Saturday, November 9, 2013

The "invisible bicycle helmet" is the ultimate example of cycling safety narcissism

My most popular blog entry is about what I call "lux-narcissism", i.e. over-lighting a bike and its rider to the detriment of others legally-illuminated, and pedestrians. I have also written about this invention from Sweden and helmetism in general many times before.
The Hövding is the ultimate example of bicycle safety narcissism. Aside from the obnoxious marketing hyperbole it costs EUR 400 in the EU and 600 in the USA. IF you really think a helmet can help, then buy five 60 dollar helmets for friends and give 300 dollars to your local bicycle coalition or another org. fighting desperately to keep streets save and collisions from happening in the first place.
Very much related, in 2005 helmets became mandatory in Sweden for people up to their 15th birthday and this has not helped improve cycling modal share. So - at least in part - this creation is opportunist.
Please notice that I am not mentioning efficacy, durability, its single use function, comfort or any other technical or aesthetic issues. I also hope that my criticism would be the same for a project led by two men.
The problem is that it is simply far too expensive for most people. Their whole business plan is totally wrong -- they got money from the Swedish or regional government but also from private sources. Regarding the latter, they obviously completely screwed up and should have required a much longer period that investors were willing to wait to get paid back.
It is truly a pity because maybe this works... maybe not. People joke about the "Chinese" ripping off the design, so we'll see if the price on devices exactly like this or better comes down by a factor of five.
Again, I am against helmet requirements for any age group, helmet promotion by governments and similar from non-profits (e.g. urban cycling organizations) which do not show the real deal with helmet efficacy. Most helmet companies also use a lot of hyperbole or even insults e.g. "I Love my Brain"

I am for infrastructure, training and enforcement that ensures that people on bikes and everyone else dwelling in, visiting or just using the street are as safe, social and have as much fun as they want.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Hugging Like This is Not Solidarity

I had some hope for Bikes Belong - People for Bikes is one of their initiatives - when it first appeared. But now - like the League of American Bicyclists - they think that some simplistic "sharing" message made in collaboration with a big private car actor - in the latter's case the AAA and in People for Bikes's VW - will have some significant effect. 

There is a belief - an excuse for soft over hard measures - that "it is all about education" and that dangerous conditions are caused by acute (at the time of incident) dehumanization of The Other. But Bikes Belong also falls into the trap which sees drivers and riders as equals on the street.

But the holistic sharing problem is not solved by better driving alone - and certainly not with better riding!!! It is mainly infrastructure and road design that makes real solidarity impossible*, so prioritizing separation of pathways (including intersection movements) is one of the best ways to promote real hugging (!).

How many viewers of the Bikes Belong-People for Bikes spot will visit their website to get the real message that the org. is trying to deliver, including good ideas such as increased financial investment in the all-important infrastructure? Perhaps the problem is not fundamental - though given this recent deceitful mobility porno in the new spot I would like to see Bikes Belong justify its partnership with Volkswagen. (Here is one of their recent adverts, which it does not seem that Bikes Belong influenced.) I suspect that the tail (in the form of outside consultants brought in by VW) is wagging the dog here. Bikes Belong needs to figure out how to honestly engage in communicating effective policy and ideas. Abusing the glorious embrace of humans for the benefit of a huge private urban automobile-making company does not encourage the belonging of bikes.

*Impossible? Unapproachable? Difficult? I suppose my point is that private, energy-efficient automobiles do have a role to play as a responsible part of the entire mobility mix, but mostly in a supporting role.

Thursday, March 28, 2013


League of USAian* Cyclists announced their National Bike Month activities today. Bike Month is in May. Website includes downloadable PDFs, including the "Bike to Work Commuter's Booklet". This is the front and back cover. Oops. Wonder if they have cancelled his membership... (Update, 8 April, the PDF with Armstrong is still available.)

Okay, okay, as you can see the pamphlet has the old logo, so they probably just forgot to check everything that was going out. I assume they will not be handing this out and that the people on the front and back of the update will not be "white" men.

*"USAian" because "American" as the reserved adjective for the not eponymous country is offensive to quite a number of people hailing from the other areas between the North Pole and the Tierra Del Fuego.

A number of years ago the organization was called the "League of American Wheelmen", so the newer name IS better.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Robotic Bicycle Parking Tower at the Castle of the Queen

Hradec Králové means Castle of the Queen, so it is nice that bike in the logo is a semi- step through model.

Cycling for transport is popular in the Czech Republic where the conditions are right, and Hradec Králové in in the north-central part of the Central European country is no exception.

Often called Hradec for short, the small city of just over 90,000 claims an official 24% bicycle modal split, a bit of an exaggeration says one local expert but similar to the German cycling capital of Bremen and a bit higher still than the biggest districts for biking in Berlin -- comparisons are difficult and not really necessary - continuous improvement more so - but still Hradec has about eight times as much cycling as Prague, per capita.

