Taking Back the Streets one Bicycle at a Time

© Andy Singer

© Andy Singer

In Detroit, there are cars. And then there is something known as “non-motorized transportation.”

That means bicycles, y’all.

Believe it or not, people in the Car Capital of the World love their bikes. And there is a huge movement to create a culture here that is friendlier to two wheels than four.

One such project would develop about 400 miles of bicycle lanes throughout Detroit. All it would take is some paint, new signs and a little cash, said Scott Clein, who heads the Detroit office of Giffels-Webster Engineers.

The firm, along with other key partners, mapped out every one of those miles with the city’s cooperation and a Michigan Department of Transportation grant. Clein and a support staff spent 18 months on the project, studying Detroit and trying to connect its waterways, landmarks and neighborhoods.

These paths have the potential to draw the creative class – artists, singletons and young couples – to the city, Clein said. It also might improve our collective health (Detroit typically ranks as the Top 1or 2 on obesity lists).

“Bikes are all about freedom. It’s about access. And that’s what makes a city great,” Clein said.

Detroit has the room for cyclists, Clein argues. Its major roads, like Michigan Avenue, have a stunning nine lanes. That is because the city once had cable cars and modes of transportation that needed space. Plus, Detroit used to have more than 2 million residents filling its 140 square miles.

Today, the population is around 900,000. Traffic is minimal on some roadways. And there is a growing number of people across Detroit that want places to walk, bike, skate and blade across.

Plus, if Detroit wants to become the next Portland, it needs to be more feet friendly, Clein said.

The city adopted the NonMotoroized Master Plan a year ago. But putting it into effect takes money, something the city cannot spare.

There is hope at the grassroots level. Over the past weekend, an estimated 2,000 cyclists came to the city for the 8th annual Tour De Troit – nearly double the number that showed up last year. Its goal is in part is to raise funds for the Corktown-Mexicantown Greenlink, which could link these key communities to the Detroit riverfront.

One great example already exists. The Dequindre Cut Greenway, an urban recreational path, officially opened in May. The 1.2-mile greenway, developed through a public, nonprofit and private partnership, offers a pedestrian link between the Riverfront, Eastern Market and many of the adjacent residential neighborhoods. Formerly a Grand Truck Railroad line, the Dequindre Cut is a below-street level path that features a 20-foot-wide paved pathway, which includes separate lanes for pedestrian and bicycle or rollerblading traffic.

I’m convinced the bike paths will happen. But if you’re on the fence, consider this: Each year, Metro Detroit’s commuters spend more than 50 hours sitting in traffic, wasting 34 gallons of gasoline per person.

Time to strap on a helmet and ride.

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Pedal Power: Documentary on Bike Culture

Igor Kenk's former bike shop in Toronto © Christopher Dew/Cogent/Benger Productions

Igor Kenk's former bike shop in Toronto © Christopher Dew/Cogent/Benger Productions

The bicycle, a humble nineteenth century invention, is challenging the fossil-fuel automobile as the conveyance of the future. It’s the ideal city machine, light, portable, and cheap. Non-polluting. Good exercise too. Urban dwellers around the world are turning to bikes as the car turns them off. But with bicycles coming of age as a serious mode of transportation there are a few problems. Bicycles and automobiles have to share the same roads, a recipe for conflict, and many potential cyclists just won’t ride in the city because they see it as too dangerous. Add in the plague of bike theft and a lot of cyclists are simply leaving their bikes at home.

The film wraps around the story of Igor Kenk, a man variously described as the Greatest Bike Thief in the World, The Fagin of Queen Street, or the cyclists’ Robin Hood. His well-publicized bust in Toronto pushed bike theft onto the front pages of newspapers across the country and around the world. Toronto, meanwhile, is grappling with whether to really embrace bike culture. What does it take to be truly bike-friendly like Amsterdam, Paris, or even New York City? A series of character mini-narratives propel the film through a study of what makes a city “bikeable”.

The film is to be aired on Thursday, September 24 on the CBC (Canadian channel) at 8 pm. It will be available for streaming on the CBC website – see “Doc Zone” page: http://www.cbc.ca/documentaries/doczone/2009/pedalpower/

Source: http://www.cogentbenger.com/

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57 Short Films About Bicycles

Fifty-seven microdocumentaries shot of or from bicycles on location in Seattle, Amsterdam, and Prague, including footage from various Critical Mass rides.


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Still a long way to go in Buenos Aires

In my last post I tried to reflect my views as a bike commuter here in Buenos Aires. I made just a brief comment on public transport but in this post I’d like to picture the scene in a broader way.

