Category Archives: Bicycles

Thoughts on the London Transit Strike

Image courtesy HuffingtonPost.com, which has a number of Tube Strike photos

Regular media and social media are abuzz with ‘Why you really don’t want to be a Londoner right now’ and ‘Top ten worst images from the London Tube strike.’ And its true its caused a little bit of hysteria: the London Underground is running a skeleton service Wednesday and Thursday (scheduled to end in a few hours) to protest staffing changes, including closing ticket offices (possibly to turn them into Amazon or grocery pick-up facilities, which I think sounds kind of awesome). The Tube workers say that the move will make the Tube less hospitable to elderly, disabled and female riders; I did see a Tweet from a disabled-advocacy group so there must be something that I’m missing.

Anyway. The strike is the first of 2 scheduled walk-outs in protest of the changes, and has resulted in a fair amount of chaos around the city, with bus queues stretching down streets and YouTube videos of arterial roads turned into parking lots.

That said, there was far less chaos than I was expecting. In my two days of commuting around London (one in heavy rain – awesome!), there were noticeably more people on foot. And larger were noticeably more aggressive – I saw a white van almost take out a woman my mother’s age on a left turn this morning.  It was so egregious I tried to note down the plate, only to be enraged at the next street when a Royal Mail van did almost exactly the same thing.   That said, motorized traffic through the city centre did not seem substantially worse than normal. And while there were loads of pedestrians around King’s Cross and around UCL, that’s pretty much standard, as well. In general, the most common comment I’ve seen on Facebook in response to ‘look at these crazy crowds!’ is ‘looks about normal to me.’

There have been noticeably more cyclists, though.  Use of the cycle hire scheme is up 50% (with staffing to match) and there was a noticeable uptick in novice cyclists, both on personal and cycle-hire bikes, tooling around the city.  Not only were they novices, they were jerks: lots more cycling on the sidewalk (or pavements, as they’re called here) and the wrong way down one-ways.  There were also a number of efforts to encourage safe cycling, the most notable being the #bikethestrike campaign on Twitter, where regular commuters publicised their routes and led ‘rusty riders’ home like ducklings.  Some of my coworkers have said they wish such a service existed all the time, so I’m hopeful that despite today’s awful weather, some of the cyclists will stick.

On the whole, I think efforts like #bikethestrike and seasoned cyclists’ desire to publicise the benefits have led to really lovely behavior.  I had a nice chat with a man yesterday where I showed him how to work the machines and wished him well in his new job (it was his first day. Poor bastard.)  Later, when I inadvertently cut off a lycra-clad, lithe young man in an expensive helmet, I turned around to apologise, and he said ‘no worries, I liked the look of you.’ While my initial reaction was ‘STILL GOT IT!” I realise now he was probably not flirting with me, after all.  Of course, moments later, as I was cycling down Tavistock Road reflecting on how lovely people can be, a pedestrian stepped in front of a cyclist, who snarled ‘get out of the fucking way!’

Not that it excuses his behavior, but he totally had the right-of-way and the walked was behaving really dangerously by stepping in front of about a dozen cyclists, all accelerating to make it through the light.

While I think the Tube strike was unwarranted, and that ticket offices probably are outdated and expensive to maintain, I also think that things more or less went okay, given my expectations.  If you were stuck in a car, I have no sympathy for you. And if some more people cycled…that’s great.  The Tube transports about 4 million people every day, so I don’t want to suggest that it isn’t an important means of transport. Clearly, it’s one of the world’s great urban transpo networks.  But the city didn’t grind to a halt without it – people walked, rode bikes, and found ways around it, and that’s what they (we) will do again in the event of another strike next week.

 

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A friend recently told me that, with the birth of their second child looming, they’re looking at minivans.  Thankfully, she told me via email so she couldn’t see the look that flashed across my face. Upon reflection, I can see why a minivan makes sense for her lifestyle.  But I have also spent the last few days feeling more smug than ever that a minivan isn’t in my future.

