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Green Space, Green Transportation

urbanbike.jpgWhy don't people walk or bicycle more often? The benefits of doing so are well-known: improvements in health, lowered stress levels, reduction in pollution, etc.. Some people clearly do, of course; whenever we post articles about green improvements in automobile technology, we're sure to get comments telling readers to just get on a bike. But many people, it seems, have a strong aversion to biking and walking for transportation. Is sprawl the main reason, making it hard to get to work on time (and not looking and smelling like one just completed a leg of the Tour de France)? Is it the weather? Or is there another factor at work?

Epidemiologist Amy Zlot, at the Oregon Department of Human Services, sees a strong correlation between bicycling/walking for transportation and the amount of green space in the urban environment. The amount of green space, in turn, is connected to the relative diversity of the urban environment. The findings were published in the American Journal of Health Promotion.

“In this set of observations, walking and bicycling for transportation was positively associated with parkland acreage,” say Zlot and co-author Tom Schmid, who did the research while employed at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The data did not show a significant relationship between the level of walking or cycling for pleasure and the percentage of urban parks.
The significance of the study, say the authors, is that “the number of route choices a community provides – and mix – the relative percentage of housing, retail, work and recreational opportunities in a community – appear to be important, independent predictors of walking and bicycling.”

Zlot and Schmid suggest that studies like theirs might help in the planning of “livable communities” by multidisciplinary teams of urban planners, architects, transportation experts, developers, policy makers, park administrators and environmentalists.

What's particularly interesting is that the best cities for biking/walking for transportation don't all fall into the category of dense, growth-restricted urban centers, and they certainly don't all fall into the "nice weather" category. Green space does, in fact, seem to be a strong match for bicycling and walking:

The top 10 cities for “utilitarian” walking and bicycling: New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, Portland, Cincinnati and Oakland.

The bottom 10 cities for “utilitarian” walking and bicycling: Memphis, Columbus, Cleveland, Virginia Beach, Milwaukee, St. Louis/Atlanta (tied), San Jose, San Diego and Sacramento.

The top 10 cities for parkland as a percentage of city acreage: San Francisco, Washington, New York, San Diego, Boston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Portland, Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Phoenix-Mesa.

The bottom 10 cities for parkland as a percentage of city acreage: San Jose, Atlanta, New Orleans, Tampa, Miami, Houston, Cleveland, Memphis/Sacramento (tie) and Columbus

San Diego is the odd one out -- lots of parkland (#4 on the list), but a bottom-10 biking city. And where's Seattle? Nonetheless, the results of this study suggests a stealth strategy for bicycle and walking advocates: don't focus on telling people to get out of their cars ("eat your vegetables" scolding doesn't have a great track record), focus instead on getting more park and green space in the cities.

Green it, and they will bike.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Green Space, Green Transportation:

» Green Spaces=Green Transportation from sustainablog
Also from WorldChanging, news of a study that links people's choice to walk or bike to "the amount of green space in an urban environment." Unfortunately, St. Louis is in the bottom tier of cities for "utilitarian" biking and walking. [Read More]

» Riding Bicycles for a better tomorrow from adrianalmquist
One of the best things about kyoto is how easy it is to get around by bicycle. [Read More]

Comments (22)


I used to be a commuter into SF, from Marin (simply LOVE the green space in Marin County). I really got tired of the commute (I had a commute of 1 hour 10 minutes each way), and went ahead and moved into the city proper.

I'm one of those walkers now. I walk into work (30 minutes) and run back - using a different, more circular route - to my home.

It's actually a wonderful thing - from south of market, through the financial district, to the Embacadero (where i can see the ocean). Then, depending on the length I go that day, Broadway through North Beach, or down through Fisherman's Wharf.

In what other 30 minute span, can you be starting out in a geek world, then dodging bankers and insurance people in suits, then out at the ocean, then running through the triple x clubs, then chinatown, then up the hills, to then gaze down north, east and west, and see the panaorama of the bay laid out before you?

