Wednesday, November 30, 2011

UK Report Studies Infrastructure and Cycling Safety

Britain's Transportation Department just released a report which brings together all the existing data on cycliing infrastructure in the UK. It also says that it will take decades of sustained investment to achieve a functional urban cycle network across the country and a willingness to prioritise cycle traffic. The report also warns that piecemeal implementation of cycling infrastructure "is unlikely to be satisfactory".

Slowing down traffic, particularly at intersections, is identified as having the biggest likely impact on reducing cycling casualties with vehicle collisions, and also points out that this would also reduce casualties for all road users. Suggested methods of achieving this include physical traffic calming, redesigning urban streets in both their appearance and the way they are designed to be used by pedestrians and the wider use of 20mph speed limits.


However it is what the report has to say about other aspects of Britain's cycling infrastructure that will give food for thought to all sides in the debate on how best to provide the right environment for cycling in Britain and around the world. According to the report's authors there is little evidence for the safety benefits of cycle lanes, or advanced stop lines; and while segregated cycle lanes can offer greater safety to cyclists the points at which they connect with the road network can be so dangerous that they negate the safety benefit of segregation.
  • ASL - limited data, but limited evidence of benefit particularly associated with junctions. Notwithstanding this lack of evidence, ASLs may provide a priority for cyclists and might be applicable where there are heavy flows of right-turning cyclists.
  • Cycle lanes - There is little evidence in the UK that marked cycle lanes provide a safety benefit, although they may achieve other objectives. This lack of evident benefit may, however, represent a lack of quality and continuity in implementation. There is also extremely limited experimentation with, and no reported studies of, kerbed cycle lanes in the UK.
  • Segregated Cycle lanes – Providing segregated networks may reduce risk to cyclists in general, although evidence suggests that the points at which segregated networks intersect with highways can be relatively high-risk, sometimes of sufficient magnitude to offset any safety benefits of removing cyclists from the carriageway. However may be applicable particularly in rural settings.
Measures suggested as effective for improving safety at junctions include cycle pre-signals, continuing cycling lanes across junctions, raised cycle lanes at intersections, installing traffic signals at major roundabouts, and changing the design of roundabouts to slow traffic and to change the turning geometry to a sharper angle as on European roundabouts (thus eliminating the driver's blindspot). All of these measures have says the report had a measureable effect on improving safety for cyclists in other European countries most notably the Netherlands.

Interestingly while the report can seemingly find evidence for the safety benefits for cycle lanes in other European countries it finds little evidence for their effectiveness in Britain -  as the report notes "a lack of quality" may be a factor in that. Perhaps Britain's best know network of urban cycle lanes London's Barclays Cycle Superhighways is currently the focus of much criticism with poor implementation and the failure to heed safety advice.

The report also has interesting things to say about the design and implementation of both traffic calming measures and cycling infrastructure. While the authors say that traffic calming in general is beneficial to cyclists, they also advise road designers to be aware that features such as road narrowing and speed bumps have the potential for creating additional conflict between cyclists and other road users. Those designing infrastructure for cyclists also need to ensure that it meets cyclists needs otherwise warns the report it risks making a problem worse not better.

The report can be downloaded from here on the Department for Transport website.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Very Cool "Spoke Art"

If you're looking for an awesome way to add a little flair to your bicycle, you might want to consider this.

Katy Beveridge has tricked the eyes of thousands with her YouTube video, The Bicycle Animation, which depicts some of her most creative creations: bicycle wheel zoetropes. These spinning flip-book-like effects seem to produce moving images as the bikes gain speed.

A zoetrope is a series of still images that, when viewed in rapid succession, create the illusion of motion.

While this type of illusion isn't brand new (the graphic designer and animator credits predecessors David Wilson and Tim Wheatley in the video's description), the project itself is pretty unique in its application. The video took a few weeks to get right, and a few test shoots were uploaded to Katy's YouTube channel some weeks before the short production.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Activists Use Trash to Make Bike Lanes in Toronto


I have been keeping up with the tragic death of Jenna Morrison, a 38 year old pregnant mom squished under the wheels of a truck turning right in Toronto a few weeks ago. Her death has led many to question why there are not separated bike lanes; the usual response from the politicians and the engineers is that there isn't enough room, that you cannot give bikes their own lanes without taking something away from cars, and they don't do that in Toronto.

Two bike activists, James Schwartz of the Urban Country and Dave Meslin of the Toronto Bike Union, set out to demonstrate that this wasn't true. They went to the intersection where Jenna was crushed and built their own bike lane with recycled twigs, cups and general trash (the painted bikes were installed by other guerrilla activists earlier).

