to leisurely walk a mile, whereas on a bicycle, you can easily cover that distance in 5 minutes. It is also very easy to hop off your bike from time to time to get a better look.

I first experienced a new city by bike while visiting Amsterdam, the unofficial capital of urban biking in the western hemisphere. Everyone from small children to businessmen in suits to grandmas regularly bike to wherever they need to go. The city was very bike friendly and had plenty of bike lanes that wind through the city and along the canals. I was able to bike through many different neighborhoods and see all of the different conditions along the historic canals.


I also rented a bike with a friend while visiting Montreal. It was a short trip and I had a long list of sites to see, so renting a bike worked out perfectly.  We were able to bike from old Montreal across the Jacques Cartier Bridge where I stopped to take a few pictures looking back toward the city (image 1). We then quickly made it to Buckminster Fuller’s Biosphère (image 2) and Habitat ’67, designed by Moshe Safdie (image 3). From there we biked over the harbor and along the St. Lawrence River to a well known market (image 4) for a fresh baguette, cheese, meat and fruit and a picnic in the park.  Later, we continued biking along the Lachine Canal. Being on a bicycle gave us unusual views of the infrastructure of the waterways (image 5) as well as the crossing elevated highways (image 6) . We experienced more of the city in one afternoon than most people see while visiting for a whole weekend.



While I was living in Toronto, I would experience the city regularly on bike, as biking was my main form of transportation. The city had just partnered with Bixi bike-sharing, so when a few friends came to visit me we were able to easily rent bikes.  We toured the whole waterfront redevelopment and stopped periodically to have a better look at some of the more exciting sites, like these wavedecks by West8. Located at the terminus of several streets along the water’s edge, they create dynamic public space where people can experience waterfront at varying levels.



Chicago is already a relatively bike-friendly city but is working to be even more so. We will soon have the largest bike-share program in the United States, with 3,000 bikes in 300 stations in June of 2012 and expand to 500 stations and 5,000 bikes in 2013. The bikesharing system will serve a dense network of stations to be located in a 30 square mile area centered on the loop. The system is designed to allow users to pick up and drop off a bicycle at any location. There is also a push from Mayor Rahm Emanuel to increase the overall amount of bike lanes as well as increase the amount of protected bike lanes. These changes will make it easier for locals as well as tourists to experience the city’s urban design in new ways.


A new bikeshare program in Chicago similar to this one in Toronto will be up and running by June.


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