Thursday, 4 February 2016

Misconceptions, Part 2

People have been clinging onto excuses for why they don't support cyclists, cycle infrastructure or using space currently allocated to motor traffic. If they had computer brains programmed for logic only, they would be rallying behind very different values. An even longer list of excuses, and the inspiration for todays post, can be found here:

The distance is too far. This is a favourite of North Americans and Australians. Sure we have sprawl, but what really matters is how hard it is to cycle any distance. If you are stopping quite often, having to fight traffic and you have to do it all on a road bike with uncomfortable seating position, you are going to not want to ride very quickly. The Dutch can cycle long distances because their journeys are pleasant, they can ride on comfortable bikes, generally omafietsen for ordinary riding and sometimes other kinds for longer recreational rides, like recumbents, and their journeys are mostly non stop and more direct than car journeys. You have to get rid of all of your energy by stopping even just once. Many journeys there can be done by not stopping at all, and even more can be done with very few stops. And because you can ride with a friend, you can almost forget the distance you are riding. I was driving with my family to Red Deer for Thanksgiving, and because there was a fair volume conversation, I almost forgot how far the distance was (it's about 140 km from my home).

And the combination of the train (and bus) and bicycle can make an even larger dent. Edmonton is around the size of the Hague-Rotterdam metropolitan area, and that area has extensive public transport system, with the railways going to every major town and city in a very fast and direct manner and buses going nearly everywhere else, and by combining bicycle and transit, you can go much further than you would probably otherwise go. Delft recently opened a 5000 space bicycle parking facility. And it only has a population of about 100 thousand people. If Edmonton were to open a bicycle parking facility at a future central railway station in Downtown, it would need to have at least 48 thousand spaces for bicycles to park, adding an extra 1500 every year, assuming a similar proportion.

And also know that not every journey is to commute to work. Many trips happen shortly after the evening peak hour to go on shopping trips, just try finding a parking space at WEM or Southgate (shopping malls, the former the largest on the continent and not in the distant past, the world) on the Saturdays just before Christmas. Many schoolchildren and university students ride bicycles to their education facilities, this is why the UofA North Campus has one of the highest rates of cycling and walking in the city, they don't have as much money, parking is not plentiful and is expensive and they are younger and more confident. And they also often see cell phones as status icons, less need of cars. More room for bicycles, walking and scooters. People do go for recreational rides, but it should be highlighted that a recreational path should be designed for the kind of recreational cycling in question, mountain bike trail, sightseeing path, a popular path to the beach? Many cyclists don't go for commuting rides, and because many non commuter destinations are closer, they can more easily be done by bicycle.

Weather is another common excuse. We can have harsher weather, and the freeze thaw cycles can be particularly nasty, but it's actually much warmer than people tend to think. I would have gone on rides just for the fun of it this past week except the massive amount of ice on the ground makes that very dangerous unless almost everyone has chipped away the ice. And even then it can be really quite bad. The actual temperature matters less, and the conditions you are faced with matter much more. Good snow, and especially ice, clearing, places that are safe to ride in the first place (cycle paths on roads with speed limit over 30 and volume over 2000 vpd, mixed traffic elsewhere in urban areas, cycle paths next to roads with limit over 60 and also roads with volumes over 2000 vpd in rural areas), and inexpensive studded tires that people are willing to invest money into for their bicycles, and bicycles that are reliable in the first place make cycling in the winter much easier and makes it possible to have mass cycling, even if some people would switch to heavier reliance of cars and transit.

Don't want to be sweaty when I arrive. This is part due to the lessened amount of effort needed to ride like the Dutch do and how we now perceive cyclists. We currently often think of the spandex cyclists on road bikes with dropped handlebars going at something like 40 km/h. But that is not the kind of cycling that is prevalent on Dutch cycle paths. About 97% of the bicycles ridden are either more recreational bikes, like recumbents or the upright bikes. And the effort needed to ride is much less than you normally might expect. With the non stop routes and the direct routes, and gradients that are easy to take (for the most part), much less energy needs to be expended to ride. E bikes are quite popular, the assist kind, and you can get electric mopeds that give you at least the bypass congestion, fresh air, less damage to the roadway and ability to interact with other people benefits of not using a car.

We shouldn't spend money or "waste" space for 1% of people at the expense of 75%. First, the 75% figure is beginning to go down. Especially given that LRT projects are quite a quick way to get people out of their cars. Calgary sees a large part of the traffic in things that are not cars. Edmonton sees something like 100 thousand people per day on the LRT, and hundreds of thousands more on the bus. And also, 1% or whatever figure this is doesn't account for how much future growth is possible with good cycling infrastructure. When the cycling becomes attractive enough, then people begin to ride and that 1% figure can easily become 5%, 10%, 20% and more over just a few years. And we only really waste money when we don't build things that are attractive enough. A cycle lane might as well not be there unless it is attractive enough and connected to get people cycling.

It's not in the roadway design guidelines. Common of engineers and sometimes politicians. I had a couple chats with some provincial transportation managers and they told me that they were working on a design manual, like how Ontario has a series of books and pdfs on roadway design, and the 18th book discusses cycle infrastructure, and they are looking to create a similar guideline. I suggested taking a copy of the CROW manual, the manual that the Dutch use when they design cycle infrastructure, change the signs and markings and signals to our standard and then see what else might need to change. Ideally nothing else would need to change. This way engineers (and politicians) cannot fall back on these guidelines to protect their work.

Criminals will mug you while you are riding (or walking). Few people realize it, often looking over to Sweden and Norway, but the Dutch also use the principle of restorative justice and treating criminals as people with problems that can be solved with intervention rather than the bash the problem with a stick and lock them away and throw out the key style of criminal justice. It often doesn't seem like a good justice system, insensitive to victims, but their system is working. We can be most responsive to victims of crime by preventing the next crime, because crime that has already happened is by definition, incapable of being prevented. I have the same feeling as other people, but just looking at the numbers shows that their system is working. It also helps to not lock up non violent drug users, and instead perhaps make them feel like a cop isn't going to arrest them if they go to a hospital for a heroin addiction or something like that. The Dutch method is so successful that they ask other countries to send them prisoners so that the currently often empty prisons don't have to close just to keep the guard's jobs intact. This also makes it so safe that children can walk and cycle around without worrying about strangers. Not to say that you shouldn't worry about shady strangers, but you don't need to fear crime in the Netherlands.

It's a socialist/communist policy to encourage cycling and walking. A favourite of more conservative places, the US especially. Many people fear anything named communist or socialist. First, those are economic systems, and involve far more things than just walking and cycling. And cars are pretty socialized, we all pay for roads to drive cars on, we pay for police to enforce rules on those roads, and you get the point. In the Soviet Union you could get a car, though it took a while. In Communist China (which is more socialist, there's a difference), there are lots of cars, and this time many people can afford them. Don't judge something by it's name, decide on adoption or rejection based on what it actually does. Raising the speed limit on rural freeways to 130 km/h might seem dangerous but it's more likely to create respect for speed limits, which drivers are more likely to carry on to other roads.

More misconceptions are in the category of vehicular cycling vs relaxed cycling, They will be in a part 3.

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