Here is a truck turning before the bike lane was installed; note that the painted bikes are pretty meaningless in their supposed message of sharing the road. The truck is going right over them.

And when there is a lane, just a little bit of garbage on the road in this case? The trucks all go around it, no trouble at all. Dave Meslin writes:
Would cars and trucks respect the lines? Is there enough room for a large truck to make a wide turn without impeding on the bike lane? Can all vehicles – bikes, cars and trucks – share this intersection safely with proper markings? Sadly, the answer is yes – on all counts. Too late for Jenna. But not too late for this to be a wake-up call. Bike lanes save lives. They create a safe space, they keep motor vehicles away from bikes, and most importantly, they raise awareness of all road users – that they are sharing space with others.

Even UPS drivers, who believe that bike lanes exist for their convenience, (at least for parking) drove the few extra feet to avoid the bike lane. All evidence that it is time that the traffic engineers got on a bike and started thinking about what they can do to reduce the carnage on the roads.

More at The Urban Country and the Mez Dispenser

Monday, November 21, 2011

B-Cycle is Coming to Baltimore


Baltimore is a significant step closer to introducing bike sharing, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has announced. The Board of Estimates approved a negotiating agreement between the City and B-Cycle, the company with bike shares in Denver, Chicago and eight other cities. Mayor Rawlings-Blake presents bike sharing as the latest in a series of efforts to promote alternate forms of transportation in Baltimore.

The plan is to install 250 bikes in 30 stations around the city next summer or fall. The system will work like most major bike shares- the first half hour is free, after that the user pays an increased fare for every hour or half hour. B-Cycle will raise the estimated $1.2m to build the infrastructure, so the City will pay next to nothing.

Mayor Rawlings-Blake has also introduced the Charm City Circulator, a fleet of hybrid-electric, free shuttle buses, welcomed ZipCar to Baltimore, installed electric car charging stations and increased the number of bike lanes.

Amsterdam's Cycling Culture

Amsterdam – it's not all clogs and windmills you know!
When you think of Amsterdam, one of the first images to spring to mind is the bicycle. The Dutch capital is a city where everybody seems to owns one, and the sight and sound of scores of cyclists whizzing up and down streets is something many take with them when they leave.

The video below explores the culture of bike riding in what's considered by many to be the cycling capital of the world. Paying a visit to the world's largest cycle parking lot, Kona's Mitchell Scott speaks to a few of the people who leave their bikes in the 10,000-capacity, multi-storey building. On the agenda is what makes riding in the city so special and how bikes are passed down through the generations.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Occupy Movement-Portlandia Style With Bike Swarm

Alexis Madrigal writes in the Atlantic, that the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York is best seen as an API (application programming interface) for a global movement, Portland has added a typically Portlandia twist to its Occupy activities. As police began to move in to evict Portland's encampment early Sunday morning, November 13, a swarm of bicycles continually encircled the two park areas, to serve, one organizer said:
"as another thing the police have to focus on, and a huge booster for the crowd."
Now, with actions such as occupying the New York Stock Exchange and the Brooklyn Bridge planned for November 17 in New York, Portland plans to occupy corporate banks in the city. And another bike swarm will be along for the ride.

A bike swarm, or large collection of bikes rolling along together in civil disobedience activities, is not an original Portland concept. In fact, says co-organizer Katherine Ball, she learned about bike swarms when at the Copenhagen COP-15 climate meetings in December of 2009.

At an event called the Bike Bloc, a group of activists lead by The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination put together a couple of bike-related strategies for civil disobedience. The first, the swarm, was simply a group of cyclists who, cycling together, attempted to circle around an area of protest in an organized fashion in order to provide diversion.

Another tactic was to create tall, easily erected platforms for a few people to rise above a crowd and relay information about what was happening ahead and behind to the middle of a group. At the Occupy Portland November 13 eviction, the bike swarm consisted of between 50 and 100 cyclists, circling around the two downtown parks where the encampments were being dismantled by police. Swarm co-organizer, Dan Kaufman of CrankMyChain, noted that bikes were just another means of demonstration.

As an individual swarmer commented at the BikePortland.org web site coverage of the event:
"When there is a massive show of intimidating armed force against unarmed citizens who are doing nothing worse than congregating in a large number, you have to be on the side of the unarmed people. You just do." - Daniel R. Miller
At some point during the eviction, police stopped the swarm from advancing, but no major clash between the swarm and police was reported.