Once again, a great topic for discussion, Jamais.

Any time someone throws out the bike panacea, I think of my late grandmother (who lived to be 96), my sister living outside of the interstate loop, and my relatively well-to-do mother who has never ridden a public transit bus in her lifetime nor have I ever seen on a bicycle.

In my Grandma's case, bicycling would have been a ludicrous proposition - she had a hard enough time just walking down a hallway, let alone getting on a bicycle in February in Minnesota.

As for my sister, there's plenty of green space where she is, but not a sidewalk in sight. Plus, even though a place like a grocery store is within a mile of her house, the only way there is a 45-50 MPH road with no sidewalk or any shoulder to speak of. And she's got two kids to tote around with her to boot.

As for my mother, she lives in places with wide plenty of green space as well, but there simply aren't any commercial facilities within a reasonable distance and she has nice, spendy cars in which she can go to such places in climate-controlled comfort. I also expect that biking is going to be less possible as her bones get more brittle in the next few years.

A study like this may be making the mistake of confusing correlation with causation. Take the top 3 cities in terms of parkland relative to overall acreage. In New York's and San Francisco's cases, you have one huge, major park in the city, with very little parkspace elsewhere. Same for DC, except it's almost all certainly National Park land like The Mall etc.

San Diego has lots of parkland because it's a very hilly city that also has lots of beaches. I used to bike up through Torrey Pines State Park from Del Mar to get to school, but I faced about a 400 foot climb which was extremely steep. The other option was going up the shoulder of a 50 mph road with a more steady gradient. So, even though the climate is ideal and the gross acreage of parks is relatively high, the terrain and route limitations inhibit biking - especially utilitarian bicycling.

If you put out that top 10 list for utilitarian walking and bicycling, without telling people what the ranking was, most would probably say "The Top 10 Most Liberal Cities in America" (with the exception of Cincinnati). Or they might say "The Top 10 Densest Cities in America" (with the exceptions of the Twin Cities and possibly Cincinnati and Oakland). So walking and bicycling tendencies may have more to do with political leanings or density than with climate, terrain, or green space.

I also wonder about the quality of the data the researcher is using, since there's almost no one biking in the Twin Cities from November to March, and if walking is relatively high, I'd attribute it more to people going through the 2nd floor skyways than moving about on the street in the winter. To even entertain that bicycling and walking are reasonable solutions in this climate (year round) is just a complete disconnect from reality. This is a place without emissions requirements for vehicles and one in which people leave their cars idling for hours on end for heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer.

Seattle probably doesn't show up on the list partly because of the same terrain issues as San Diego and the ongoing drizzle from Halloween to July 4.

Just some possible explanations.

Justus Stewart:

Thanks for the topic.

The main component I see missing from this analysis is other traffic. One of the main reasons people who could commute by walking or biking choose not to is that they are competing with the danger, the stink and the noise of cars. As Mr. Willemssen pointed out, this is especially problematic in places where the overwhelming design preference given to cars precludes biking or walking altogether (high speeds and no curbs or traffic barriers).

In Seattle, where I live, there is a dedicated non-motor trail that runs through several neighborhoods North of downtown, and it gets heavy use, even in the Winter. I would argue that greening the city through generalized park space will make far less difference than providing green space specifically designed for biking and walking. These options deserve their own corridors, just like cars have, but of course nicer. Consider that people will drive to the park so they can walk around in it, and it's pretty clear what environments people want to spend their time in.
While I agree that climate doesn't have much influence (REI does a booming business here in rain jackets), it seems clear to me that density must play a role, especially for walking. All of the top 10 cities do indeed have dense centers.

An aside to Mr. Willemssen: as one of those who supports "the bike panacea", please believe no one is asking your grandparents to bike to the grocery store. We just want you to bike to the grocery store (assuming you can) while you can, instead of driving. The rest of your examples are all design problems, not bicycle problems.


