Thursday, July 1, 2010

Does your street have special bike clothing?

This is the first of at least two parts about defining "streets".

Mikael Colville-Andersen from Cycle Chic travels to Dublin as part of events held by the Danish Cycling Embassy in the capital of Ireland. Looked like lots of chic-y fun. About the same times on it's sister blog, Mikael - the analyst-provacateur - comes down hard on "Vehicular Cycling" and gets lots of reactions (best to read that first before you continue here).

As always "infrastructure" is mentioned as something necessary for lots of cycling.

But was this always the case for Dublin...

Vehicular cycling in Dublin, 1961. Photo courtesy (Mikael). A great photo he has used more than once to show how popular cycling used to be in Dublin and how it could be again.

Or in other cities?

Vehicular cycling in Copenhagen, c. 1950s. Photo courtesy Even if this is not literally Vehicular Cycling - if the cyclists have some XXXL bike lane - they so dominate the road that any cars would need separated facilities to protect them from the cyclists!

With all due respect, am I missing something here? Why does Mikael use two examples of what is - more or less - vehicular cycling - with a small "v" and a small "c" to show that separated infrastructure is needed?

I feel very safe cycling in Copenhagen and Amsterdam and so on. The authorities, designers, advocates and activists do a great job. I am not arguing for VC in these cities under current conditions (primarily too high speeds). Perhaps the whole frame for this discussion is a little off, so I want to suggest alternative definitions of the two ways bikes and cars are dealt with in cities:

Vehicular Cycling: In its pure sense, this follows a serious underestimation of the subjective and objective danger cyclists feel towards drivers.

Separated infrastructure: While definitely better in encouraging a higher modal share of cycling, it is the result of accepting that heavy, privately-used vehicles traveling at 50 km/h (30 mph) or higher are necessary, or inevitable, in built-up areas.

A few years back - if I remember correctly - many cyclists in Dublin protested the plans for separated infrastructure, and it seems like they lost.

So... is separated infrastructure special bike clothing? Are bike paths helmets? Mikael and many others in the "Cycle Chic" movement have fantastically shown that people can wear whatever they want - or as nice as they want - whilst cycling, but how come this logic does not carry over into how the streets themselves are adorned?

What kind of street do you live on? How is it clothed?


lagatta à montréal said...

Todd, I was happy to read your radical questions at the VC discussions at Copenhagenize - "radical" not as in wild-eyed fanatic, but as tackling the problem at the root. No, I don't think private motor vehicles are appropriate for city streets.

As for where I live: le quartier Petite-Italie, in Montréal. Between major north-south arteries (generally; we are not really aligned with the compass, but with the shape of our island) with bus lines and businesses: St-Denis and St-Laurent. I live on a relatively wide secondary street - relatively wide as the tram used to take it; alas we have not yet brought trams back to Montréal - many are advocating for this, including the ecologist political party Projet Montréal. There is two-way motor vehicle traffic, and when their are special events, the traffic from St-Laurent is deviated onto my street. A bus takes this street for a long block before turning onto Beaubien, towards the east.

I can walk to three métro stations (Beaubien, rue de Castelnau and Jean-Talon) in about 10 minutes. I ride my bicycle for most of the year, but do not ride it when there is heavy winter snow and ice. Last winter, you northern and western Europeans got our winter, so I rode it all wimpy-winter long. I'm in my 50s and have been a utilitarian cyclist and bicycle advocate for at least 40 years (I was one of those radical teenagers way back when).

Many cyclists commute on my street as it is less busy than the two north-south arteries and is wide enough for cyclists to progress without being impeded by cars; moreover there are lights at the major intersections, which increases safety for all road users. Most are dressed in normal clothing and unhelmeted, though we do have our lycra types - fewer than in English-speaking North America though.

But no, we are not satisfied with the situation, and are working on a cycle lane along either side of the street, that would link up to a cycle lane along Clark and St-Urbain streets south of here in Plateau Mont-Royal arrondissement, and to the cycle path built alongside a railway line that curves southeast of here. It would run northwards to the big public market Jean-Talon then through Villeray and up to the northern edge of Montréal island through Ahuntsic district.