As I understand it, the high rate is due to several factors, including being a place where nearly everyone cycles sometimes -- meaning that they drive motor vehicles a bit more safely in relation to people on bikes.

So it is not surprising - but very encouraging - that a type of cycle parking unknown in the country has been implemented in Hradec. Similar to the well-known automated underground parking in Japan, the system here has the bikes above ground. (So in other words the Japanese system is an "innie" and the Czech one an "outie"). The kolověž (bike tower) has 116 spaces and in full effect will give a bike back in about 30 seconds. For now the price is 5 Czech crowns -- about 25 US cents. There are certainly different reasons to do what is most appropriate structurally and just in terms of available space, but the new parking structure is also a positive symbol for transport cycling in a country still relatively crazy about automobiles.

Not so close -View from approximate location kolovez towards Hradec Králové main station, via Google Streetview.

Still, symbols for cycling are not important as what actually works well. The  kolověž is located a bit far by foot to the train station (though it also serves people just travelling to this central part of town) and has no provision for larger cargo bikes including long tails -- these are the real automobile replacements, and if actors in Hradec want people to take children (and a dog) to school in the morning on the way to the station they will need consider safe parking for all types of bikes. Officials and investors will build more towers if the first one proves popular, but on a per space basis does it make the most economic sense?

Dave Holladay from the CTC in the UK has some very useful comments at the end of the Bike Biz article here.

In a way the Hradecký kolověž reminds me of the Bikestation in Washington D.C.. Though the latter is better equipped, both are relatively low-capacity but very visible. This is okay, but it is great compared to what is available at the main station in the capital of Germany, where I live.

In the end a (barely) Western EU-based objective expert's feeling of encouragement or statements of "continuous improvement" in viewing this solution runs the risk of being patronizing -- just because the Czech Republic is not the most "Western", economically-developed etc. etc. does not mean it deserves anything but the best, and cities and towns in this country and other parts of Europe with less overall success in sustainable development need just as much friendly pressure and support as anywhere else. Honesty about economic capabilities is a virtue; lowering of standards is not.

Inside view. Not precisely a robotic system... but anyway the word "robot" was created by Josef Čapek from Hronov, a town near Hradec Králové. Photo from Several You Tube videos of the system are also at this link.


This entry comes after a nearly five month break during in which my second dog, Mara (on the right), departed this physical plane... perhaps to the věž duhy (rainbow tower). Her brother Obi died a year ago.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Dutch Cycling Safety: Regional Plan Association Senior Fellow gets it (mostly) wrong

In the August 2012 Governing, which describes itself as "... the nation's leading media platform covering politics, policy and management for state and local government leaders", Regional Plan Association Senior Fellow Alex Marshall gets it wrong about what makes cycling safe in the Netherlands (and Continental Europe).

In his story in Governing, Marshall praises "strict liability" in the Netherlands (and elsewhere in Continental Europe), claiming that  "... it’s not the bike lanes that keep cyclists safe..." but that "Ultimately, if we are to be safe, we need the driver to look out for us, not for us to look out for the driver."

Marshall gives the following description of "strict liability":  "It means that if you, the driver, strike a pedestrian or cyclist, you are automatically at fault, even if the walker or cyclist literally jumps out in front of you. "

Marshall thinks that "Strict liability" is a kind of Commandment - learned, or even genetic - that  governs the behavior of drivers (and cyclists towards pedestrians) and that it is the primary method for keeping cyclists (and pedestrians) safe in the Netherlands. This is simply not the case, but to be fair to Marshall lots of people get this wrong (hugs). 

Fortunately, two of the three leading bloggers* of Dutch cycling education, David Hembrow and Marc Wagenbuur, describe the reality here in a comprehensive blogpost from the beginning of this year, "Campaign for Sustainable Safety, not Strict Liability". I won't excerpt it so it does not get misunderstood (!), so please read it now, in its entirety.

I agree that drivers in the USA have much less legal liability then they should, and am happy that groups like Transportation Alternatives in NYC have lately become emboldened to take on the NYPD (and Mayor Michael Bloomberg) and their inability or unwillingness to enforce current laws in a new campaign and recent report, but am frustrated that senior experts like Marshall believe more than anything in repercussion-based mobility safety. However, I am sure that they are willing to learn what really works!

* The other leading Netherlands-based blogger is Marc van Woudenberg, who also produced this introduction video for the Dutch Cycling Embassy, the "... portal to Dutch expertise on cycling".

