Book Review: Bicycle Diaries

“All this talk about bike lanes, ugly buildings, and density of population isn’t just about those things, it’s about what kinds of people those places turn us into.”  - © Kelly Nelson

“All this talk about bike lanes, ugly buildings, and density of population isn’t just about those things, it’s about what kinds of people those places turn us into.” - © Kelly Nelson

David Byrne, a founder of the band Talking Heads, has been biking for transportation for decades, in New York City where he lives and while visiting foreign cities. (He brings a folding bike when he travels.) His new book Bicycle Diaries recounts his experiences bicycling in various cities: Berlin, Buenos Aires, Istanbul, London, Manila, San Francisco and Sydney. Don’t expect a bike travelogue though. The book would more accurately be titled “Diaries of an Artist Who Bikes.” It contains a wide range of musings (can dogs deceive themselves?) and wonderings (does every culture have its own palette?) as well as encounters with artists, musicians and strangers on the street. It is a thought-filled, swirling read. And if you flip the pages front to back you’ll see a tiny bicycle scoot across the bottom of the page.

The most bikey parts come in the introduction, the New York chapter and the epilogue. Byrne started biking in the early 80s when it was a geeky, uncool thing to do but he found it exhilarating. Still does. Byrne, in his fifties, clearly enjoys having a bike-seat view of street life and urban landscapes. “It’s the liberating feeling—the physical and psychological sensation—that is more persuasive than any practical argument,” he writes to explain why he rides. He does use cars on occasion but says of driving, “The romance of being ‘on the road’ is pretty heady, but a cross-country ramble is a sometime thing. It isn’t a daily commute, a way of living, or even the best way to get from point A to point B.”

Byrne has applied his artsiness to the world of biking by organizing a public forum in 2007 that featured helmet designers, lock breakers, writers and singers (detailed in the New York chapter) and by designing one-of-a-kind bike racks (shown at the end of the book).

After reading Byrne’s description of Berlin—“No cars park or drive in the bike lanes, and the cyclists don’t ride on the streets or on the sidewalks either. There are little stoplights just for the bikers, even turn signals!”—I’m itching to go there and see it for myself. And that is the gift of this book: it makes you want to go some place new, bring a bike or rent one there, ride around and take your own photos, write your own journal.

Kelly Nelson

Tempe, Arizona USA

Bicycle Diaries / David Byrne / Viking, 2009

Bicycle Diaries / David Byrne / Viking, 2009

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Keep Calm & Ride On

© Jennifer Renninger

© Jennifer Renninger

“I’ve always loved those Keep Calm and Carry On posters (who hasn’t?) so I made a new version for my husband (a biking junkie). Turns out others liked the sentiment as well!

This is a 6 x 9 inch print (appox.) on an 8.5 x 11 inch archival matte paper, signed and dated.

Loving shipped enclosed in a cello sleeve, packaged in a stay flat mailer or tube, depending on the size you purchase. If at all possible, delivered by pedal power, but more likely than not, your local postman.

By the way, if you’d like to read the story behind the original ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ posters please visit this site:

http://www.barterbooks.co.uk/keepcalm.php

It’ll be well worth the trip!”

Posters are available in Green or in Grey. Please visit: http://www.etsy.com/shop.php?user_id=5057771&section_id=6380420

© Jennifer Renninger

© Jennifer Renninger

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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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A PlantLock on the road.

© Front Yard Company

© Front Yard Company

Recently appearing on UK streets are PlantLocks – muscling cars off the road. These are now available for delivery in Europe.

PlantLock is also great for keeping bicycles at home. It frees up cluttered hallways and stairwells by offering a solid planter to lock your bike to. As well as providing safe and tidy bike storage, it transforms the front yard to a green space.  It constitutes an “immovable object” to lock bicycles to, weighing 75+kg when planted up.

Bicycle frame and both wheels can be secured to the bar with the owner’s existing locks – ideally two quality locks. PlantLock requires minimum maintenance, being made from robust, durable materials. The locking bar is made from boron steel, case-hardened and tempered, to achieve robustness beyond most commercially available bicycle locks.

Dan Monck

Front Yard Company

You can find more information and pictures on the website of the company producing Plantlock: http://frontyardcompany.co.uk/index.php

© Front Yard Company

© Front Yard Company

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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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New Belgium Brewary Promotes Going Carfree

Would u trad ur car 4 a bike? ©New Belgium

Would u trade ur car 4 a bike? ©New Belgium

If you are a beer enthusiast, or even a cyclist, then you’ll know the name New Belgium Brewery. They have long been the organizer and sponsor of the Tour De Fat Festival that travels in the US and ends up giving away many bikes for festival competitions

This year is a bit different as New Belgium is promoting going Carfree through a video contest in each of this year’s locations. They want people to trade in their cars for bicycles and at this years 11 Tour De Fat locations (Chicago, Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland, Boise, Fort Collins, Denver, San Francisco, San Diego, Austin) they will give away 11 hand-crafted commuter bicycles and trailers to the winner of the video contests. New Belgium will promote the winners through a Tour De Fat ceremonial event in each city and will follow people’s carfree success over the next year.

This is very interesting for the carfree movement. Such a huge sponsorship and promotional campaign of the carfree lifestyle is something that only a few years ago would have seemed unthinkable. I’m sure this campaign will evoke a lot of media attention, mostly for the novelty, as “normal” Americans wonder why the hell someone would give up their car. But at the same time this will give a big boost to the idea of being carfree.

Anything that promotes the idea of getting people out of their cars is great and this is the kind of creative marketing that can help the carfree movement really gain some ground. Cheers to New Belgium for trying this.

Thanks to Imagine No Cars for sharing the news.

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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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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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