Obviously, this has meant exchanges: less house for more neighbourhood, fewer comforts (like a clothes dryer…) for more ‘character’; and less car for more bikes.  In our case, my husband and I have let our grace period lapse and are now no longer eligible for UK insurance, so we’ve settled into an entirely car-free lifestyle without even intending to.  We live in a walking neighbourhood in a biking city, near a commercial street that caters to most of our needs (fruit, chocolate, and sushi) and near local retail that caters to the rest (pastries, pubs, dumplings).

We’ve spent our first two+ years here cycling, but our mobility is going to be seriously curtailed with the birth of our first child this spring.  Newborns don’t ride bikes, and typically, neither do their mums.  When I was in Denmark earlier this year, I saw an amazing cargo bike with bassinet and OH DANG DID I WANT ONE.  In fact, I’ve always assumed that when the time came, I’d buy a cargo bike – obviously.

So why am I telling you this, rather than raving about my sweet new cargo bike?

How much do you think they cost?

No, seriously. Think of a specific number.

The bikes I have seen – via Google – tend to run about £2500, or $4000; the cheapest model I’ve seen is £1710.  There is also a bizarrely anaemic resale market (though if you’re looking, Ebay seems to be your best bet). I’ve had my current road bike for a decade, but I can’t imagine that I’ll want a cargo bike after my children are old enough to cycle on their own steam – say, when they turn five or six.  And these bikes are really the most useful when you have two children – when you have one, there are simpler, easier methods; when you have an older one, why would you ferry them around when they can power themselves? So the window of time in which cargo bikes are truly useful is very small – higher if you have twins, but five or six years at the outside.

I do not understand why these things are so expensive. Over the course of their lifetimes, they are more cost-effective than a car, of course, but the up-front cost is nearly the same (or at least, for $4000 you can buy a car. A car with a roof and a trunk and a gas pedal that requires no physical exertion to use). I am one of the most enthusiastic and committed cyclists I know, and if I’m balking…who are the people buying these things?

There are, of course, cheaper alternatives for those interested in cycling with kids.  The Guardian Bike Blog did a lovely feature last summer about the various options for carting children around via bicycle, from age 9 months to 9 years (I tried to figure out how to embed the video and failed). Plenty of parents have carried children around on standard rear-mounted bike seats or in those pull-behind trailers, which are much more affordable alternatives.  But it seems to me that the economics of cargo bikes are completely misaligned.  If I could find a cheaper bike – especially new – I would snap it up tomorrow, and I suspect many of the people I know in my position would, as well. Obviously cargo bikes are a commodity, so this isn’t something that can be fixed by government policy.  And there is a chicken-and-egg issue: without more demand, carriers are unlikely to diversify their supply.  But I do wonder why the market, even in places where cycling is an established way of life, has been so slow to address the need for family-friendly cycling.  And given that there is so little to do except wait for the market to catch up, what can cycling advocates and government-provided infrastructure do to help bridge the gap?

Cambridge has a unique policy where parents of young children can exchange their bicycle for a stroller/buggy at a city-run cycle parking facility, though its not well-publicised (and people are crazy snobby about strollers). Maybe providing cargo-bike specific parking would help; so would wider, or – better yet – segregated bike lanes, though Cambridge already has quite a few off-road cycle paths.  The general wisdom in the cycling world is that if you make everything about cycling better, you will attract more women and parents of young children, which is undoubtedly true.  But there’s been a major uptick in cycling in the last several years without a commensurate increase in cargo bike use, so I’m inclined to think that someone is missing a trick.

Bikes, Children, Parents: Navigating the City with Babies

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Re-examining Bike Share Safety

Bike share systems are exploding around the globe as an alternative means of sustainable transportation.  According to Wikipedia, there are currently 180 functioning systems around the world, with 6 more planned.  Among the planned systems, is New York City’s – set to launch in 2013 with 600 stations and 10,000 bikes.

But as popularity for these systems grows, so do concerns over safety.  Studies have found bike share users much less likely to use helmets than cyclists using their own bikes.  A Georgetown study found that Capital Bike Share users wear helmets only 30% of the time, as opposed to 70% of people using their own bikes.  A study of the Bixi system in Toronto found similar results – only 20.9% of Bixi users wear helmets , as opposed to 51.7% of riders with their own bicycles.

