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.

1 Response to “Assumptions”


  1. 1 Back2Nature August 5, 2008 at 7:03 am

    Indeed, taking assumptions for granted is a common mistake, not only in solving mathematical problems, but also in tackling real life problems.
    While reading your post, and reflashing those videos clips about cycling lanes, and my short visits to the Nethelands and Berlin, I think in Singapore, there is something being overlooked. Singapore is special also in the way where very few roads allowed cars to be parked along the road side, unlike most other cities that I’ve been to. As such, just designate the left most lane for bicycle on most not too busy roads is a good alternative to building cycling lanes on pedestrian paths. This is similar to Tainan where motorbikes are riden on a separate lane than cars. Another alternative, may also give rights of usage of the left most lane, or the left half of most 2-3 lanes busier roads to cyclists. Only for roads where there is no other alternate or better choice, then should bicycle lanes be considered.


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