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

(Not Just) Tandems for Bike Share / “Angelica, Torera and Juan - Public bicycles in Europe, sometime in the middle of the first half of the 21 Century”

In Autumn 2011 I wrote a short article in conjunction with an invitation to be part of a round table discussion at 3as Jornadas de la Bicicleta Pública which took place from 13-16 October 2011 in Santander, Cantabria, Spain.
"Angelica, Torera and Juan -Public bicycles in Europe, sometime in the middle of the first half of the 21 Century” was published in May in Spanish as "Angélica, Torera y Juan. Bicicletas públicas en Europa, en algún momento de la primera mitad del siglo XXI"in the book Balance General de la Bicicleta Pública en España by Esther Anaya and Albert Castro and published by Fundación ECA - BUREAU VERITAS.
This Spanish-version is available at this link in ISSUU format. 
To introduce the English version, I thought I would sketch out an idea dealing with bike share for mobility-challenged persons, which is the focus of part of my article... 

Version of bicycle from OPENbike I did for a presentaton in April 2010 for the OBIS European Bike Share Project. Slow Factory (Green Idea Factory at the time) collaborated with LOTS Design and Koucky & Partners on OPENbike, which won one of two first prizes in the Copenhagen Bike Share Design competition in 2009.

There are bicycle designs that allow mobility-challenged persons - those without the full use of their legs, who have problems balancing, sight or hearing issues, seizures, etc. - to participate in physical activity and social interaction or even to have independent mobility... even in the city.

It is curious that none of the bike share operations in the U.S. - or particularly those operated with public money such as Capital Bikeshare in Washington D.C. - have bicycle for mobility-challenged persons. This seems to be a violation - even an extreme one - of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA. (Of course, a similar question is relevant for bike share in the EU, China and other places. See this link for an example of how a carshare operator in the U.S. offers access to its members with disabilities.)

For the individual with sufficient vision or hearing, a handcycle (without full use of legs) or tricycle (balance issues) might be a solution (the elderly mother of a friend of mine who has an artificial leg uses a normal pedelec/electric-assist bike). For persons who for whatever reason cannot ride alone, a tandem bicycle - for use with a friend or assistant - might be a solution*. 

Tandems for Bike Share! (Adapting Bike Share for Tandem Bicycles)

I do not believe that there are any technical barriers (hardware, software, bicycle design) for this. However, tandems are expensive, especially if built in small numbers. Also bike share parking might need to be modified to allow a longer bike in any slot, and probably only some could have this modification. Then what I would is:

1 - Add something to the software/user data that allows a normal bikeshare member to use tandem bikes only if they have a doctor-certified reason for not being able to ride their own bike (vision-impairment, balance issues, unpredictable seizures, etc). This person would check out a bike on their account and travel with any sighted person, and would be liable for both (or if the bike share operator is really uptight then this person's normal assistance person, if any, but that might violate at least the spirit of ADA).

2 - There would be a limited number of these and probably adding a reservation feature would be difficult to add to the software, so no guarantee that one will be found. (However, the pricing plan for these users could enable them for longer for no additional cost in order to enable a round trip journey with a short appointment/time spent at destination).

3 - If there is an over-capacity of tandems or simply a lot of them provided, they could be available for anyone at a higher price or the normal price if both people are users (software).

4 - As many vision-impaired people have guide dogs, there is also no technical barrier to adding sidecars to a tandem.

5 - Actually, sidecars on bikeshare for normal dogs would be fun but these people have their own special bikes (however, the limited cargo capacity of nearly all bike share bikes is a problem for people who want to do anything with  them besides short commutes or very light shopping.)

Cambio (Belgium)

* Cargo bicycles - also for carrying children - are also missing in bike share. OPENbike - the design I worked on - mentioned this and it is also included in the presentation of Velobility (PDF). However, the only cargo bikes I know of incorporated into existing sharing programmes are part of carshare schemes in Ghent, Belgium and Leipzig, Germany -- more should follow (I like the idea of carshare members being able to use a cargobike when a normal car is overkill for a particular journey...)


Angelica, Torera and Juan - Public bicycles in Europe, sometime in the middle of the first half of the 21 Century”


In this bit of speculative mobility fiction* I consider the growing integration of the “mobile urban lifestyle” in Europe – and it is probably carfree as well but I am not explicit it. Utopias are fine and dystopias are somehow just as easy to describe, so I try to mix the two – that is what life is like and will always be like for most people. “Public bicycles” are also not an island unto themselves and beyond integration with collective PT they are also indivisible from the political and social reality of the now and future worlds.

* Note that some of the information in footnotes is also the result of consultation with a fortune teller.

Angelica – In charge of business development at a major European public transport operator

It was destined to be an interesting day for Angelica, the vice-president for business development at a European public transport operator headquartered in Istanbul and Madrid – she was based in the latter. But she did not know how it would turn out.

Her company took a risk in the solution she offered to big tender for feeder (“first/last mile”) solutions for the regional railway in a growing region in Central Europe , but Angelia sensed early on that her idea was the right one:

The suggestion that public transport companies become complete mobility providers was pushed by UITP starting in the 2010's1, and while there were a few examples of this type of philosophy such as in Bordeaux, France2, by that time and a few more later in the strategies of PT operators, it took some time – many years - before it was reflected in tenders.