In tomorrow's Swarm the Bank event, Katherine Ball said she hopes to have a swarm at least as big as the one that supported the eviction proceedings.
"Portland is the U.S. biking city, so it just makes sense that bikes are a part of Occupy here."

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Battle Over Bike Lanes Hits the Press



Something happens when you put architecture and urban design critics on bikes; the tone of the articles change, they become almost poetic. Below are articles excerpts from New York and Toronto, which are in the middle of the battle of the bike lanes. The war on the car in New York and the war on the bike in Toronto, and architecture critic Michael Kimmelman writes a lovely piece about the Pleasures of life in the slow lane. He describes the aesthetic possibilities:
I don’t mean they’re great to look at. I mean that for users they offer a different way of taking in the city, its streets and architecture, the fine-grained fabric of its neighborhoods. Decades ago the architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown wrote about how we see cities differently at different speeds. Las Vegas was their example, and they wrote about driving versus walking (skipping over the bicycle). But the point stands. On a bike time bends. Space expands and contracts.
He concludes his ride, and his story, in Central Park:
Aesthetics aside, the bike lanes are about urban livability and about encouraging the sort of street culture that, as Jacobs reminded us, a healthy and democratic city depends on. The Central Park Lake was an echo of the Hudson at the start of the day, bringing the trip full cycle. This was the only way to travel.
It would be nice if this elegy brought out the best in readers, but alas, it just brought out the usual comments:
Too many cyclists are nuts and indifferent to the rules of road that they are supposed to follow. I hope that when King Bloomberg finally leaves office, he'll take Khan and her bike lanes with him.
another wrote:
Bloomberg has become an object of derision for many, if not most, New Yorkers, for having forced his will down our throats for far too long. If the opinion polls are accurate, the majority apparently can't wait to see him go, and, as one poster said, take Kahn with him.


Which is exactly what happened in Toronto; The suburban hordes rose up and elected Rob Ford, who famously has said about cyclists who get killed: "In the end of the day, it's their own fault." He has been pulling up bike lanes all over town. Elected on a platform of cutting spending, he is in fact spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to put things back the way they were before the bike riding pinkos messed it up. A lot of people have buyers' remorse these days, as this bull in a china shop is breaking everything that people love in Toronto, from libraries to museums. Former urban issues reporter and now book reviewer John Barber writes about the the war on the bike with its nastiness and vitriol, in the Globe and Mail.
The more bicycling becomes the “right thing to do,” it seems, the more that doing it becomes a dangerous provocation. Everybody is angry. Half the people who say “Good for you” at the sight of a bike helmet actually mean, “Bully for you, you planet-saving prig.” And once behind the wheel, they get their revenge.
That's one reason I rarely wear a helmet any more, which is bound to be the second thing newscasters will mention in the event that my legs are crushed under the wheels of a 12-tonne truck. When the Toronto Sun begins referring to cyclists as “helmet heads,” de-personalizing individuals to make them easier to hate, the uniform becomes uncomfortable.
He concludes:
Are there more idiots than ever riding bicycles in Toronto? It's undeniable. But God does not distribute His idiots disproportionately, according to their choice of transportation. And idiots on bicycles are largely harmless. The truly dangerous idiots – the ones Toronto is unaccountably willing to tolerate, given its disgraceful traffic safety record – are the ones driving.
As annoying as the proliferation of idiots on bicycles may be – both to motorists and to other cyclists who get lumped together with them – it should be seen for what it is: a simple function of more bicycles. A good thing.
Or not, if you prefer. Because in the end, morality doesn't matter. Bicycles will continue to swarm the city in ever-greater numbers. They are inevitable because they are useful.
And of course, the letters to the editor think otherwise:
All downtown cyclists should be required to pass a licensing test, just like motorists, and wear a vest with a license number on it over their clothes, just like motorists must display licence plates on their car.
Finally, just to back up John Barber's point, Joe Peach at This Big City actually documents the environmental benefits that make cycling so inevitable. They include

Embodied Energy, The amount of energy required to produce a bicycle is tiny compared to many other forms of transport. A 7.2kg road bicycle with a carbon frame uses 11,546,658,000 Joules of energy during its production compared to 118,284,466,000 for a ‘generic car’ produced in America in 2008.

Air quality A bicycle’s environmental sustainability is about more than just low embodied energy. If enough people switch from polluting transport modes to a bicycle – a zero emission form of transport when in use – there is potential for reduced carbon emissions and improved air quality in our cities.