Rates of helmet use may be lower do to the fact that bike share trips are sometimes unplanned, and people do not carry helmets around with them at all times.  It could be do to the fact that these bicycle users are inexperienced, and perhaps do not own their own helmets.  Franny talked about some of her own struggles with helmet use, as well as some proposed solutions in her post about Boris Bikes.

However, I hypothesize that the lower helmet use is innate in how people view and use the system.

Bike share is essentially a bike taxi system, designed for short trips in one direction.  And in taxis, people display a similar disregard for safety precautions as they do when using bike share.  A majority of private vehicle occupants use seat belts.  In Canada, 95.5% of front seat occupants and 89.2% of back seat occupants wear seatbelts, according to a 2010 study completed by Census Canada.  According to a 2011 study, 84% of private vehicle occupants in the United States use seatbelts.  In New York City, this number is closer to 90%.  However, passengers in taxis do not exhibit the same rates of seat belt use.

According to a PSA put out by the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission, only 40% of passengers of cabs wear their seatbelts.  Though I could not find studies for other cities, we can assume from this (and perhaps our own experiences) that seatbelt use is much lower in taxis than in private vehicles.

Is there a mental connection between users of taxi cabs and “bike taxis”?  Do people feel differently about safety measures when in a private vehicle as opposed to a public one?  Or perhaps this correlation is just chance. However, if we want to encourage helmet use – we should broaden our thinking to WHY helmet usage is so much lower in bike share than on personal bicycles.  Only then can we start to think about how to fix it.

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Traffic in Amsterdam

This is a post from my other blog, Snacks and Adventure, about my experience as a cyclist in Amsterdam. Enjoy!

snacks & adventure

I was in Amsterdam for the first time a few weeks ago, and I was seriously blown away by the city.  In addition to the brown cafes, which were everywhere and were so brimming with local character, and the food, which was delicious, the city had all sorts of distinctive characteristics that made it feel unique (when I was in Strasbourg, everything apart from the cathedral felt like “Generic European City.” Amsterdam felt like Amsterdam.)

As an urban planner, the first thing I noticed was the cycling infrastructure, and the people using it. It was on a scale I’d never seen before.  A friend who went to Amsterdam earlier this year complained that, actually, there were so many bikes that people on feet suffered – and I’m inclined to agree.  It was not a walker’s paradise.

The space reserved for cycles was unlike anything I’d ever seen.  There were cycle…

View original post 518 more words

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Bikes are sexy, y’all

I was in Banana Republic last week on Newbury Street in Boston – and they had a vintage-looking bike as part of their decor.  I was thrilled.  I love the idea that cruiser cycles have so thoroughly entered the mainstream that they are now part of the decor of yuppie clothing chains.  For some reason, this warmed my heart even more than last year, when Crate and Barrel (the doyen of yuppie furniture and homegoods shops) ran a sweepstakes for a big cruiser bike like this.

But seriously. Just try and ride that bike in that skirt.  Someone didn’t think that one through.

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A Year with Bike Share

Last June, a few months after its official launch, I signed up for Bixi – Toronto’s Bike Share program.  I wasn’t a full believer, wasn’t sure how useful Bixi would really be, but with a $100 price tag for the year it seemed like a worthwhile experiment.  Now that I’ve been a year with the program, I thought I’d do a quick round up review to share my thoughts on the program.

Bikes (4 / 5)

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Bixi bikes are a 3 gear model that works well for urban cycling.  Though I’m used to riding a road bike around, I actually quite like the heavier, stockier bixi bikes.  I like the black colour choice that makes for a sleek ride, and I love that there’s a little “basket” area on the front that is the perfect size for carrying six beers.

My only complaint is the seemingly huge gap between Gears 2 and 3.  First gear is so light its basically useless in flat down town Toronto and 2 isn’t much better unless you’re riding straight up hill.  3rd gear marks a huge shift up from second that often leads me switching back and forth, not finding a good place to be.