And still, many were limited to focus only on varied collective modes, rather than including both motorized and non-motorized individual transport solutions.

This tender was a gift for a relatively radical thinker like Angelica, and to prepare for it she did extensive research of inhabitants of the hilly areas in the mandated catchment area of the PT hubs that were the subject of this tender.

What she found was not surprising for her at least: People wanted to have a variety of options to and from their homes to the hub, and to also vary them for individual journeys, in other words many loved the idea of cycling to a station and taking a bus or taxi back. Or the reverse, as long as the way home was on an electric bike.

The clincher for Angelika – what finally and absolutely convinced her – was the EU-law which had recently come into effect that mandated a guaranteed minimum lifespan of electric bikes – specifically, it standardized both battery connections3 and mandated that future upgrades would be low-cost. Somewhat ironically, this legislation was the result of an early EU-law that banned cadmium4. This came after lobbying from Brazil after the Brazilian Space Agency discovered what was eventually called lunaterium – a cheap and safe version of its toxic Terran cousin – on the Earth's closest neighbor. The low-cost lunaterium helped expand the pedelec market but this also meant a lot of cheap bikes were built.

Her solution and her company's bid was to provide pedelecs (with support infrastructure) buses and taxis (the latter which could also be shared). There would be three price levels (bike or bus/shared taxi/private taxi) all of which would be tied into a smart card/NFC device for residents of the area. As far as she knew, only her company was proposing bicycles as part of a solution.

Would her company's bid be successful? She found it hard to wait for the answer.

Torera – Modern young woman in the city optimized for cycling

Torera clicked on “send” in the communication application on her iPad 9... off went her dissertation “2012-2015: Spain's Slow Emergence from Economic Disaster” to her advisor at the University. With a touch on her screen and then a few strokes on the keyboard built into the table at the café – it lived in a compartment which automatically cleaned it after each use – she reserved a “Touch” and was told it would be just outside and around the corner. She put the iPad back in it's case and walked towards the street door of the smart café after paying her EUR 11- bill for a coffee. Torera visited this place often and the prices were no object, as her family owned the company which, with EU social cohesion funding, introduced the robotic bull and crowd-controlled android torero to Spain starting in 2015. 5

As she exited, she was nearly hit by a someone on a bicycle.

“Hey, stop!” she yelled, not really loudly as the cyclist was not going so fast – he turned around, looking a little embarrassed. “Do you know you're not supposed to ride on the pavement here?” she asked of him.

“I'm sorry,” said the man, who was looked to be from East Asia, “In school in China,” he said in perfect Spanish, “We learned that you people tolerate cycling on the pavement.”
“We used to,” answered Torera6, “but we finally understood that it was not scalable.” She then pointed to the bike lanes on either side of the busy street – busy with streetcars and a few shared automobiles – it was related to the Spanish law of 2016 which made it illegal to take pedestrian space for cycling and to require bike lanes wide enough for cargo bikes to pass one another. “Bikes need some space to move safely, especially when there is a lot of them.”
Torera beckoned the man to come closer and stand next to her as she activated the This is How it Was7application on her iPhone. On the screen they saw the street scene from 2011 superimposed onto the current one8. Both smiled at the solutions which were successful at the time but not good enough anymore...

Torera walked around the corner and saw three bikes parked on the pavement, three “Touch-Bicis” – which most people just called “Touch” for short. Which bike was hers? It did not matter: The system only told her that at least one bike was available at a particular location. If she touched her NFC mobile phone9 to any bike with a green blinking light it would become hers10.

Juan – Mobility-impaired lawyer and tourist

He arrived early in the morning. There it was, just as he expected, a three-wheeled pedelec11 . Juan, a lawyer specializing in electronic privacy, moved from the platform area of the Brussels South train station – he had just arrived from Catalonia via Paris. Using his NFC-equipped phone he released the lock on his bike and then placed his bag in the cargo basket and also his crutches.. He recalls visiting the “Capital of Europe” a few years before and having to rent a normal bike instead of being able to use either of the city's bike share systems. This was complicated but he could talk to the staff and get some advice on riding around the city. The staff was also curious but respectful about how he cycled around considering that he had muscular dystrophy.

He took the familiar route to his hotel and locked his bike in front. He put his bag on his back, grabbed his crutches and went into the hotel. He bypassed the reception and went straight to his room, opening it with his phone12. He put down his bag and laid down on the bed for rest.

“Hmmm, all the way to my hotel room and haven't spoked to a soul,” he thought, before dozing off.


He had no idea how to get to the European Parliament and while he could use Google SuperEarth on his phone, he decided to do it by feel13. He had used this system before in other cities, but as he found out later in Brussels it did not seem as finely-tuned, e.g. in regards to hills: It did not indicate a turn far enough in advance – this would save both physical and mental effort if one knew they had to turn before a big hill, or when they had to turn whilst going down one.