Noise pollution Pollution is about more than just emissions. Noise levels in cities can also be considered a pollutant, with associated long term health risks.

Add to the fact that every person on a bike is one less person in a car or on an overcrowded transit system that costs those taxpaying drivers a bundle to subsidize, it is pretty surprising that there is so much antagonism.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Rules of the Road for All Drivers

Driving Cycling Safety
Before I begin, this isn’t an anti-driving post, I'm not lambasting drivers. As much as drivers need to be more cyclist aware, follow road rules and drive safely, vica versa always applies!

Learn to share

As a car driver you may think the road belongs to you, but nobody owns the road. Everyone has a right to pass and re-pass on public highways. By law, a bicycle is a vehicle, so treat it like one.

Appreciate that cyclists are helping you

Counter-intuitive to what you may believe, cyclists actually reduce congestion on the roads by not driving cars. They ‘re reducing the time you spend in traffic jams as they’re taking up so much less space. Cyclists have a phrase for this, often seen on t-shirts and posters: One Less Car.

Avoid dooring cyclists

It’s illegal! It can also be fatal, and happens more than you’d expect. Don’t  open any doors without checking there aren’t any cyclists behind you. You could easily sweep them clean off their bikes and it won’t be pretty. Think about the breadth of your door, it’s easily 3' wide.

Driving with cyclists

Realize cyclists are vulnerable

You’re driving a vehicle hugely heavier and more powerful than theirs. In any impact, they will be the losers. Perhaps it’s best we take after most European countries which operate ‘strict liability’. These regulations result in the motorist’s insurance usually being deemed to be responsible in any crash involving a cyclist. In the same way that a cyclist would be at fault in a smash with a pedestrian. With the driver always at fault in any accident, drivers become evidently more cautious around cyclists.

Helmets don’t equal guaranteed safety 

Of course they’re definitely worth wearing, it’s just that drivers often think a cyclist with a helmet is 100% safe. Well, they’re not.

A helmet is designed to withstand head-on impacts of no more than 13mph! Some cyclists choose not wear to wear helmets and studies showed they are given more caution by drivers. A cyclist with a helmet, however, is by no means invincible.

Exercise some caution and be patient

90% of cyclist casualties in recent years were caused by careless inattention, firstly by drivers, secondly by cyclists. It’s your responsibility to avoid hitting the cyclist, not the responsibility of the cyclist to avoid getting hit by you.

Pay attention and be on the lookout for cyclists at all times, especially when reversing. Use your mirrors as cyclists may overtake slow-moving traffic on either side. They may sometimes need to change direction suddenly, so just be aware of this and observe any indications they give such as looking over their shoulder. Don’t tempt them into taking risks or endanger them.

Allow plenty of space

When overtaking a cyclist you’re required to give them as much room as you would a car. They may need to swerve to avoid hazards. Always anticipate that there may be a pothole, oily, wet or icy patch or some other obstruction. Cyclists endanger themselves by cycling in straight lines!

Don’t drive too close behind a cyclist as you may not be able to stop in time if they come off their bike or do something abruptly. Unless you have an entire clear, empty lane in which to pass, slow down and wait until there is room to pass. Pass them slowly!
Cars and cyclists

Drive slowly on low-vis roads

On rural roads or those with limited visibility remember that a cyclist could be around the next corner. It could also be an elderly person, a child or an animal. Reducing your speed reduces the risk of something happening.

You can’t see ahead of hills and curves, slow down as you don’t know what’s on the other side. Make sure you can stop the car at all times. At night the need to do so is more exaggerated. You need time for the headlights to shine on the road ahead and recognise that there’s something there.

Cyclists have a right to claim the lane

That’s correct. They have as much right as you do to take up the entire lane. You may think they’re being utterly selfish by doing so, but in fact they are preventing having an accident. They really aren’t trying to slow you down, it’s just the safest way for them to cycle particularly if there’s a blind bend, a narrowing of the road, a high risk junction, pinch point or traffic lights ahead. Additionally if there’s a narrowing of the road, they’re stopping you squeezing through far too closely beside them.

Cyclists should never cycle in the gutter as it gives no room for avoiding obstacles and leaves them no room to fall if an accident occurs, meaning they could go straight under your wheels. Not nice.

Beware a right turn

Turning right is how most accidents occur. A cyclist may sneak up, perfectly legally, beside you while you’re waiting impatiently at a red light. It’s not at all illegal for cyclists to filter on the left or right of lanes but it is often difficult to spot them, especially when hidden by your blind spot. You’ll hit the cyclist as they carry straight on and you’ve made a right, into them. Also be vigilant when pulling out of a side street, or parking space/lot.