Docks (4.5 / 5)

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Though others have reported the irritation of showing up at a station that either has no bikes or no empty docks, this has happened to me only several times, and always when i was nearby another available station.  Of course, this could always be better, but certain docks will always be tricky.  Union Station during rush hours.  St Lawrence Market on Saturdays with people biking down, buying groceries, and taking another method of transit back.

In terms of usability, after 1 initial failure, I’ve had no trouble docking or undocking the bikes.  There is a bit of a learning curve, but I recommend a method of lifting the back wheel off the ground and pushing the bike into the dock as the most effective method.

Coverage (3 /5)

Coverage is probably the number 1 complaint I’ve heard for Bixi, and probably my number 1 complaint as well.  Starting off, the coverage area was quite small, and living on Sherbourne I was at the far eastern edge.  At the beginning of the year (I think), the coverage area was expanded, moving several underused stations from the inner zone, and expanding the system one major block in either direction (east and west).  I think this expansion came with mixed results.  The expanded coverage area is great, but leaves some areas without overflow docks.  In addition, the docks on the edge are sparser than I would hope for.  For example, there are two docks on Parliament street at Gerrard and Dundas, but nothing to the north.  This leaves Cabbagetown basically unserved – that makes little sense to me. 

Check out the full map on the website here

Customer Service (2 / 5)

Customer service is where Bixi really drops the ball.  In several cases where Bixi has moved docks, they have only notified people through their Facebook and Twitter pages, leaving the non-followers out of the loop.  Bixi needs to learn to better communicate with their customers and PUT SIGNS UP!  People who use the docks will see the moving signs in advance.  

In addition, Bixi is really slow in getting keys out to people.  My key took nearly a month to arrive – weeks after they said they mailed it.  This lead to me having to call several times and talk to surly employees who kept insisting the key had been sent.  I think Bixi straight up lies to its customers about when it sends out the keys.  I know Canada Post isn’t always great, but from the number of instances reported on the fb page and elsewhere, this seems like a widespread problem most likely to do with Bixi itself.  A lack of communication on this leads to anger and frustration in customers before they even start riding!  This could most certainly be improved upon.    

That all being said, the last time I called support because my bike didn’t dock properly, the guy who helped me out was very friendly and competent and my issue was resolved within minutes, so maybe they are improving.  

Overall (4 / 5)

Overall, I’ve really enjoyed my experience with Bixi and I would highly recommend it to anyone who both lives and works downtown.  More popularity will lead to a wider coverage area, so that just leaves customer service to improve upon.  

Unfortunately, these days I’m working in an area of Toronto that will never get Bixi, nor would I recommend it to.  This makes Bixi less useful for me and leaves me unsure if I will sign up again.  That being said, it’s still really useful for visiting friends, running errands, and days when I am too lazy to walk.  

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Bike Storage in Tight Squeezes

Bike lanes, bike safety, communication between drivers and cyclists.  These are all things that challenge the urban cyclist, the bike commuter.  But one thing that’s talked about less, and that may be a factor in keeping urbanites off the road is where to store the damn thing?  Many of us live in apartments or condos, two people sharing 600 sq ft.  Add a few bikes in there, and there’s nowhere to move!

Luckily, there are some stylish solutions available to make bike storage easier.

1) Bike Shelf

One of my personal favorites is small, sleek, and multi-purpose.  The designer says:

While visiting many friends’ small apartments here in SF (and even more so in NY), I noticed that there is a void when it comes to elegant bike management. Bikes always get in the way, there never seems to be a place where they belong. So, I decided to design something to fix that problem. It’s called The Bike Shelf.

That about sums up the problem, and here’s a solution.  Check out more pictures at the Knife and Saw.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately, the Bike Shelf will run you $299.00 plus shipping… so for a more economical option check out option 2.

2.) Leonardo Bike Hook or Solo Bike Hook

A Bike Hook is a similar space efficient way of storing a bike and run you only $15 or $20 respecitively.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m actually at a loss for why I don’t own one of these puppies already.  I think I’d go with the Solo to avoid tire smudges mucking up your walls.

