Saturday, 27 February 2016

Pragmatism and why looking to Copenhagen is flawed

I suggest reading this blog post first: http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2014/08/pragmatism-when-campaigners-and.html

Many people often think that implementing a cycle culture requires pragmatism, and thus would require downgrading our goal from somewhere like the best Dutch examples to Copenhagen. While it's true that we must be pragmatic, this in no way excuses a reduction in our goals. The same things that let the Dutch build their cycle network are present elsewhere on this Earth. Space, non constant tornadoes, money, etc. We just have to decide that we want to build cycle paths. The moment that happens, then it can get going quickly.

What actually would happen if we downgrade to Copenhagen is that we will get what Copenhagen has, around 20% modal share and a lot of bicycles, and bicycles being as an accepted form of transport. What we will not have however is the even better safety of the best practice from the Netherlands, the efficiency of their system, making it convenient not only to ride as a slow rider but also as a fast rider on the separate paths and even less stressful. I mean while a mixing zone and two stage left turn is better than a vehicular left, it's killed 7 each year. Not very safe by my standards. Why not simultaneous green or a real protected intersection? We also miss out on a large portion of the population. Fewer children ride in Copenhagen. More Copenhageners are wearing helmets, a sign of decreasing subjective safety, and while 20% is by far more than Edmonton has, it's still not the 27% national average (rural area and distance included) and the 35-50%+ average most Dutch cities usually have. Rotterdam is one of the very few outliers, mainly due to the exceptional public transport system and wide roads for motor traffic in the city centre, and thus has only 20%.

So when should we be pragmatic? Well, whenever our ideal is not possible. When our ideal is not possible, then we should try to get it as close as possible. Just because a full cycle track might not be possible on a particular street, doesn't mean we should downgrade our entire plan to that of Copenhagen. If we can't get a 1.5 metre wide verge protecting a cycle track, then if 1.4 metres is possible, then use 1.4 metres. If we can't have a 4 metre wide cycle path, then have a 3.9 metre wide cycle path. There are some concrete minimums however which must not be reduced. If it is the case that we could not even have a concrete minimum for something, then the motor traffic must give, because they are inherently wasteful of the space, and must remain guests in our transport network. They are here to have chats, to play board games and have have some chips and pop, not eat all of the food in the pantry and refrigerator and drink a keg of wine.

Maintenance vehicles are sometimes required on an otherwise non vehicular path. But I don't think anyone wants to drive on an non maintained road, nor so they want to ride on a cycle path in the winter if there is snow on it, so these kind of vehicles must be there. They don't comprise much of a flow and they don't move very fast, so that isn't too much of a concern. Sometimes a few cars will enter a cycle path for whatever reason, but if this is a low enough figure and it's not a big problem, then bollards are the more dangerous actor. Too much traffic and it is preferable to have a small bollard in your way than a lot of massive cars. Sometimes on an otherwise cycle path it must be a fietsstraat because someone's driveway is on that cycle path, but so long as that car is slow enough and there aren't too many of them, then cycle traffic will by far be the dominant traffic flow, and still be a safe cycle route.

The final part to emphasize is that on the very few occasions we will not be able to get the ideal, it must never make it dangerous, unattractive or unsuitable for a small child. It must always be on a small scale if "compromise" is to be really a compromise and not just a normal part of the discussion. It must only be the last option we have. It should be treated like having to have a traffic light on an otherwise freeway road. And as many measures should be taken to minimize the effect of the compromise. For example if we have to build a narrower cycle path then more time should be given to cyclists at the traffic light to allow more cyclists to get through.

Compromise can be a great thing, like if people in the US actually get together and have a peaceful discussion on guns, but it can also be a terrible thing, like the idea to have a "compromise" with the First Nations tribes here about "how to let the dominion government have tribal land". Let's make sure we never use compromise poorly to the detriment of those who are less able and less protected, or anyone else for that matter.

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