Get on a bike!

Not until you experience what it’s like to be a cyclist on a busy road will you truly be able to empathize with them and realize how careless drivers can be at times. Cyclists can too be careless, but it usually ends in them getting hurt, not you!

Guerlla Bike Lanes in Mexico City


The citizens of Mexico City have been demanding bike lanes for years now, and despite promises made in legislation passed nearly four years ago, they've barely seen any. So, since the government has failed to provide the city's cyclists with safe lanes to ride, those cyclists banded together to make a powerful public statement -- they painted their own bike lanes on the streets right out front of the Congress building in Mexico City.

Jimena Veloz, one of the activists engaged in the project, explained the motivation for the project on This Big City: "Mexico City’s government pledged in 2007 that it would build 300 km of bike lanes around the city by 2012. However, the city still only has 22.2 km because most money is allocated to car infrastructure, leaving aside non-motorized mobility."

Be sure to read Veloz's account of how the cyclists took matters into their own hands, soliciting funds for the project on a crowd-funding site and taking to the streets with paint and rollers. They completed 5 km of bike lane -- which they called Wikicarril, or 'Wikilane' -- in a single day. Veloz writes, "We worked for 8 hours. We painted 5 kms. We spent less than 1000 dollars. How much would it cost to actually build the bicycle infrastructure the city needs?"

Kudos to Veloz and co. -- this was a powerful, peaceful, and visually appealing way to rally support to an overlooked cause. And Mexico City, with its perpetually choked roadways and streets thick with smog, could use the push towards more sustainable transportation options more than almost anywhere.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The True Cost of Commuting



Even forgetting the huge environmental damage caused by car-commuting for now, the monetary costs are high -- usually higher than most people expect.

Financial blogger Mr. Money Mustache crunched the numbers and a company called Streamline Refinance created the infographics above to make things clearer (and probably to convince you to move closer to work).

The 10-year costs are particularly impressive, and they show how just a few miles more add up over the years to a huge amount of extra money spent and fossil fuels burned. There's a pretty strong correlation between money spent on car-commuting and CO2 emitted, since the biggest operational cost of a car is the fuel, so the money figures in the infographics would also map pretty closely to CO2 numbers (proportionally speaking).

Not only that, but it's also costing commuters so many hours of their lives. At least if you take mass transit, you can read, and if you bike or walk, you are keeping yourself healthy.

Top 20 Bicycle Friendly Cities 2011



Mikael Colville-Andersen, who many of you know as the man behind the Copenhagenize and Copenhagen Cycle Chic blogs, also runs Copenhagenize Consulting. They've just released a very cool index of the most bicycle-friendly cities around the world, ranking the top 20 based on a pretty exhaustive list of criteria. Despite having the word "Copenhagen" in its name, the overall winner for 2011 is Amsterdam with 54 out of 64 possible points (one of its bike parkings is pictured above).


To see the whole index, check out the official website: The Copenhagenize Index 2011. Each name in the list is clickable and has a short writeup.

If you're curious about the criteria that were used to rank the cities, that information is available here. Some of those are inherently subjective (perception of safety, social acceptance), but a well-defined point system made it as close to objective as possible. For example, social acceptance was on this scale:
0 points: Bicycle users have no social acceptance in the city and are regarded as complete outsiders. Very few people use their bicycles apart from on weekends for a bike ride.
1 point: There is some social acceptance but it is mainly focused on recreational cycling. Bicycles are still not accepted as feasible transport in cities. Still a lot of antagonism towards cyclists and the simplest of bike lanes or tracks generate public outcry.
2 points: Cyclists are not an uncommon sight on the streets. Motorists generally watch out for bicycles but the public doesn't always back infrastructure or traffic calming.
3 points: The onus is on drivers to watch out for cyclists and they are largely respectful of them. Bicycle infrastructure and facilities such as traffic lights for bicycles are accepted. There is limited public outcry when new lanes or tracks – or traffic calming
4 points: Drivers are accepting of cyclists in all situations, and most are cyclists themselves.
In general, having such an index (and updating it every year using comparable data) can only lead to good things. It's similar to how many NGOs rank corruption or ease of doing business. Nobody wants to be at the bottom of the list, and those that do well end up incorporating that into their self-image and don't want to fall behind. It's a great motivator -- a carrot and a stick at the same time!