At the EP he met the assistant to MEP Ivana Bicicenko, with whom had an important discussion scheduled.  In recent years more and more seamless mobility systems around Europe had removed the possibility for anonymous use (e.g. using paper tickets, paying the driver etc.). While this generally made things easier and cheaper for both customers and operators, the supposedly secure data was in a few cases “accidentally” leaked by operators but in quite a few more was hacked, and often maliciously. MEP Bicicenko was speaking to Juan in regards to the backlash against “NFC-ism” as it threatened the goals for use of every type of mobility except for walking, riding one's own bike, and private driving of automobiles.


Angelica celebrated that night as her company won the contract, but awoke the next morning to a surprise general strike of public transport workers in several countries in Europe, organized via social media. While she helped her colleagues deal with an angry public in Madrid (and beyond), both Torera and Juan found themselves without bicycles and tricycles, since the staff who managed the individual solutions in Seville and Brussels were union-members, the same as their colleagues responsible for collective ones. 14

  1. “Cómo llegar a ser un proveedor de movilidad real - Movilidad combinada: el transporte público en combinación con otros medios de transporte, como el coche compartido, el taxi y la bicicleta…” - UITP, Abril 2011,
  1. VCub est un système de location de Vélos en libre service mis en place sur l'ensemble de la communauté urbaine de Bordeaux (CUB) depuis le20 février 2010 et géré par Keolis. -
  1. “When one size doesn't fit all – What you need to know about e-bike charging interfaces.” - Cycling Mobility issue 1/2011, June 2011.
  1. Toxicity of Cadmium – Before lunaterium, cadmium became the subject of use restrictions that eventually made its use in private urban automobiles very, very expensive, one of the main reasons that private car use in EU cities had dropped an average of 2% per year since 2012. As liquid fuel prices also had risen significantly, private urban car use never went back to 2011 levels.
  1. In the year 2020, robots have replaced humans in boxing. Charlie Kenton loses a chance to become a boxing champion when robots take over, and he becomes a small-time promoter. When he has difficulty making a living, he reluctantly teams up with his son Max to build a robot that can contend for the championship.” - synopis of the film “Real Steel”, set for release in Spain on 2 December 2011.
  1. Augmented reality app reveals the world's hidden stories” - 5 August 2011, “Springwise blog”.
  1. Imperfection and Flexiblity: What Seville's bicycle network can teach designers in the United States”. - 10 May 2011, “Cycling Mobility blog”.’s-bicycle-network-can-teach-designers-in-the-united-states
  1. NFC” stands for Near Field Communication, communication technology to wirelessly at short range and at a high frequency that enables data exchange between devices less than 10cm apart. (Source: Wikipedia).
  1. In the mid-2010's after the introducion of new, perfected “floating public bicycle” systems (without fixed stands), the on-street, location-fixed, single-company facilities of “3rd generation bike share” were determined by EU lawmakers to be a monopolization of public space (unlike e.g. bus stops or railway platforms, all of which could serve different mobility providers). Bike share operators rejected sharing the fixed stands; the result was that fixed facilities – with the exception of locations such as railway hubs - were made illegal in EU/EEA countries. From then on what came to be called “individual, self-powered, optionally-motorized public transport” or ISOPT, had to be based on “floating” architecture.
  1. The incorporation of handcycles into what was then called “bikeshare” was pioneered in Gandia, Valencia in 2010. Juan's mother, an MEP from Santander, Cantabria, initiated the legislation which led to “full-inclusion” being mandated at the European level in ISOPT.
  1. Using NFC-equipped phones for hotel check-in was pioneered in Sweden in 2010, and thus connected to public transport systems already taking advantage of NFC for payment purposes.
  1. Touch-based directional devices let users feel directions”
  1. Liking Cycling and Bike Striking”, Cycling Mobility blog, 4 July 2011. (Unfortunately, Cycling Mobility magazine ceased publication at the end of 2011 and deleted their website).


Friday, June 29, 2012

Is the ECF the Elite Cyclists' Federation?

Part Two of Two-Part Series on Velo-city Global in Vancouver. For Part One click here.

As ECF's annual conference event enters its last day, it seems a good time to ask how "Global" the conference is every other year (the first Velo-city Global was in Copenhagen in 2010 and the next will be Adelaide in 2014), and very much related to that, how inclusive it is.

Global Diversity - Men of European origin in front row in a secret bunker in Canada the day before Velo-city: Bernard Ensink (director of ECF, at far left); Alain Ayotte (CEO of PBSC, lead sponsor of Velo-city Global in Vancouver, second from left); Manfred Neun (President of the Board of ECF, fifth from left); Gregory Robertson (Mayor of Vancouver, sixth from left). Photo by Victoria Furuya and David Phu; Copyright European Cyclists Federation (c) 2012

I very much appreciate the work of the European Cyclists' Federation, and think it's great that they have grown by leaps and bounds in programmes and staff size in the last two to three years. I have participated in two Velo-city conferences, in 2007 (Munich) and in Copenhagen - the first as a presenter - had a paper accepted for 2011 in Seville related to this but was not able to attend, and have also co-organized a European project (albeit unfunded, just barely) that included the ECF. I have recently engaged the ECF in an article originally for the now defunct or suspended Cycling Mobility magazine -- this included some tough criticism which they responded to with action!