There is a north-south bicycle path (on a street, segregated with poles) along Boyer, east of St-Hubert - several streets east of us. It goes from one edge of the island to the other, but it is now pretty much saturated at commuting hours and when families are using it at the weekends.

I'm disappointed to read about the sorry state of many German bicycle paths and lanes, and their poor design. No excuse for that. How about highly cycling-friendly places like Freiburg? Or even Berlin itself, where there are a great many cyclists?

I think cycling insfrastructure is essential to increase the modal share. The only major French city where utilitarian cycling is in the double digits is Strasbourg (Straßburg). Yes, "Germanic cultural influence" but also a deliberate strategy of increasing and improving dedicated bicycle infrastructure.

But also agree with you that even this must be seen as transitional to a time when individual cars (at least in cities) are relics of the past and of misguided urbanism, with greatly improved tram systems including goods-delivery trams feeding local shops, walkable neighbourhoods and safe cycling.

Where I live, safe cycling "clothing" would mostly entail cleaning the paths of snow and ice, as is done in Copenhagen.

Clare Wolff said...

Typical post of a believer! Not only a fear-mongering fanatic but also someone that drank the kool-aid: this devotion to segregation does not even understand that is just supporting a car-oriented city planning theory that gained some popularity during the second half of the twentieth century to maintain/ease and speed up car movement. Just like a fear-mongering helmet nut this guy knows he needs to exaggerate the danger of cars to convince cyclists they should be afraid, very afraid and ask their local politicians to Copenhagenize their city. Never occurred to him that the most sustainable way to encourage cycling is to reduce the speed and quantity of cars. Like advocating helmets for cyclists is usually just a lame excuse to not reduce the speed and quantity of cars on the streets, religious segregation is just a way to keep cyclists off the roads. Apart from DK and NL that had very high proportion of cyclists at the beginning of the century (much higher than now) this idea never took off anywhere in the world, apart from some local exceptions. So we are talking about 0,01% of the cycling in the world being made in segregated conditions - the perfect turf to spur a sect that aspires to mainstream religion. Even China did not have any kind of segregation until very recent exceptions, and these cases are precisely to allow car drivers to speed up. So what is not working is his half-baked theory of bike promotion - claiming that NL and DK have a lot of cyclists because of its infrastructure is like claiming the wind is caused by the shaking of the tree leafs. Unfortunately what is still happening is the technocratic prejudices and second rate imitations of The Model forced upon some unlucky cyclists around the world that have to endure these theories and insane "facilities"!

When I see those pictures of overcrowded bike tracks I wonder why the good people of Denmark allow themselves to be treated like cattle when most of the street space is given to cars! In the same vein of the post we could ask if they are automatons that never looked to the side. The author of this post seems to believe it is a wonderful social experiment to force the most sustainable vehicle on the road to a crowded narrow corridor. Not only he is happy about it but he sees himself as a consultant to spread the happy message around the world. He is a believer of the worst kind - proselytism equipped with naif cultural superiority. Now that people are asking the right questions, and bright professionals in DK and NL are questioning this car-based design, this idiot post comes with the the debate-is-over theory. We all know what it means when one side rushes to claim the debate is over. Of course he knows that there are places where people are dismantling this apartheid dream. I do not doubt cyclists have wonderful conditions in Copenhagen - in a way that is besides the point. Last century, when questioning some whites in South Africa on apartheid policies their most common answer was - "our blacks have the best hospitals in Africa"!

Does that mean we should be against all cycle infrastructure or people that want to wear helmets? Shall we deny that building infrastructures increase the number of cyclists? Of course not. But it is a good idea to understand where these ideas stem from before claiming to have seen the light.

As many people pointed out already the other problem of this post is that sees VC as a bike promotion program - this is simply too idiotic to comment. The problem with these new believers is that they see their jobs as Jehovah Witnesses and love to compare techniques of recruiting people to their mode choice. As someone said before, with this obsession they do not understand a basic truth: more bikes do not necessary mean less cars!

Slow Factory said...

(Note: The previous comment from "Clare Wolff" is actually directed at the Copenhagenize blog and its entry I refer to above, but aside from the personal attacks I think it is quite valuable).