I dont ride a bike because I LOATH bikes. As a 6 foot tall man with a 25 inch inseem bikes are NOT my cup of tea. Add to this the fact I am as agile as a lead brick on valium and things get rather bad.

Im far from alone in my massive antibikedness.

I do however enjoy walking alot.

The problem is alot of places if you walk or bike someone will shoot you. If it isnt the weather its the people that will get you.

Justus, I agree that dedicated bikeways like the Burke Gilman facilitate more utilitarian use of bikes. It's not just dedication, though, but interlinking the trails which provides for the easiest, most pleasant, and safest use. It's a slow process making things that way. You can do a rails-to-trails conversion of the Burke Gilman, but as soon as it comes into an industrial corridor in Fremont, then you get into issues of right-of-way etc. Then, how does that connect to downtown from there - via Westlake? Yikes.

We have the same issue near my home in St. Paul. I've got plenty of bike trails around my home, but they often terminate before getting anywhere useful, and are essentially impassable 4-5 months out of the year - especially the paths going east-west with lots of tree cover. Getting to the nearest grocery store which sells organic produce involves at least 8-10 miles of travel one way, up and down some pretty steep hills, and across several major highways, etc. Throw in a maze of icy streets, sidewalks, and paths and subzero temperatures and the limited carrying capacity of a bicycle, and using my bike for grocery shopping simply isn't practical, despite the fact that I bike all year round, am in excellent physical condition, and have a sufficiently flexible work schedule as to be able to make day trips via bicycle. Then there's the whole issue of my produce and liquids freezing solid on the way back from the store and it just wouldn't work.

Now considering that I live in a major city (not a suburb), have a high degree of commitment to sustainability in my personal life, and have the physical capability to do such a trip, it still doesn't work for me. And if it doesn't work for me, it surely doesn't work for 99%+ of the people in this metro area.

This doesn't even address the issue of the economics of it. As I own a car, I have fixed costs associated with owning it. And since it's an old car, that's primarily insurance. For newer cars, that would also include depreciation, and for denser areas (like downtown St. Paul) would also include parking costs. So every time I take a bike trip or bus trip, not only do I need to spend money doing it (wear and tear on the bike and fares for the bus), but I also spend more time and effort, which is an opportunity cost of my own time. And the more money my time is worth, the more expensive that extra time is. Then, to top it off, I'm still paying the fixed costs of my automobile regardless.

In Seattle, you're lucky to have a company like Flexcar providing an option that essentially solves the dilemma of fixed automobile costs while still having a decent degree of ability for spontaneous/flexible automobile use. But in this area, we are only now seeing such a service being offered and only on a very limited initial scale.

It's easy to fall into the trap of projecting our own situation onto others, and the reality is that a core-periphery neighborhood in Seattle is a rare environment in the United States -- relatively dense, with lots of useful, essential services nearby, and decent (but not great) public transportation and carsharing. And despite that, Seattle still has some of the worst auto congestion in the nation and pretty unimpressive degrees of bicycle use and walking (especially as you get out beyond the UDistrict, Wallingford, Ballard, Capitol Hill, and south and west of downtown).

With respect to design problems versus bicycle problems, a bicycle isn't a perfect substitute for an automobile - not by a long shot. One requires physical effort, the other very little. One requires wearing certain types of clothes and often getting sweaty, the other doesn't. One has practical distance-covering limits, the other doesn't. They have substantial differences in carrying capacity - first with cargo, but also people. And until the day that they don't share the same space as automobiles, it is factors more dangerous to ride a bicycle than to ride in a car, mile for mile and task for task.

I bicycle every single day that I can, and walk every day as well, but I don't have any illusions that as long as cars predominate and things are laid out in the way they are, walking, and especially biking, simply will not make a dent in automobile dependence. And even then, bikes will still only provide a niche role in society at best.

Emily Gertz:

I'd be really interested to see this study expanded to account for more factors that contribute to the levels of bicycling and walking. Looking at that list of the top cities, I believe they all have have something else in common that is probably at least as significant: good mass transit systems that get you reasonably close to your final destination, making walking or cycling closer to where you're aiming for that much more attractive and realistic.

