Cycling in the Matrix

As a concept Space for Cycling can be applied anywhere, even in the virtual world of design, and thanks to some pointers from Andy R commenting on The Dimensioned Cyclist it seems clear to me that there is little or no space for cycling in the Matrix either…

Vehicle Tracking from Autodesk:


Autoturn from Transoft:

My guess as to why we don’t see a bike in these promotional videos is that historically, with vehicular cycling being the dominant paradigm, bikes have never presented a problem to highway or street designers in the way that a firetruck or an articulated lorry has. Again, the author of the official british cycle infrastructure design guidance puts it like this…

Highway designers consider the dimensions of motor vehicles and their swept paths to determine carriageway widths, junction dimensions and parking layouts. The sizes and swept paths of cycles are usually irrelevant in the design of on­road cycle routes, but there are occasions where they need to be considered.

And six years later, with vehicular cycling on busy roads falling further out of favour, the occasions where the dimensions and swept paths of cycling vehicles need to be considered is increasing, particularly for inclusive bikes. Designing successfully for cycling vehicles on segregated routes is no longer a trivial problem when space becomes a limiting factor.

I don’t see 3D modelling as a panacea. In my limited experience as soon as a model gets to a level of complexity where it should be a useful design tool it simultaneously becomes so ‘heavy’ that it takes forever to render an image or simply crashes. I’ve ended up relying on cardboard and pritt stick constructions to determine cable runs and check for access issues during my time as a designer. That was about ten years ago so buggy software and lack of computing power are probably irrelevant now, but a 2D representation of a 3D model still has its limitations. However, I think it’s fair to say that most designers these days spend a great deal of their working life in these virtual environments and I can only speculate on what the longterm effect of designers never seeing a bike in their virtual transport worlds might be. Surely it can’t be positive.

Another niggle that comes to mind is that if bike vehicle types don’t exist in the available software then presumably the Dutch and the Danish aren’t using them either. Perhaps their standards/guidelines are such that widths and swept paths of particular bike types are still largely irrelevant, and they’re more likely to stick to the guidance. In the british context, where space for cycling appears to be more highly contested and we have a plethora of examples of badly designed bike infrastructure, I’m told that the widths and turning radii in our design guidance is generally OK but compliance with it isn’t. So perhaps that’s where the modelling of bikes in computer aided design could play a useful role – as an educational tool.

AndrewGilliganGetting decision makers hands-on with other bike types and giving them a sense-memory of what it’s like to ride them is possible – Wheels for Wellbeing are doing it successfully – but that’s probably an unrealistic strategy when it comes to reaching everyone involved in the design of a cycle network.

Giving designers the option to quickly and easily try out what will and won’t work when things get tight for trikes, handbikes, tandems and tagalongs might be a more productive way of gaining compliance with the guidance. And who knows, people may even come up with insights that lead to better guidance.

Something like a freely available tutorial for Autocad that designers can access from their desks and run through the design of off-road and segregated bike paths using models of different bike types. Is that a doable blue-pill-solution, or should I take the red pill and dig out the pritt stick?

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