My biggest or most chronic criticism has been about Velo-city itself. I like the programming and side events and so on. I love to see my old mostly virtual friends there. So the main issue is the high cost of registration, which seems to be based in part on an understanding that it is urban elected officials and staff that can do the most to improve bike policy.

(Full disclosure: I have attended both events above for free as media (with press credentials), though I was otherwise self-funded and stayed in the local homes of friends).

Is the grassroots in attendance?

The main problem with a focus on city leaders is that they tend to leave office (either voted out, or with related staff changes). In the months after Velo-city 2011 in Seville, there was an election in which the people at the top who pushed the changes - the changes that resulted in part in Velo-city being held there - were voted out. Since then, I have confirmed reports that both pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure and space is getting turned back into car parking, and also unconfirmed information that the bicycle share programme is not being maintained properly.

The biggest and baddest case comes from Bogota, where Enrique Penalosa famously created or built on a lot of improvements not just in cycling in the late 1990s, but - when comparing the situation to Sevilla, above, a friend - and expert - from the Colombian capital says:

"Sounds a lot like the 'post-2000 Bogotá syndrome'... We definitely need a stronger civil society to counteract these problems!"

The problem is the lack of focus on the grassroots. The support of normal citizens transcends elections, and election battles, and even multiple terms in office of even the best and most effective politicians.  I would also define civil society in the urban cycling world as not just NGOs, but also independent activists, activist bikeshops and bloggers. The grassroots in their members or supporters.

It is grassroots support that coalesced in the "Stop the Child Murder!" campaign in the 1970s that has created the highest-in-the-world bike modal share and great cycling conditions in the Netherlands, even as its national government has moved to the Right in recent years. Politicians there, from all parts of the political spectrum, implement continued improvements because they have to, because the citizenry supports these improvements.

Certainly, representatives of cycling organizations were able to attend and present. But pre-conference publicity spoke of over 1,000 expected delegates -- the reality is about 200 less, or a bit over 800.

So can these people afford going to Velo-city?

Let's consider costs for someone from St. Louis, Missouri to attend Velo-city Global in Vancouver. With an early discount good til 30 April - registration is CAD $995, or  very nearly the same in USD. Perhaps a free home stay could be arranged, but airfare was at least USD 500. Some meals and extras are not included, so let's say this thrifty person can get away with only 200  extra. In total this is 1700 USD (paying for accommodation could bring it easily to 2000)...

But this is Velo-city Global. "Global" - to me - means people mostly from e.g. Latin America (e.g. Santiago for 1600), but also Africa (Nairobi for 2600) and Asia (New Delhi for 1600). (Cheapest round-trip flights, in USD, found on

Who are these 800+ delegates?

A press release I received after the first day said they came from over 40 countries on six continents. In 2010 a similar line was put forth about delegates at the first Velo-city Global, but a fairly accurate count I did myself based on the list handed out to delegates showed that about only 15% of the delegates came from countries outside the EU and richer countries of the Global North.

Starting Monday of this week I repeatedly asked both the Velo-city publicist Mark Mauchline, the ECF communications manager Julian Ferguson and a member of the Board for an electronic version of the hand out, at least showing how many people came from each of those 40 countries. Well, now it is early Friday morning, and my emails, Tweets and text messages have not been returned. I expect to the get the truth eventually - e.g. when a friend who attended has a chance to scan or fax their delegate list to me - but for now I suspect that the organizers are hiding something... namely that most of the delegates are from rich countries.

What are the organizers doing to ensure diversity?

On the ECF Forum, in early December 2011, I asked a few questions about these issues in a message  entitled "Registration Costs and Related". Richard Campbell, who took over as head of the conference in the interim, promised to respond but never did.

Related to that, I heard of no programmes which would help locals attend -- just people connected or not with local cycling groups who are not able to afford the high registration cost. 

Within the main conference programme itself there were two more issues, both related to technology:

First of all, free WiFi is only available inside the venue to guests of the Sheraton, which is on the same site as the conference. The Sheraton is one of the most expensive hotels recommended for Velo-city delegates.

The other issue extends beyond the hotel, or, rather, does not. There is no livestream of any sort. A live webcast allows participation of some sort by people not only who cannot afford to attend, but simply do not have the time to do so. While a good livestream set-up is expensive, I am afraid to say that I think the organizers of the Velo-city series.think that it will affect the number of delegates who pay .

After conference activities...