By the way, Joseph, New York's case is not one huge park in the "center" and not much else. The borough with the most parkland is actually the Bronx. Flushing Meadows in Queens is half again as big as Central Park; Brooklyn's Prospect Park is about 2/3 the size of Central Park...etc. I think an important facet here, and in other cities, is that there are lots of "centers," and that in turn makes it realistic to bike or walk to do your errands super-locally.

In New York, and I imagine in other cities as well, a big factor in amount and quality of of green space is class. Less affluent neighborhoods have more poorly maintained parks with fewer amentities, and are less likely to see redevelopment dollars.

Justus Stewart:

Joseph, thank you for your comments. Please don't think I'm trying to say that we are ready for the sudden removal of cars from our streets or anything like that; of course creating a car-independent city would be (will be?) a massive and long-term undertaking. (Maybe it will never happen.) But as cars become less practical, we will find new solutions, so now is a good time to start, right?

You are absolutely right that trails must be connected, as streets are now, and they serve much better when connected to transit, as Emily said.
I am at a disadvantage, as you know Seattle well, and I know St. Paul not at all, but you are also right that in places that experience real winters, bicycles are useless - but transit is not.

As for some of the other objections: (I am going for brief, not glib)
Biking is hard work - we have an obese population.
Bikes have no carrying capacity - there are carts and burleys, and many people are only drivng themselves (most commutes are single occupant, no luggage)
Cars are dangerous - this is why they should be kept seperate as much as possible.
In addition, cars isolate people, while bikes and especially walking bring people face to face within neighborhoods. (Assuming they live in neighborhoods.)

I think we are basically in agreement. Right now, cars are the most practical way to get around. But that is not an accident, things were designed with cars in mind - they could be redesigned. And cars cost more than they benefit. As you say, even in Seattle, where public will for environmental issues is strong, we have terrible traffic. In fact, all cities have terrible traffic - it's one of the things that makes alternative methods attractive. I would rather create transit than fix traffic.

The idea, after all, is not to substitute bikes for cars, but to design for non-car mobility. I am not advocating making life difficult, but cars - at least as they operate now - have got to go.

By the way, Joseph, New York's case is not one huge park in the "center" and not much else. The borough with the most parkland is actually the Bronx. Flushing Meadows in Queens is half again as big as Central Park; Brooklyn's Prospect Park is about 2/3 the size of Central Park...etc.

I was referring to Manhattan. I assume from these studies that they must be dealing with a limited subsegment of the metro area, since in the case of the Twin Cities, as soon as you get beyond a few select areas and pathways, you will rarely see a cyclist or a pedestrian.

What I was trying to convey was a comparison of centralized versus dispersed green space in the urban core. The point is that a random street in Minneapolis or St. Paul is far more likely to be greener than a random street in San Francisco, New York, or DC.

It wasn't meant to be taken literally (eg, the Presidio is probably larger than Golden Gate Park, but it wasn't necessarily originally designed as a public park).

Justus, I'm on the same page as you with respect to the necessity to create spaces which lessen the car's impact over time and make things more walkable and friendly to other forms of non-polluting motion. But what I'm trying to emphasize is that there's a disconnect between the "it's good for you" etc arguments about bicycles and the reality that most people live in.

The basic fact is that bicycles, walking, and transit, outside of a few select areas in the United States, account for 3% or less of all trips. And this number has been fairly steady over many decades - especially with transit.

Now of course one can point to all the factors which create a car-centric design to most things, but you have to acknowledge that it provides superior utility in many ways - from speed, to carrying capacity, to protection from the elements, to minimized physical exertion, etc. I lived without a car for 6 years, so I know what I'm talking about. It may be "romantic", for example, to take a woman on a date via transit when you're in your scrappy 20s, but that just doesn't cut it as you get older. And you're certainbly not going to bike to a fine restaurant and theater.