Biking is relatively comfortable and safe in Moreno, my hometown. The situation changes if you want to cycle beyond Moreno: on working days and especially at rush hours, travelling on the train with your bikes is almost a torture as companies seem unable to realise the one and only carriage they provide for bike commuters is not enough. Yes, they only provide one carriage for bike commuters. I don’t use the train to go to work because I work in the suburbs of my hometown but lots of people do use the train to commute and it’s chaotic. Below I’ll show you a shot of a carriage for bike commuters.

The picture shown is a carriage meant for bikes in my train line. Believe it or not, this carriage is packed with bike commuters during working days. I’d like this railway company to do something for us. We need it..

Cycling in Buenos Aires

Keep on cycling! © Alex Berry

Keep on cycling! © Alex Berry

Hi friends from World Car Free,

I’m Walter, a bike commuter from Buenos Aires in Argentina. This is my first post and to be honest, I feel delighted to be able to contribute to the blog giving you my views.

How does it feel to be a bike commuter in Argentina? Feels good but the trend has not already already spread massively. I work as a teacher, leaving home at 7 and still you can see lots of bike commuters using their bikes to make it to work. In my case, I started cycling seriously early this year. Reasons? Mainly two: as I was leading a sedentary life (as many of us do in this fast society) i thought biking could make it up. As a matter of fact, after 9 months as a bike commuter I have to say the aim has been accomplished: I’ve lost 7 kilos and what’s better, just for free. The other point to consider is transport dependency: I felt a bit uneasy depending on transport timetables. So, once day I said, no more buses nor minivans. I’d rather cycle instead.

Sometimes you need a bit of enthusiasm and encouragement, especially at first. I remember that in my case it was hard indeed. During the first two weeks of my trips were a real nightmare. I felt worn-out day after day for four or five days. Then my body got used to it and here I’m.. ready to go. In my next posts I’ll share some of my views after the hard winter we have battled here in Buenos Aires.

Keep on cycling!

Walter from Argentina

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Space Bikes

Maybe some of you heard about the Walkmobile from the Professor Hermann Knoflacher.

The Walkmobile was invented in the 70’s as a smart way to address the issue of public space usage. It is a simple frame made from light wood which, when whorn, occupies the same amount of space as the average car. It exposes that behind the metal and glass of a car is a human being – while it is a direct criticism on how our systeme allocates so much land for just one person.  Several actions have been organised in Austria, featuring walkmobiles, with people parking and walking on the road.

This concept has been used by several collectives, inspiring new creations like the “manif spaciale” – developed by the Montreal group Le Monde a Bicyclette (the world by bicycle). It is simply a group of cyclists riding around downtown with giant “space frames” attached to their bikes, making them take up the same amount of space as a car.

The idea is inspiring and here is the draft version of a space bike from Roanoke, USA. The final version will have balloons, graphics etc on it, for fun and to increase visibility of the frame. A workshop was organised to help people to make their bike frame in preparation of a ride Friday.

For more information about the event in Roanoke, please visit: http://carlessbrit.tumblr.com/tagged/space_frame

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Naked by bike in brussels – Cyclonudista 2009

Every year a “World Naked Bike Ride” or Cyclonudista is held in different cities all over the world to show the fragility of cyclists in traffic and ask more (political) attention for cycling as a sustainable way of transport in cities.

In Brussels it was a sunny day, which resulted in many naked cyclists, taking most people in town by surprise, creating mixed reactions and lots of photo and video attention. See our video:

Dutch/French with English subtitles.
Filmed in Brussels on Saturday 27 June 2009.
Camera and editing by Bas Ruyters.

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Free Transportation Program

I work for a company that has more than a thousand employees. Approximately eight hundred of them are located in two buildings in the same neighbourhood only half a mile away from each other, and both really close to a bike path.

In 2007, when I noticed that more and more of my work colleagues were interested in my commuting choice, I decided I should do something to encourage more people to bike to work.

CELEPAR bike commuters

CELEPAR bike commuters

The project started when I joined the company’s CIPA (an internal comity responsible for employee’s health and safety, compulsory to every Brasilian company). We were able to use the intranet and corporate email to help us develop educational campaigns, organise visits to different departments, and distribute flyers.  It was the first phase of the project called Survey.

