Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Bike Tank

I attended a Bike Tank event last week. It was on from 8-9am on a Tuesday, in a wonderfully shabby ex-industrial warehouse space in Chippendale. I recently read David Byrne's Bicycle Diaries, where he gets involved in all kinds of community forums promoting bicycle use in cities. I want to get involved, too. I visited their website to get a better idea of what it's all about:

The BikeTank is an urban connectivist think-tank that doubles as a bicycle pitstop cafe. 

I don't know what connectivist means, so I check an online dictionary. It's not in the dictionary either. But it's in Wikipedia... what the heck I didn't sign up for a lesson in social learning theory here. At least there's a cafe. Maybe it'll make sense if I read a bit more...

"What do we mean by 'making cities more human'?"
Our view is a granular one.
Design is performative.
It is the act of creating, then sharing, that matters. It's even better if you co-create.
Design is projective.
Design seeds ideas. As Alan Kay famously remarked: "The best way to predict the future is to invent it.

This doesn't clarify things for me; in fact it sounds like something out of Pseud's Corner. But I decided to attend - perhaps I will develop a granular view and learn about the oeuvre of Alan Kay. At least I'll get a coffee.

I got up and went, despite not starting work 'til 12noon. I arrived late at 8.40 to find that everyone had formed groups around tables. They were attaching shapes made of polystyrene foam and pipe cleaners to sheets of thick board with craft glue. I briefly hovered around these tables before making my way to the coffee stall and partook of a free large latte. Then I moved over to where the pastries were, and shoved a raspberry danish, apple danish, and pain au chocolate into my face. I lifted an apple and placed it into my bag for later. Then I had another raspberry danish.

This took me up to the conclusion of the event. The groups disbanded and re-assembled in front of a stage as representative speakers took the floor to deliver the results of their discussion, and display the boards to which they had been gluing stuff. It turns out each group represented a different suburb. They had been spitballing ways to improve cycling in these areas. The results were largely whimsical, such as a car-wash style device that people could ride through to clean their bodies, clothing and bicycles at the same time. 

Some ideas seemed to be the domain of private enterprise rather than local government (Bike Tank is supported by the City of Sydney); a cafe was envisioned on a street corner to maximise ease of access, where cyclists could meet, bicycles could be serviced, and food and drink served. Another such idea was a bike taxi service, where you could ride to a pub, get drunk, then have someone else ride your bike home for you.

The Newtown delegation present their ideas

Not all the ideas were daft. Most of the obvious ways of improving cycling were spoken in the opening minutes - more bike lanes, more bike parking, bike racks on buses, more showers and bike facilities in workplaces. But then each subsequent group had to step forward and continue after the obvious statements had been made, which prompted the silliness. 

Having spent longer analysing their website, I now understand that there were local entrepreneurs and designers in attendance. Hopefully these people can take the ideas raised and develop practical applications. For instance, the bike taxi service demonstrates a need to get your bike home after a drink, but a better solution would be some taxi cabs carrying bike racks.

I'm not convinced of the efficacy of Bike Tank. It seems to me that the key to improving provisions for cyclists is to encourage more bike use by working with people who would cycle but don't, addressing their concerns and removing the obstacles that keep them off their bikes. The people in attendance are already using bikes, and the tendency of these meetings is towards self-congratulation and the reinforcement of an us-and-them attitude. The bike cafe, for instance - I don't want to hang out with other people who ride bikes any more than I want to hang out with other people who drive cars or walk on footpaths. It's just a mode of transport, and treating it like an exclusive subculture is not going to encourage the average Sydney commuter out of their car.

No comments:

Post a Comment