3.) BYografia Bookshelf

To be honest, this option isnt in reality all that practical.  That’s probably why it’s so cool though.  BYografia combined bookshelf and bike shelf into one, and the result is pretty cool.

Oh, and I almost forgot.  It’s projected to cost a whopping $3,600 when released in June.  Ouch.

4.) Michaelango Bike Wall Rack

Multiple Bikes? No problem! The Michaelangelo provides hook space for two bikes.  It’s portable and can be arranged easily or slipped into storage, and it only runs you about 60 buckeroonies on amazon.  Franny owned one of these while living in Cambridge, MA and is a big booster of the product.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Though none of these are exactly solutions for lack of space, they do provide the urban cyclist some options.

Now the problem is, which one to choose?

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An Interview with Jan Gehl

Jan Gehl is a Dutch urbanist and the author of Cities for People, a really wonderful book.  A few weeks ago, The Urbanophile posted a 30 minute interview with Gehl that is well worth watching (and is embedded below).  The Urbanophile is a wonderful blog written by Aaron Renn, concerned primarily with American cities and with Chicago and Indianapolis (his hometown) in particular.

Renn got the Gehl post from Economics of Place, a blog I hadn’t previously been aware of but probably should have been.  Both are well worth taking a look at; and if you’re a fan of Gehl or interested in place-making (or Copenhagen), this video is really great.

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Mid-week Procrastination (you’re welcome!)

There are so many great videos of cities – I’m particularly into tilt-shift videos, where everything looks miniature – so I thought I’d compile a few here.  I’m hardly the first to do so; The Urbanophile did a city video compilation post earlier this year that I spent the better portion of the morning watching…

But there are always more, and here are a few that he missed:

And finally, this isn’t a city video, but it makes incredible use of Google Street View and is also a good way to waste a couple minutes:

I’m always looking for good city videos, so please let me know what I missed.

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City Centers and Children

Urban planners are always trying to get people out of their cars, especially in Cambridge, MA and Cambridge, UK, where an organic street pattern, tons of pedestrian traffic and narrow roads cause congestion and misery.  In grad school, a frequent topic of conversation was how to make not driving a reasonable option for the parents of young children.  Babies can’t easily be carried on bikes, and even if they could, when you have a baby you typically can’t travel light.  With no good option, most parents elect to drive whenever possible.

How can planners make cycling or public transportation more attractive to people with small children?  At least part of the solution is market-based.  There are lots of child bike seats – personally I’m partial to the one where the kid rides on the handlebars, but you can carry bigger kids with a seat behind you (see below).  In Cambridge, I’ve also seen a number of adult-child tandem bikes:

this sort of thing - its all over the place

I’ve also seen quite a few Dutch cargo bikes, wherein parents can carry their children in a wheelbarrow-ish sort of thing:

In Massachusetts, I think I saw one of these in two years.  Here I see a few per day.  When I looked into it, though, I was shocked at how expensive cargo bikes are – beginning at 1500 euros – and I think it’ll be a while before they catch on in the states.  Still, its clear that there is a market for “child transport cycles,” as they’re called.  A great thing about child transport bikes is that it makes living in a dense neighborhood much more appealing – having a car on my street would be a nightmare, but having a bike is no trouble at all.  So I expect these increasingly popular bikes to contribute to the re-urbanization of American yuppies.

The city of Cambridge (UK) has gone one step further to encourage cycling: at a center city bicycle parking lot, parents can exchange their bicycle for a stroller (or a push-chair, as they’re called here), allowing parents to spend time in the city without having to carry their children.  And its free!  Cambridge is a miserable place to drive, but its one of thousands of miserable places to drive – so the opportunities for replicating the bike-for-stroller model are essentially infinite.

In the states, cities have looked into organizing bike trains for small schoolchildren to allow them to cycle to school; cities could also look into more closely aligning bus stops and schools to allow more people to take public transportation to school.  And in cities with Metros, making light rail easier with bikes and strollers would make the Metro (or bike and Metro) a more attractive alternative to driving.

What are the other things that cities could be doing to make cycling/public transport easier for young families?

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