If you’re going to stay ugly/unfashionable, get a car.
Not from me exactly (I still haven’t been on a bike since the incident a few months ago) but down in the capital, Wellington, there’s a rational new mayor:
The capital’s new mayor… jumped on her bike to ride to the Wellington City Council building when the election results were announced this week.
As a councillor, Ms Wade-Brown rarely claimed travel expenses because of her commitment to commuting by bicycle. She said she hoped to still cycle to work when practical. “I’ve always stood for good transport choices.”
I’m happy to report that in Seoul the number of people getting around on bicycles is edging up.
This is disappointingly despite the city government rather than because of it. A year ago, the papers were awash with the mayor’s promises to improve bicycle routes and build more bike lanes. This doesn’t appear to have come to much. A small number of heavily-bicycled areas have been repaved and are more comfortable to ride, but there is a palpable sense of a missed opportunity.
Most investment seems to have gone into the lengthy leisure trails along the river to appease the activism of sports cycling groups. The parks are popular places to ride a bike at the weekend too, with easy bike rental. Oddly, the surfaces are already worryingly cracked and bumpy in many places (though the wickedly cold winter can’t have helped).
Not built to last is my impression. And they don’t go anywhere!
On the other hand, those people – young and old, male and female – who are actually going somewhere by bike benefit only from the city-wide normalcy of riding on the pavements [sidewalks]. This can be frustratingly slow (due to the overwhelming number of pedestrians at all hours who, unlike the ordered keep-left-ism of Japan, seem to walk mainly in zigzags) and the pavements are often remarkably uneven and umcomfortable to ride on (due largely to the masses of motor vehicles which destroy the pavements by routinely use them for parking).
The very few bike lanes on the roads are best avoided. They offer no protection from traffic (many cars, vans and taxis park in the lanes or use them to overtake slow traffic).
Indeed the only thing that makes riding on the road bearable is the incredibly heavy traffic, which generally keeps average (and often top) vehicle speeds low. And the high number of people walking, cycling, and generally moving about at the roadside keeps drivers alert for bicycles.
On a positive note, there is one major positive development and that’s the road eating happening downtown. Not done for bicycles per se, but it does dissuade a lot of drivers from using that street and slows those that do. That’s road diets.
1) The easiest thing the city government here could do to make life better for pedestrians and bicyclists and public transport user alike is to crack down heavily on illegal and antisocial parking. Cars do it, as do taxis and vans. Pavement parking, for example.
And parking in cycle lanes.
And parking in bus lanes. And parking on pedestrian crossings.
And parking obstructing lowered bicycle/wheelchair kerbs. (The police are as guilty of illegal and unecessarily antisocial parking as anyone.)
Crack down hard on it and send a message to drivers that they can’t just leave their heavy property damaging and obstructing public space. Stop turning a blind eye.
2) Another no-brainer policy is to stop allowing the police to recalibrate the traffic lights at peak traffic times – as a pedestrian, I’ve waited a full 7 minutes at times to cross a single road. It does next to nothing for the traffic – indeed, probably encourages more – and inconveniences pedestrians to the extent many get visibly irate.)
3) Yet another obvious and cost-effective action would be to put in some real, quality, segregated cycle lanes on main roads (separated by a line of bushes or trees or the like). Most main roads in Seoul are obscenely bloated – between 4 and 10 lanes wide.
Giving a lane each way to a bike lane and row of shrubs isn’t going to inconvenience anyone and will make the city much more cycle friendly.
(This will probably also require a bikes-go-first traffic light policy to make junctions safer.) And when you mix bus stops with cycle lanes, this is incredibly dangerous
whereas this is safe.
4) Raise the standards of finish on pavements and the joins between pavement and road. Even most brand new edges have a bump of between 1cm and 3cm, which can make for an uncomfortable ride. And in the worst cases this can be 5 or 6cm. A ‘no bumps’ policy would be welcome. From this
5) And enforce (even extend) the car-free areas. These are increasingly being ignored.
It is becoming increasinly obvious that the best way to promote cycling is through the spread of positive images of stylish, relaxed, happy, normal people on bikes. This is already common in some of the most advanced and rational countries, the Netherlands, Denmark and Japan. There are plenty of places still lagging behind though. Here’s some inspiration.
I can’t remember where I came across this video, but who wouldn’t want their child’s schoolgrounds to be like this?
Clearly there are steps that local councils and national governments, even individual parent-teacher committees can take towards this vision. The most fundamental aspect is safety.
The cheapest and easiest actions are probably to lower the speed limits around the school, reduce or remove parking spaces from the school grounds, provide safe and plentiful bicycle parking, and bring in a car-free day once a week to wean parents off the habit slowly.
Better long-term planning (also relatively inexpensive) would see streets around the school become ‘complete streets‘ and safe and direct bicycle and pedestrian routes connecting the school to local neighbourhoods, and free and available bicycle training for children (and adults).
In case you needed another reason to change your life and ride a bike...
If you take no notice of other scientific breakthroughs this year, epigenetics [long but readable article] is the one you need to know about. Let’s call it Darwin 2.0.
Epigenetic research has found evidence that your diet, stress levels, environmental stimuli and exercise levels (especially at a youngish age) have a fairly strong influence on the DNA of your kids, and your grandkids.
It has been demonstrated in fruit flies, bees, mice, citizens of rural Sweden, women who were pregnant during 9/11…
So get those wheels rolling and give your kids a head start!
A largely intelligent article from the Sydney Morning Herald the other day on the positive effects of European-style sit-up-and-beg bikes and slower riding.
Scrapping (Australia and NZ’s) two decade-old laws requiring all cyclists to wear helmets would encourage a lot more people on to bikes and provide an overall improvement in community health levels. “I would be in favour of doing away with the helmet use law for adults.”‘ – John Pucher (Rutgers University, New Jersey)
Compulsory wearing of helmets was ”a Band-Aid strategy” adopted by governments shying away from more difficult initiatives of building separated cycle ways, calming neighbourhoods and educating drivers and riders.
Introducing the upright bikes used in Europe is the best way of creating a new cycling culture that would encourage slow cycling and a friendly ”come ride with me” attitude. “If we can get more people on this type of bike we will get rid of the monoculture of those people, bent down over the bars with sunglasses … who are happy on roads and don’t want to share bikeways with slower riders.” – Mike Rubbo (cycling blogger)
And descends into…
an exaggerated faith in helmets (“an incredibly cheap approach to improving safety”),
a lack of understanding of gears (“Sydney: hills everywhere”),
and a beknighted ‘not invented here’ attitude to those safe old Dutch bikes (“They are designed, without sounding sexist, for women”).