"Welcome aboard, ladies and gentlemen! This is Julie, your cruise director. First of all, an extra special welcome to our guests who have been at Velo-city Global in Vancouver this week!..."

YES, there is a post-conference cruise! This is a week long and costs at least 1000 extra plus possibly an extra night of accommodation. When you get to this elite level in the cycling world how relevant are discussions? Traditionally, on the weekend after the conference there are one-day trips and longer bike tours, perhaps assisted by regional trains.

If you are interested in the "green" benefits of cycling, consider that a cruise adds a significant environmental burden to the overall trip: 

“Conference participants from Canada or the US would more than double (if not quadruple) their total carbon footprint for this conference trip when joining the Alaska cruise post-conference programme, regardless of whether they would be flying or using other modes. However, even for participants from Europe, the cruise share of their total carbon footprint would be considerable (around 40%) and, in view of this being (only) a post-programme event, quite doubtful from an environment point-of-view. Particularly where stakeholders in cycling often (and justifiably) boast about the good environmental and emission record of their industry.” - Eke Eijgelaar, Centre for Sustainable Tourism and Transport, NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences.

click to enlarge

Eijgelaar, E., Thaper, C., & Peeters, P. (2010). Antarctic cruise tourism: the paradoxes of ambassadorship, “last chance tourism” and GHG emissions. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 18(3), 337–354.


In conclusion:

The "Global" in Velo-city Global is somewhat of an exaggeration. At least for now. This is important to consider as ECF director Bernard Ensink has alluded to making the ECF a global organization.

This means that Brussels is not necessarily the most logical spot for an HQ (could be Geneva, NYC - main office of UNEP and UNDP, respectively - or even Beijing for that matter. Or what about South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa?).

ECF's board is from the EU10 countries (aside from two members) -- and this reminds me that the various committees for Vancouver had no representation from the Global South.

Add to that the lack of intent for electronic distribution and an unwillingness of staff to respond to difficult issues, and I think we have an organization that is simply not mature enough to expand beyond the EU. If there are big changes in how the Velo-city Global is organized in Adelaide it will make a big difference (I am thinking of very concrete representation and participation from East Asia).

It is also not clear if a global organization for (mostly) urban cycling is really needed. Participation in such an entity requires financial resources that are simply beyond the reach of normal people who ride bikes... and their leaders. ECF seems to want to play with the big boys and girls, but that runs  contrary to the philosophy of many people who are interested in a more modest lifestyle than leaders in other industries (for example the automobile industry). There is really no reason to hold the conference in a five-star venue, or to cater with excess.

This does not mean that expenses should be reduced, only that money is spent more logically. I would bet that many would be happy in a less fancy location if it could mean that there would be high-quality livestream, or just lower prices in general. Many, smaller regional events are in order -- this was suggested by the expert from Colombia.

Separate from the ECF Forum discussion, I wrote to both ECF and Velo-city Vancouver management and suggested some kind of sliding scale based on GDP of origin country, organizational budget and travel expense. Let's hope that idea sinks in, and see what comes out of it.

Hope to see you in Vienna for Velo-city in 2012.


Some more highlights of Velo-city Global in Vancouver:

In a simulation for "Operation Dutch Columbia", cycle-mounted soldiers from the Netherlands attack Vancouver from three directions.

Dutch soldiers and "prisoner" relax prior to wargames. ECF President Neun plays himself as German mercenary with helmet. From this source.


One last comment on helmets (please see my last blog entry):

Velo-city delegates who received a bicycle for use during the week had to sign a form which read:

'I hereby agree that cycling is inherently a highly dangerous activity, (...) potentially leading to heavy injury or even death'

This can be easily dismissed as a symptom of Canada/USA excessive lawyering, but the lawyers themselves feed into and thrive on the cult of cycling fear in these countries. This keeps modal share low, and helmets popular.

It is easy for me to say it now (not in Vancouver, and after the fact) but would have not accepted the bike if I had to sign a statement like that. Hopefully in the future - e.g. if the helmet law is not overturned in Adelaide by the time of Velo-city Global, though this in part a separate issue  - delegates make the same choice if confronted with this situation.

The Free Design - a song by Stereolab
...when the higher spheres
tell us to and not to
everyone agrees
demanding more veto
our earthly design
can we be so detached
what crushes our desire
not to be trapped?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Velo-city: ECF Sells Out to Big Helmet?!?

Part One of a Two-Part Series on Velo-city Global in Vancouver. For Part Two click here.

Fear comes for Free! Sean van Waes, the Flemish "Head Helmeteer" at Velo-city sponsor Lazer Helmets (of Belgium), used his evil lazer rays to fry the analytical parts of people's brains at ECF (and perhaps the Velo-city organizing committee). 

This just in: Norco Bicycles plans to "outfit every registered delegate [at Velo-city Global in Vancouver] with a new Lazer cycling helmet". Norco and Lazer are "Gold Sponsors" of the conference, which starts in two weeks. Vancouver is in British Columbia, which has an all-ages mandatory helmet law.