Transit is indeed useless in many cases. It's about 12 or 13 miles to downtown Minneapolis from our home, but a bus commute takes about an hour one way under ideal conditions. A car commute almost never takes longer than that, and I can usually cover that distance in 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the time of day. Transit works best with direct express routes, but it's a joke if you need to make transfers and/or service is infrequent.

I used to live out in Sand Point during the years I didn't have a car (or a bike for that matter) and lived at the end of a bus line and a block off of the Burke Gilman. I can't tell you how many times I got to the bus stop just to see the bus pulling away, leaving me to wait at least 29 more minutes. Part of that is my fault with cutting it close, but Seattle bus drivers (at least at that time) have a "flexible" way of dealing with time and don't really adhere to the schedule in many places.

I also remember an articulated bus plunging off of the Aurora bridge because some whackjob attacked the driver. And I can also vividly remember a kid smoking and spitting on a ride from Capitol Hill to the UDistrict, and when I politely asked him to quit, he threatened my girlfriend and I, at which point I informed the bus driver of what was going on. The bus driver then stopped and tossed the kid off the bus, but before he exited, he took a swing at me and just missed hitting me in the head.

There comes a point when you tell yourself that this isn't the way to treat yourself. There's very little dignity in it and it's full of all kinds of pure garbage. And this is pretty much how public transit works in this country, with the exception of commuter and/or express lines in major cities for the 9 to 5 crowd. Outside of that, it's essentially a form of transportation welfare and a general free-for-all and almost no one aspires to be on the bus.

This isn't to say that driving isn't full of ridiculous behavior and frustrations, either, but people choose it for a reason -- it's the best solution for them for many problems. And until you can make an alternative that is as fast, as flexible, as safe, as comfortable, as effortless, and as affordable as cars are for most people, then nothing else is really going to get much traction.

And cars cost more than they benefit.

Societally, possibly, but at the level of the individual, people seem to think the costs reflect the benefits they get, otherwise they'd choose something else.

I'm not trying to be a naysayer about non-car transportation, or some booster for automobiles, but rather I believe we need to be honest about why things are as they are and why people act as they do. If we just choose to judge people as fat, stupid, lazy, greedy, etc, then we not only alienate ourselves from our fellow citizens, we also lose insight into understanding why things are as they are.

John Baxter:

This post has generated a very stimulating discussion.

I am a daily bicycle commuter in the Pacific Northwest and I love it. But I live in a small town (Ashland, OR) with a progressive planning agenda that has provided moderately well for cyclists and pedestrians. I also live only about 2 miles from work, and can cycle 2/3 of that distance on a dedicated bike path the routes through the center of town. I've also cycled extensively in Europe and have had the opportunity to observe truly bicycle (and pedestrian) friendly cities. So I largely agree that infrastructure that actually invites people out of their cars is key to promoting a less auto-centric society, but as some of the comments above describe, it ain't that simple.

Some random reactions to the thoughtful points raised by other posts:

Most of our cities and towns are designed primarily around one central agenda: the efficient and speedy routing of single-occupant automobiles. This design imperative means that many stores, hospitals, and other vital centers are most safely accessed via cars, and that huge chunks of our cityscapes are hostile unless you experience them from behind a windshield. The very design of our buildings often makes getting to them on foot daunting because they're set behind acres of parking lots, and the locations of their entrances are ambiguous unless you drive up to them. Designing more walkable, bikeable urban environments will require a sea change, not just in planning but in building as well.

We are also, however, a sedentary society. At least one recent study has concluded that the single most reliable predictor of obesity is not diet, not exercise, but actually the number of miles a person drives. So the overall health of our population would improve were we to get people out of their cars. But even if we provide infrastructure that invites walking and biking (skating, etc.), transforming a largely (pun intended) sedentary population into an active one is no easy task. When one is sedentary, the human body prefers to remain so. Moving to a more active way of life requires some pain, which most of us would prefer to avoid. This is one of the major reasons, I think, that more people don't ride bikes.