Before carrying out any effective measure toward cycle mobility in the company, we designed a questionnaire to evaluate the feasibility for the company and whether or not there were people interested in it. It contained a set of closed-ended questions (e.g.: commuting distance, travelling time and costs) and open-ended questions (e.g.: pros and cons for biking, street safety). We also recorded some video interviews where the employees could speak more freely and we could gather some suggestions and critics.

All this process took almost six months. The results were promising and we were anxious to start the second phase.

Most employees support cyclists

Most employees support cyclists

From the collected data, it was possible to acknowledge that the majority of the employees supported the project, even those who said that would continue to use their car. However, bike commuting wasn’t an appropriate choice for all those who were interested. During this phase we determined our target group and developed some strategies to encourage a more efficient use of the bicycle. It was time to ride.

Almost one year later the program was launched. Besides the employees who spontaneously began to use the bike during the first two phases, it was time to get people to ride.

We organised bike tours with groups of more than 30 people among employees and relatives. The route was made exclusively by bicycle. It was an excellent opportunity to enforce bicycle as a valid means of transportation and address legal issues, basic bike fitting, and riding techniques.

We also started a “Ride Buddy/Mentor” program (similar to CommuteOrlando) helping people to choose the best route, fitting their bike and riding with a mentor for novice cyclists.

Although our study indicated that the company staff supported this mobility program, there was no incentive to maintain and expand the program from the board of directors.

Even so, there are new employees adopting the bicycle. On sunny days, more than 15 bicycles can be seen leaned against the company garage’s wall. And they aren’t always the same ones. It is good to see more and more bicycles than the measly two or three bikes parked there before the program.

The importance of the program has been recognised outside the company. Last year it was accepted in the Towards Carfree Cities Conference in Portland, USA. Unfortunately we couldn’t make it. And this year, it will be presented at the 17th National Congress of Transit and Transportation (CNTT-ANTP) held in September here in Curitiba, Brazil.

I’d like to give a special thanks to Ulrich Jager, a mobility consultant from L & J Mobility who strongly supported our project since the very beginning.

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Bicycle Rickshaw at the Bus Terminal

Last year my cousin came to visit us from Brazil’s capital – the real one, Brasilia, the Federal Capital (and also the one that recently took the title of “most motorized city in Brazil” from Curitiba).

He told me beforehand that he was coming by bus on a weekday afternoon and that he would only spend one day here as he was on transit to Buenos Aires. I began to wonder the best way to meet him on arrival, as I don’t own a car and the late afternoon the traffic and public transport aren’t exactly attractive options. I finally decided to pick him up with my Altmayer bikeshaw. There’s enough room for two people and also an additional space beneath the seat for luggage. Besides, I was dying to use it as I had only used a few times before, and just to ride around a little.

A rickshaw similar to the Altmayer bikeshaw - ©Luis Patricio

An Altmayer bikeshaw model - ©Luis Patricio

The day before he arrived he phoned to confirm the time of his arrival and I told him how I would meet him. He answered with a simple “OK!” “Great”, I thought, “I’m glad he didn’t think it would be awkward”. As I work downtown and the bus terminal is nearby and easy to get to. I didn’t take the bikeshaw on a cycle path because the rickshaw simply would not fit and it’s really uncomfortable to go over street crossings without lowered sidewalks. And even if I didn’t have those problems, there are many obstacles and it would be a burden to pedestrians, since most of the cycle paths are shared with them. So, I decided to use the streets.

Once he arrived and saw the bikeshaw, even though he was tired from his 24 hours journey, he laughed and said: “Are you serious? This is a joke, isn’t it?” I guess he didn’t understand me on the phone after all. But after a little while he got that that was how we where going home.

My apartment is about 3 miles and a few hills away from the bus terminal, and we chatted all the way home. After the first impact and the felling of being “exotic” he relaxed and enjoyed the ride (although he later confessed that he was glad to be in a city where no one knows him).

The final score: Me, a little more tired than usual from pulling almost 220 pounds of extra weight, but deeply satisfied for being able to accomplish it. My cousin, satisfied for trying something really new, but very cool (according to him) and surprised for being able to get to see so much of the city upon his arrival.

Luis Patricio

Curitiba, Brazil

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Real People’s Transport

Dehli ©Faizan Jawed

Bicyclist in New Delhi attempting to cross a junction - ©Faizan Jawed

Tata Motor’s wonder car, the Nano was launched recently in India and popular media touts it as the people’s car – as people’s transport. It remains a fact that this car will be unaffordable for a majority of people in India. This is not another Nano bashing piece but an article where I bring to notice the affordable “people’s transport” in Indian cities – bicycles – and why we must build infrastructure for promoting their use.

