Bogota, Bristol, Connected Cities, cycling

Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Last month almost 100,000 people registered to ‘Slip and Slide’ down Park Street in Bristol, UK. The 90-metre water slide – the brain child of living arts artist Luke Jerram – was part of Bristol’s ‘Making Sundays Special’ program. 65,000 people headed to Park Street to watch thrill-seeking ticket holders literally slide head-first downhill, as part of Jerram’s plan to ask people to take a “fresh look at the potential of their city and the possibilities for transformation”.

Then, last week, the bicycle ‘rock stars’ Janette Sadik-Khan and Mikael Colville-Anderson and more than 500 international cycling professionals and advocates descended on Australia for the Velo-City conference. The key messages from the four-day conference were:

  • more cycling = less obesity/congestion/emissions
  • poor infrastructure = biggest hurdle to more cycling

Robert Kretschmer @URBLR tweeted “Something I’ve taken from #vcg14: there are no ‘cyclists’, just people who cycle”.

So I’m asking….

Can playful initiatives like ‘Slip & Slide’ make cycling fun?

Yes, I think they can.

Cycling’s image in countries like Australia, New Zealand, the USA and UK doesn’t do it any favours. The majority of the population in these ‘want to get more people cycling’ countries think there are only two types of cyclist:

  1. Extreme athletes – The people who get up before dawn, dress in Lycra, buy expensive bikes, cycle 200km before breakfast and shout abuse at car drivers
  2. Long-distance environmentalists – we all have one of these in our office. They cycle at least 30 kilometres to and from work every day, wear khaki cargo pants and preach the health and environmental virtues to anyone who will listen.

I like a lot of people in both of these groups. I admire their dedication and determination. The problem is that the vast majority – the 70 percent of our population who drive to work alone every single day – just don’t get it and that’s where fun things like ‘slip and slide’ come in, because they attract so many participants and spectators.

Let’s consider creating a new image for cycling in 3 very different ways:

1. Let’s make cycling stylish

A couple of years ago my mate Jon Giles created ‘Style Over Speed’. Two or three times a year on a Friday night, 100 or so people get dressed up – think fine dresses and dinner suits – and cycle around Brisbane. You don’t have to wear gym gear to ride a bicycle.

2. Let’s make cycling fun

‘Chocolate Ride’ in Sydney is an almost calorie-neutral bike tour of chocolatiers, gelato manufacturers and patisseries. The half-day tour encourages people to ride bicycles, shop locally and have fun. Riding a bicycle doesn’t have to be serious.

3. Let’s invite everyone

More than 2 million people participate in Bogota’s Ciclovia each Sunday. 120km of Bogota’s roads are closed for the exclusive use of cyclists and pedestrians. Young people, old people, families and friends take to the streets and everyone is invited. Riding a bicycle should be fun for everyone.

For years, we’ve entrusted our cycling culture to a small group of policy experts and advocacy groups. The sight of unused cycling lanes and row after row of empty bike parking racks suggests they’ve failed. It’s high time we called on some fresh thinking, and maybe playful events like Slip and Slide, Style Over Speed, Chocolate Rides and Cyclovia are just the thing we need.

Where do these ideas fit in with what you are doing?

What inspires you?

What excellent cycling events have you seen?


Rachel_Smith_89x100Rachel Smith ( is an internationally-recognized urban planner and commentator, and principal transport planner with AECOM’s Brisbane office. Connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter, or follow her blog here.

Originally published Jun 16, 2014

Author: Rachel Smith