Joseph Willemson writes above that "It may be 'romantic,' for example, to take a woman on a date via transit when you're in your scrappy 20s, but that just doesn't cut it as you get older. And you're certainbly not going to bike to a fine restaurant and theater." Well, Joseph, I do. And millions of Europeans do it all the time. But remember, I've got that nice bike path, and so do they.

Nonetheless, I think Joseph has touched on another major issue: our culture. For three generations now, we've been subjected to a multi-trillion dollar advertising and cultural indoctrination campaign on the part of auto, tire and oil companies that equates the single-occupant automobile with all that is modern, advanced (all those backword third world people ride, eeewwwww, bicycles!), sexy (of course), and accomplished. We have an intricate cultural taxonomy that allows us to accurately portray a stranger based on the car he or she drives, or that leads us to conclude that it is not appropriate to go to a fine restaurant or the theatre by any method other than an expensive car. It is trite but true that one of the few ceremonies we use to mark a person's passage to adulthood is getting a driver's license. "Your car payment is $350/month. You are now a man."

All of these factors reinforce each other, and the intertia they produce is a very effective deterrent to change. But that doesn't mean change isn't needed, or possible. It can start by riding your bike, or taking a walk.

I've been a recreational cyclist, but don't usually ride for errands unless I'm in holiday or retirement mode (I'm semi-retired).

The two main disincentives are time and safety. I need time to get there, and to be able to chart a path that won't kill me. We have some pretty good bike trails and bike lanes around here, but the gaps are sometimes scary.

Oh, and should we admit that riding a bike can make you look poor or even homeless? In some areas that I ride, statisticlly most bike-riders are.

Tom Volckhausen:

As an everyday bike rider, I find comments about biking's "danger" somewhat humourous.
Every year over 1 million people in the US die from cardiovascular problems, meanwhile around 600 people die each year in bike accidents. Trip per trip biking is about as safe as car driving. Cars are safer "per mile traveled" but the automobile lifestyle includes so many more miles that it ends up even.
Studies I googled up showed that the reduced cardiovascular risk from cycling was around 20 times greater than any increased accident risk (measured in units of life expectancy).
Certainly urban infrastructure faces an "either/or" design choice. Basically, everything done to improve the motorist mode degrades the pedestrian and bicycle modes (and vice-versa). Parking lots and additional travel lanes become ugly barriers which disperse retail, housing, and other uses to impractical distances for non-auto modes.
Living in Boulder Colorado with about a 12% bicycle mode share, I can see the impact of the infrastructure choices which Boulder has made (beautiful interconnected bike paths/lanes often in greenspace). Similarly, I can see the consequences in travel mode choices resulting from the (non)urban design of neighboring communities.
Comments about the "impossibility" of non-auto travel for "most people" also strike me as funny. Most of the world lives without a personal car somehow. The elderly grandmother in the earlier comment could easily ride in a bike powered pedicab. If she lived in Dakka a rickshaw would likely be her normal travel mode.
Harper's magazine on its' statistics page claimed that Toyota alone had an annual advertising budget larger than the total annual operating expenses for US mass transit. I have not checked the numbers, but it is impossible to turn on a TV without seeing several car ads so it sounded believeable.
The massive investment in advertising has certainly shaped people's perception of what is "possible" and "practical".

Tom Volckhausen:

Wanted to comment on an earlier comment"I am at a disadvantage, as you know Seattle well, and I know St. Paul not at all, but you are also right that in places that experience real winters, bicycles are useless - but transit is not. "
Actually, plenty of places with real winters find bikes much better than useless. I rode my bike to work today in a Colorado winter as do many people.Bike paths can be plowed just like streets. For many years Beijing and other Chinese cities had very high bike mode shares despite harsh winters. I agree that in current US culture/infrastructure the "ice-biker" is a rarity, but check out http://icebike.org/Default.htm to see that at least some people defy the dominant paradigm.

Thanks for all the responses.

