Let's say you’re a big-name, bike-loving British architect and your starry-eyed vision for a billion dollar “cycling utopia” in the sky is met with derision. It would appear that the next best thing is to keep the wheels spinning so to speak, your attention focused upwards and do what you do best: design a razzle-dazzle skyscraper. Then, add bike parking into the mix. An awful lot of bike parking.
After the proposal for the fantastical, too-far-out-for-its-own good SkyCycle — a 136-mile network of dedicated bike paths elevated above London’s existing rail infrastructure — was largely dismissed as pure pipe dream-ery, Foster + Partners, the eponymous architecture firm of Sir Norman Foster (he of 3-D printed space colonies, pickle-shaped edifices, Apple’s bonkers new mothership and this writer’s favorite skyscraper in New York City) is back with another bike-centric project that’s sure to elicit more support than scoffing.
At first glance, the 250 City Road development in London’s Islington district is pure Foster: a big, brash and unapologetic rubbernecker built from glass and steel. Rising nearly 500 feet from the remnants of what was once an 1980s industrial park, the 1.4 million-square-foot development takes the form of twin residential towers, one 32 stories and the other 46 stories, clustered around a park, a hotel, cafes and retail space. Described as a “high-density, low-energy residential development,” 250 City Road is, typical of Foster + Partners, concerned with environmental sustainability: green roofs, rainwater harvesting, solar panels, and a combined heat and power plant that could potentially feed back into the energy grid are just a few green features.
And then there’s the bike parking — glorious and abundant bike parking.
While not called out in the development’s marketing material, Dezen has the scoop on 250 City Road’s cyclist-friendly on-site features including 1,486 bike parking spaces. This isn’t a spot per apartment situation but spot per bedroom given that, in total, the development has 930 incredibly expensive (more on that in a bit) units, many of which are two-, three-bedroom and penthouse set-ups. Bike parking for everyone — your kids, your mistress, your roommate, your au pair, your ne’er do-well brother-in-law! Everyone gets a spot!
By comparison, there are only 200 parking spots for cars at a nearby development that's also located on City Road.
As Dezeen notes, this catapults 250 City Road into “most cycle-friendly high-rise in London” territory. And in addition to the huge number of bike parking spaces, other cyclist-friendly amenities include dedicated bike elevators and on-site bike repair facilities.
Explains project architect Giles Robinson: “The project has a dedicated cycle lift from ground to basement level, where the cycle storage areas are located. At the basement level there is a dedicated cycle maintenance workshop that enables cycles to be cleaned and maintained."
In an intriguing marketing twist where cycling is anything but an afterthought, the “250 City Road Alternative Living Guide,” a glossy lifestyle brochure published by developer Berkeley, spotlights a range of local cycle shops — mostly high-end establishments including a “retailer of premium Dutch and European cycles” — along with the closest TFL bike-for-hire kiosks before delving into the neighborhood cafes, nightclubs, boutiques and other establishments frequented by young, hip and impeccably dressed Londoners living in the neighborhood.
To be clear, Foster + Partners didn’t just throw in a massive bike garage in the basement for a bit of self-involved fun — they had to. Under recent guidelines established by Transport for London, new developments must include a certain number of bike spaces for residents. Numerous American cities such as Portland, Washington, D.C., and Cambridge, Massachusetts, have similar development regulations on the books.
While the original number of spots was to be 1,233, Foster + Partners, with urging from Islington Council, retooled so that this minimum figure was exceeded — with 1,486 spaces, it’s truly a bike-per-bedroom development.
Peter Murray, a cyclist and member of the London Mayor’s Design Advisory Group, gives his approval to Foster’s newest creation: "It's a figure that spectacularly reflects changing attitudes to cycling in London. It represents a big shift in London. All new developments have to meet the [cycle provision] requirements, but since this is a tall and dense project, the impact and scale is impressive."
On the topic of impressive, the going rate for units at 250 City Road — a development “situated in a prime location at the heart of one of the most vibrant areas in the capital,” reads the sales website – is, well, just that. A 675-square-foot 1-bedroom unit, outfitted with all the high-end bells and whistles, is going for a staggering £840,000 (about $1.3 million). One of the more spacious three-bedroom units lists for a cool $2.5 million.
250 City Road is no doubt an encouraging harbinger of things of come on the alternative transportation front. As mentioned by Murray, it's symbolic of a much-needed major cultural shift away from the urban automobile. But here's hoping that London, a city in the throes of a serious affordable housing crisis, also puts its weight behind cyclist-friendly housing for everyone, not just good-looking 20-somethings with bespoke bicycles to match their $2 million apartments.
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