From the helmets page of the European Cyclists' Federation (ECF): "ECF are [sic] not against individuals choosing to wear helmets, however we are against mandatory helmet laws and shock-horror helmet promotions. We do this via support to our members, and also by becoming active members in a wide range of trans-national forums."

ECF is pro-choice on helmets, but promotes the idea - which I agree with - that helmets make cycling look more dangerous than it is, and that pushing helmets is a distraction from much more effective methods for making cycling safe. However, there is nothing in the hosting agreement for Velo-city in Vancouver - and presumably in the agreement for the next Velo-city events in Vienna (2013) and Adelaide (2014) -  to prevent helmet companies from sponsoring the event.

The Board of ECF. I have questions for them.

So let's consider "shock-horror helmet promotions"...

From the press release above: "In the spirit of the Velo-city 2012 program theme, 'Essential Elements - Increasing Cycling and Safety,' Norco's contribution will allow delegates to rest assured while exploring Vancouver on their complimentary conference bicycles. Norco and Lazer have delegates covered - literally."

"Essential"? "Rest assured"? "Covered"? Hmm... strong and manipulative but not quite "horror". But consider some examples from Lazer's testimonials page: 

"I am confident the helmet saved my life, or at least saved me from having extreme brain damage."

"I was hit by a car going 55 mph while I was riding my bicycle. story made short I went to the hospital and suffered a concussion and severe lacerations and road burn. I was wearing a Lazer 02 helmet at the time, and it saved my life."

"You saved my brother's life."

Yes, Lazer put a helmet on Vincent van Gogh. He is from Zundert, about 35km from Mr. van Waes's hometown of Antwerp, Belgium. But Zundert is in the Netherlands. Lazer put a helmet on a Dutchman. In an advertisement. No Dutch artist wearing normal clothes on a city bike has ever worn a helmet.

Are we at the level of "shock-horror" yet? Well, let's see some of the other Velo-city sponsors:
  • Momentum magazine, one of the two "Media Sponsors", has in its June 2012  digital edition, adverts from three of the major helmet manufacturers (including Lazer), and in another in a seemingly endless series of helmet-buying guides, the introduction says a "helmets [...] can be invaluable additions to your everyday repertoire." The Lazer stuff is much worse, but still,  this is not language that the ECF should be associated with.  The magazine has dozens of helmeted and an equal number of unhelmeted heads, so the imagery is not that big a problem (though they've done worse in the past).
  • "Contributing Sponsor" The Canadian Automobile Association, or CAA, has a bike safety page on its national website. This includes an explanation of "Why it is Important" (to wear a helmet), but this uses the repeatedly discredited and unproven magic 85% figure about helmet efficacy. They also imply that cycling is as dangerous as lacrosse or hockey, and not just that...

Do we have aggregate "shock-horror" yet? Maybe not, but please consider the following...

A few weeks ago I learnt that Velo-city organizers were trying to find a pro-helmet person for a debate planned for the conference. As far as I know they did not find anyone. None of the politicians in the all-ages mandatory helmet British Columbia, none of the sponsors... apparently not even the helmet company is willing to defend their product.

But they are distributing at least 1,000 free helmets (this is the figure repeatedly mentioned as the number of delegates for the conference). What is the purpose of this? Nearly everyone who is attending this conference has a helmet if they want one (i.e. it is not an issue of financing as many will be spending upwards of 2,000 CAD for registration, accommodation and transport.). Should people have extra helmets? Should they give a helmet to a friend (are they sure they will get the right size?). I am not sure of the financial arrangements (it sort of sounds like Norco is buying these helmets from Lazer at cost, so perhaps at least 25,000 to 35,000 CAD for this.)

Lazer and Norco are probably thinking that some people will not bring their own helmets (and of course many delegates do not own helmets). They know that there is that mandatory helmet law, and probably many are wondering if it will be enforced. (I started a Facebook Page in order to promote a protest...).

I won't be going, and I also wonder what will happen. Will many simply decline the free helmet? Is that enough of a statement? (What is the ignition temperature of a helmet?) I don't think so, and to get back to my main point, I think that ECF as the owner of the Velo-city Series has been painfully sloppy about this whole issue, and I do think that all the examples I give do add up to "shock-horror". 

On the other hand, via email some time back I mentioned to a current ECF board member that it was clear to me that part of the reason Vancouver was selected was due to a desire to disrupt the helmet law in B.C.. He did not deny this... he did not say anything. I would like to be optimistic but given the way everything has been handled I am not sure I should be.

The operator and supplier of the new bike share system in Vancouver was just announcedVancouver won’t pursue a helmet law exemption. As nearly everyone reading this knows, the bike share system in Melbourne, Australia - run by Alta Bike Share - has been a disaster due to mandatory helmet laws there.



For previous entries on the topic of helmets, see here.