I think there's a lot of confusion between what's possible and what's practical. I, too, bike in the ice and snow. But I also take about 3-4 hard falls every winter.

When it's 20 below zero with a brisk wind, it is simply dangerous to be outside exposed to the elements. And I'd really like to know how I am supposed to go visit my sister and her family on the other side of the metro area (about 30-35 miles away) without basically devoting a good chunk of the day simply getting there and back. Again, I must emphasize that I am ideologically inclined to support the efficiency of cycles and physically fit. If it's beyond the realm of normal practicality for me, then it's in the realm of practical impossibility for pretty much everyone else.

All the cheerleading for how wonderful bikes are doesn't change their limited range, exposure to the elements, limited carrying capacity, effort, and vulnerabilities to automobiles and trucks. And because of that, they will always be a very limited part of mobility in this country.

Tom Volckhausen:

I would agree that in our current US culture and infrastructure bikes will only form a limited part of our transportation system. However, I would be very careful with the "always" word.
When my father was born in 1911 there were no cars in NYC.
How accurate would an "always" from 1911 have been? I do not believe our predictive abilities have improved.
Cities in Europe with very similar climate and culture have bike mode shares ranging above 30%.
What would have to change for similar numbers in the US?

Justus Stewart:

Thank you, everyone, for your comments, this has been a thought-provoking discussion for me. Some final thoughts in no partucular order:

"there's a disconnect between the "it's good for you" etc arguments about bicycles and the reality that most people live in."

The basis for my whole argument is simply that we need to change the reality 'most people' (really most North Americans) live in.

"Transit is indeed useless in many cases."

Like when it's unreliable, inefficient, etc. Sure, but that's not an argument against transit, just against bad design.

"...until you can make an alternative that is as fast, as flexible, as safe, as comfortable, as effortless, and as affordable as cars are for most people, then nothing else is really going to get much traction."


"...millions of Europeans do it all the time."
- and -
"Most of the world lives without a personal car somehow."

Yes, most of China (for now), India, lots of SE Asia, many places in Africa...
The bicycle is, in my opinion, one of the best transportation designs ever, this is one area where we should be striving to imitate the world, not convincing the world to imitate us.

As to the issues of status, advertising, etc. look at this essay (if you haven't already) by Alex Steffen on reframing (re: George Lakoff).


"Oh, and should we admit that riding a bike can make you look poor or even homeless? In some areas that I ride, statisticlly most bike-riders are."

Again, see the link above. You want to see wealthy, high-status businessmen riding bikes? Come to Seattle.

On the issue of danger, I am not talking statistics. Riding in traffic is not enjoyable, it is an exercise in stress. You do not have to die to have bad day riding in traffic - I have been cut off and taken a bad spill. Seperating the two eliminates this problem.

Finally, time. Without other complications, time and space (being the same thing) correlate - farther is longer. But in fact, traffic can be so bad that biking is faster, or transit. But at the end of the day, more time may simply have to be given over to getting from here to there. This is bad when you're in a hurry, and we are often in a hurry these days. In a city with more biking, more bike paths, more pedestrian commuters, maybe we will just be in a little less of a hurry. I know it's a lot to hope for, but it's worth working toward.


Bike riding is dangerous for ME. Its a simple fact that given my level in kluztness and my general gracefulness of your average dead tree frog im a menance on a bike. The average maerican if they rode a bike would kill 3-4 people including themsevles before they got to the store;/


Winterman wrote:

--The average American if they rode a bike would kill 3-4 people includign themselves before they got to the store.

Yes, much better to put klutzs behind the wheel of 2 tons of steel and gasoline ;)


99% of humans give the rest a bad name.

Turil Cronburg:

As a former professional bicycle transportation advocate, I'd like to offer a few observations from the "inside":

While greenspace is helpful, the absolute most important element in increasing safe bicycle use is bicycle driver education. When bicyclists understand the laws (most states don't differentiate between cars and bikes on the roads), and know how to safely and predictably operate their vehicles, they will feel comfortable and safe riding on the streets with other traffic.

