Archive for July, 2008

Assumptions

People often don’t realise how many unreasonably pro-car assumptions they make when debating transport and urban planning issues. For example, despite the proven benefits of traffic calming measures, it is still often assumed that the only way to accommodate cyclists on the roads is to widen existing roads.* Horseshit. Why not take away a little bit of our extravagant 3-4 lane roads and reserve them for cyclists? We have grown so used to the idea that roads must be at least 3 lanes wide, that wider roads are a Good Thing, that we never stop to question these underlying assumptions. But reports by people who actually study these things indicate that cities who were far-sighted enough to remove cars from the pedestal haven’t suffered any of the doomsday consequences that car fans here predict. Quite the opposite, in fact.

One of my implicit assumptions was reversed after coming across this interesting factoid from John Pucher’s report[pdf] on cycling in the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany:

The Netherlands, Denmark and Germany have been among the most successful countries at promoting cycling for daily travel. Since all three countries are quite affluent, their high levels of cycling are not due to an inability to afford more expensive transport modes. Indeed, levels of car ownership in the three countries are among the highest in the world. The case of Germany is particularly noteworthy. Although it has a much higher level of car ownership than the UK, the bike
share of trips in Germany is almost ten times higher in Germany than in the UK. Clearly, high levels of car ownership do not preclude cycling.

So, we can let people attain the “Singaporean Dream” of owning a car while promoting cycling. Quite simply, we have to tax car usage rather than car ownership more heavily, which is why I support ERP.

And high levels of cycling do not preclude economic efficiency, or whatever it is people here always claim we’ll lose by promoting cycling. People always have all sorts of excuses why we cannot be an Amsterdam or a Copenhagen. Fine, perhaps those cities really are too small for comparison (less than a million inhabitants each). But what about Chicago, where I lived and biked happily for three years, where there actually are bike lanes on many major streets, where there are more bike commuters on the coldest day of winter than there are any day here? And Berlin, of which Pucher writes:

In 2004, for example, Berlin (3.4 million inhabitants) had 860 km of completely separate bike paths, 60 km of bike lanes on streets, 50 km of bike lanes on sidewalks, 100 km of mixed-use pedestrian-bike paths and 70 km of combined bus-bike lanes on streets.

Does anyone really want to argue that Berlin and Chicago are examples of how promoting cycling can cause the economic downfall of large cities?

[*]An example is a comment made by “Hun Boon” on a post at Cycling in Singapore:

Until the day roads are widened and cycle paths are built, bicycles will just have to share the space with pedestrians.

“I think it should be every Sunday.”

One Portland resident’s reaction to Portland’s Sunday Parkways event. It looks like a lot of fun.

More on YouTube:

“Everyone who came up to my information table asked: ‘When’s the next one gonna be?'”

It’s only a matter of time.

More Excellent British Marketing

(Previous examples.)

A British postcard:
Enjoy the freedom of a car.

This will happen to Orchard Road one day, too.

It’s only a matter of how long our urban planners want to hide their heads in the sand. From the NYT:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced on Monday that he will create a car-free zone on three Saturdays in August, along a 6.9-mile stretch of streets through Manhattan, from the Brooklyn Bridge, north to Park Avenue and the Upper East Side. Cars, trucks and buses will be banned on the streets along the route from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Aug. 9, 16 and 23. The mayor was careful to describe the initiative, called Summer Streets, as an experiment.

“If it works, we’ll certainly consider doing it again,” Mr. Bloomberg said, at a news conference in the East Village on Lafayette Street, which will be included in the route. “If not, we won’t. But we have never been afraid to try new ideas, especially the ones that have the potential to improve the quality of life.”

The route will run north-south along Centre Street, Lafayette Street, Fourth Avenue and Park Avenue to 72nd Street. The southern half of 72nd Street from Park Avenue to Fifth Avenue will also be shut to vehicles, to link to Central Park.

Mr. Bloomberg and the transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, said the idea was to make the streets a haven for walkers, cyclists and others. Fitness, dance and yoga classes will be held along the route, and there will also be places to rent bicycles.

[…]

While the idea seems novel in New York, it has been tried with success in many other cities, according to Ms. Sadik-Khan, including London, Paris and Bogotá. She said that in Bogotá one of the city’s main streets was closed to motor vehicles every Sunday.

The plan got a mixed reaction on Monday along the route.

“I think it’s a lovely idea,” said Allison Blinken, 65, a retiree who lives on Park Avenue at 66th Street. “Anything that makes the street more pedestrian-friendly.”

[…]

Downtown, however, there was a fair amount of grumbling over the potential impact on business.

“He’s got to be crazy,” Pablo Urema, 49, a worker at a parking lot on Lafayette Street in SoHo, said of the mayor. “We do a lot of business every Saturday morning. No cars for the parking garage means no people for the businesses.”

Tran Harper, 44, the manager of Canal Lafayette Store, which sells Chinese teas and herbal products on Lafayette Street in Chinatown, was also displeased.

“It’s a big problem because my merchandise doesn’t fall from the sky,” Mr. Harper said. “How do I get it here? Saturday is the busiest day. We have a lot of deliveries on Saturday. Also a lot of customers park their cars in front and come in to buy.”

At the news conference Mr. Bloomberg responded with peevishness when asked about the potential for a negative reaction from business owners or residents. “I knew you were going to find something wrong with it,” he said to a reporter.

“Look, there will be minor inconveniences,” he said. “There’s minor inconveniences when it rains, when you have snow, inconveniences when it’s hot, when it’s cold, inconveniences when there are people on the streets, when there’s not.”

But the mayor predicted that most stores would see an increase in business and compared the initiative to his ban on smoking in bars and restaurants, which met with initial resistance but ended up being popular.

When I mention turning Orchard Road into a pedestrian mall to friends, they go ‘but people will need to drive there!’ Counter-intuitively, pedestrian malls actually result in an increase in business for shops in the area, with the exception of bulk-goods businesses (which form a negligible percentage of business in an area like Orchard Road, anyway). This is because people who would normally spend less time in the mall area due to the unpleasant fumes and noise find themselves walking around more in a car-free zone.