Bicycling is not new in India. It is commonplace to hear the older generation reminisce about how everyone had a bicycle – right from the high court judge to university students. Mobility on the bicycle did not pose great challenges and there was little danger posed by motor vehicles, as they were few in number. Importantly, it was not considered as below one’s position to use a cycle. India’s motor vehicle use has grown steeply since the 1980s and with a turn to neo-liberalism in India, markets have been flooded with various types of cars. Availability of cheap motorized two-wheelers such as motorbikes and scooters also resulted in a shift to motorized modes by the relatively poorer populace. Still, motorized modes of transport remain unaffordable to majority of Indians and this majority either walks, uses public transport or bicycles. To many, even public transport is unaffordable, which renders them completely non-motorized. These commuters have no other option but to walk or use bicycles, as the majority of people using are bound by economic constraints. Although bicycle use in Indian cities has been declining over the years due to hostile infrastructure, it remains high compared to international standards. In mega cities, bicycle use touches about 13% of trips. In smaller and medium cities, the share of trips on bicycle reaches up to 25-30%. Compare this with the 1% bicycle use in the UK capital London, or many US cities.

Mumbai ©Faizan Jawed

New Dehli - ©Faizan Jawed

Bicycle is akin to a private car because of it being a private mode of travel that can provide door-to-door transport. However, there are numerous benefits of using bicycles over cars. Bicycles cost little; a large majority can afford them. Bicycles take up little space while on the street or while parked. Bicycles produce no pollution, are easy to maintain and move at a pace that is quick enough (about 14-18 km/hr), yet is a speed at which the rider can enjoy the surroundings. Bicycles treat every rider the same – everyone has to make similar effort to pedal his or her bicycle – therefore a bicycle does not discriminate rich from poor; riders are equals when on the streets. They also have health benefits and much more.

With a large part of the population using bicycles and with their numerous benefits, why don’t we see any prioritisation and encouragement for bicycle use? State policy in India has been skewed in favour of the wealthy car-owning minority than the silent captive majority. All new infrastructures that were built in Indian cities since decades were for the car. It did not make any provisions for other road users. This definitely went well with the interests of the car manufacturers and oil companies. Empirical evidence from several cities around the world suggests that cities cannot solve their traffic problems by building wider highways for cars. Urban highways lead to larger traffic jams because of a phenomenon known as ‘traffic induction’. This can be experienced in our mega cities today, with endless traffic jams and some of the worst air quality standards. Add to this a developing country with large income disparities – the haves and the have-nots, and one gets a society perfectly classified on the basis of wealth. Those who can afford cars are in them, with the air conditioner and the stereo on, and the ones who cannot afford them are out – either in over packed public transport buses or trains, sweating and getting a 360-degree massage; on bicycles or walking, risking life while on the street.

Mumbai ©Faizan Jawed

New Dehli - ©Faizan Jawed

Transport planning can help improve the quality of life for everyone. Research has proven that dedicated bicycle infrastructure eases traffic congestion and reduces road accidents, while providing a non-polluting, affordable-by-all transportation system. Dedicated bicycle infrastructure comprises separate facilities for bicyclists including segregated non-motorized transport lanes, bicycle parking stands, signage, traffic signals for bicycles and much more. However, not all streets need to have segregated lanes; in the inner streets that are less motorized, with the help of traffic calming interventions like speed breakers and roundabouts, a low enough speed (20-30km/h) can be ensured for motor vehicles; then bicycles can be mixed in ordinary traffic. With lower speeds of all vehicles, the streets will become liveable – children will be able to play outside without fear of being run over and neighbourhoods can be peaceful again. Efforts are under way in several Indian cities to develop non-motorized transport inclusive cities. Projects are under way in New Delhi, Pune, Ahmedabad, Surat, Nanded, Bangalore relating to building infrastructure for non-motorized transport. A 6 km bicycle lane has been built in New Delhi along a Bus Rapid Transit corridor in Chirag Delhi. Many cyclists are happy and say that they feel safe in the cycling facility, however they complain about two-wheelers and cars encroaching the cycling lane. Therefore, stricter enforcement and more public awareness about the rights of cyclists and non-motorized transport users is the key to ensuring appropriate use of bicycle lanes.

Famous quantum physicist Freeman Dyson said, “The technologies which have had the most profound effects on human life are usually simple.” It is time that we realize the great potential that the bicycle has to better everyone’s quality of life and start prioritising it!

Faizan Jawed, India

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