Obviously, other vehicle operators need to be respectful of bicyclists, too. So education about bicycling is important for non-bicyclists as well. (A few states even include bicycling questions on the car driver's license test.) And police enforcement that doesn't descriminate against cyclists is obviously a necessity!

Bike lanes and paths are not necessary for good bicycling. And surprisingly, such segregated facilities have not been shown to be any safer than a shared road. Where they are properly done and appropriate, they can be ok, but when planners install substandard bike facilities, things can get ugly for bicyclists. (In busy urban areas, bike lanes usually cause more problems than they solve. In rural, or quiet suburban areas they may be useful.)

Society cultivates a "Bicyclist Inferiority Complex" that resonates all the way through our lives. Only when VIPs - movie stars, politicians, police, etc. - start using bikes as their normal form of transportation, will it lose it's stigma.

There needs to be far more variety and practicality in human powered vehicle design for cycling to become common. Trikes, trail-a-bikes, recumbents, trailers, and quads are a good start, but there still is a lot of room for diversity.

Convenient, safe, covered parking is another key element in encouraging people to bike. A bike rack covered in snow is essentially useless.

Cold-weather biking is no less practical than cold-weather walking, skiing, or iceskating. Trikes and studded tires make winter riding easy and safe. And "Outdoor Adventure" stores have everything you need to stay warm and dry even on a 20 mile commute.

Oh, and don't forget that bicycles, yes, bikes, are the #1 most efficient vehicle invented by humans!

As for promoting more walking? That's easy! Mixed use zoning, and laws/policies that give pedestrians the right of way, are pretty much all you need.

If only... If only...


A few disjointed comments --

I bicycle to work and to run errands just about every day, in New York City (mostly, in the denser urban parts). Although I regard it as the best way for me to get around, I don't recommend it generally because most people are simply not up to it. There are several important downsides: the terror and danger offered by cars, trucks, and busses; the poor condition of the pavement (this is a New York special), and the difficulties of dealing with the weather and road dirt are at the top of the list. Also, one must be in pretty good physical condition, which most people are not (although they could be, and riding would help).

Another important problem is distance. New York is dense; you can ride the length of Manhattan, with all that it offers, in a little over an hour. I have also ridden a bicycle for transportation in South Florida, and after riding for an hour I was pretty much nowhere. At the same time, the terror, dirt, and heat were more severe than New York's. Parks and mixed use will not solve this problem; you have to be able to get where you are going. If you choose to live in an area where things are spread out, you choose the automobile.

Much of the article and discussion appear to assume that bicycles and pedestrians are in one cooperative set. Actually, pedestrians compete with bicyclists for right-of-way space and often pretty effectively block bicycle paths. They seem especially attractive to people pushing baby carriages. In such cases one makes better progress going into the street and fighting it out with the automobiles. Planning which assumes otherwise is not likely to succeed.

Some people in the discussion have suggested that certain kinds of education need to be imparted to various parties -- cyclists or drivers. However, the central problem with many drivers (and pedestrians) is that they are running on autopilot and are oblivious of their surroundings. One sees less of this in bicyclists because an oblivious bicyclist in urban traffic is rather quickly eliminated. I don't think much can be done about this because so many aspects of people's lives are deliberately arranged to generate a hypnotic state, from television and advertising to architecture and urban design.

One writer suggested that higher status needs to be accorded to bicycling, and that this could be accomplished by the use of them by the more prestigious members of the community (i.e. the rich and famous). This reflects an important use of the automobile, the display of status and group identity. While a person can also buy a very expensive bicycle, it is not apparent that the bicycle is expensive from a distance and in any case only a small minority are aware of the cost of bicycles. Moreoever, some social status is coded in the form of physical threat -- hence, the SUV. There is no way to make a bicycle threatening. So, even though it may be possible to get Britney Spears or George W. Bush on a bicycle, I doubt if this will enhance their social status very much -- instead, it would be regarded as one of the quirks of the well-off.


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