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Cycling

May 10, 2016

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Cost per person kilometre of travel by bicycle vs car in Copenhagen according to Gossling and Choi (source data: Gossling and Choi)
Cost per person kilometre of travel by bicycle vs car in Copenhagen according to Gossling and Choi (source data: Gossling and Choi)

The findings from a new study on the costs and benefits of cycling have gotten plenty of attention in mainstream and social media because they tell a story that intuitively seems right and which many of us want to believe. The exhibit shows that both the private and social costs of driving in Copenhagen are much higher than they are for cycling.

The calculations are from a paper by Stefan Gossling and Andy S Choi published in the journal Ecological Economics, Transport transitions in Copenhagen: Comparing the cost of cars and bicycles. It’s a seductive story but as usual it’s not as simple as that.

Social costs and benefits

The authors conclude that whereas each kilometre travelled by car in Copenhagen costs society money, each kilometre travelled by bicycle saves money.

Considering only social costs, each bicycle km is a gain to society (Euro 0.16), while each car km represents a cost (Euro 0.15).

That’s a saving of €0.31 per kilometre. The explanation, the researchers say, is that the exercise benefit from cycling significantly reduces the costs associated with ill health e.g. medical treatment, sick leave. These savings are more than three times greater than the health costs from bicycle crashes.

Although it doesn’t undermine the ‘direction’ of the key finding, the difference in the social cost of driving and cycling isn’t as large as the authors claim. They haven’t included the hefty taxes Danes pay for the privilege of driving (€-0.159/km) in the social costs column, even though they’ve put them in the total column. That revenue goes into the public purse and should be accounted for in the social costs.

When taxes are accounted for, the social cost of the two modes is €-0.01/km for driving and €-0.16/km for cycling. Not as dramatic as the author’s claim but it’s still a big difference (€0.15/km) in cycling’s favour.

The study provides some interesting insights about social costs.

  • After taking account of taxation, Danes who drive pay the social cost of their mode choice.
  • The social costs of pollution, emissions and road deterioration associated with driving are relatively small compared to the cost of congestion (the noise number is probably wrong – see footnote 1).
  • The net health benefits associated with cycling dwarf all other social costs and benefits.
  • The principal social health saving is in lower rates of ill-health, not prolonged life.

Private costs and benefits

The findings of the study are more arguable when it comes to the authors’ estimation of private costs. Taken at face value, they’re consistent with the high mode share enjoyed by cycling in Copenhagen; it seems Danes choose to cycle because it’s about half the (economic) cost of driving i.e. €0.24/km for cycling vs €0.51/km for driving.

As the first two columns show, cycling’s advantage compared to driving is mostly due to the very large private longevity (€-0.36/km) and health (€-0.15/km) benefits it provides. They’re worth a whopping €0.51/km combined. At the 2,592 km per annum per rider assumed by the authors, that’s €1,314 annually in increased life span and avoided personal health problems.

I’m sceptical about the size of these benefits. Unfortunately, the authors don’t provide enough detail on how they handled this aspect, but it’s not uncommon for motivated active transport researchers to over-state private health benefits.

One routine error is to assume everyone gets the same (large) exercise benefit from cycling irrespective of their age or level of fitness. Another is to assume riders wouldn’t exercise in some other way if they didn’t cycle. If the claimed extended life span made for every health reform (e.g. smoking, obesity, cycling) were added, I expect it’d show we could all be immortal if only we’d mend our ways (reminds me of the claims of job multipliers for major projects like coal mines).

Whatever their value is, I doubt the extended life span and health benefits offer the key explanation for why so many Danes cycle. One reason is all populations tend to under-value uncertain benefits that come well into the future. Another reason is it’s a truism that Danes are utility cyclists; unlike Australians, they see bicycles as a just a practical means of transport, like a train or a bus, rather than as a fitness aid or an enthusiasm.

Yet they choose to cycle in large numbers even though, according to the researchers, the penalty in terms of time spent travelling is more than three times higher than driving. Indeed, the cost of the time penalty is almost double the savings they make by not operating a car.

Part of the explanation might be that the time differential for the two modes calculated by the authors is too big. They assume cyclists in Copenhagen average 15 kph and drivers 60 kph across all trips. I admit my knowledge of traffic conditions in contemporary Copenhagen is limited, but that seems a large difference. It also looks like the methodology doesn’t take account of parking costs; I expect they would have a significant impact on the attractiveness of driving.

Australian cities

Looking at where cycling does well in Australian cities – the inner suburbs – I think the key explanation is it’s time competitive with both cars and public transport for certain trip purposes i.e. work and education (see How important is cycling in Australian cities?). It’s main drawback is the cost imposed by the low sense of subjective safety on Australian roads (that’s much less of an issue in Copenhagen and wasn’t measured by the researchers).

I think we can be confident the social costs of cycling are significantly lower than those of driving in Copenhagen and elsewhere, but I’m not confident this study makes the case as convincingly as it should have.

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  1. The value used for noise by Gossling and Choi doesn’t look right. Elsewhere in the paper the authors put the cost at €0.007 per km, which is closer to the values in the Danish Ministry of Transport’s External Costs of Transport Review than the €0.048 in the authors’ table. Using the lower value reduces the social cost of car travel in Copenhagen by €0.04/km.

Cycling

Nov 24, 2015

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Amsterdam’s cycle paths attract, ahem, a diverse range of users

I was in Amsterdam for six days last month. This is the city where cycling averages a phenomenal 38% mode share across all trip purposes.

It’s good to be reminded of what can potentially be achieved and to try and figure out how they did it. So I took a (completely unscientific) straw poll of ordinary Amsterdammers, asking them why they thought cycling levels are so high in their city.

They gave reasons like the high standard of cycling infrastructure, the high cost of driving, the relatively short cycling distances, and the long tradition of cycling in the Netherlands.

All eminently plausible reasons. But they also prefaced their explanations with words to the effect “of course it’s flat” as if it were so obviously the most important explanation it didn’t need further elaboration.

Flatness doesn’t usually get much emphasis – and in many cases doesn’t even get mentioned – in discussions about the potential of cycling as a mode of transport in car-oriented cities like Australia’s.

It’s clearly not a sufficient condition for high levels of cycling; plenty of cities with relatively flat topography nevertheless have levels of cycling an order of magnitude below Amsterdam’s. There’s obviously more to it.

But is it a necessary condition for the extraordinarily high mode shares seen in places like the Netherlands? Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any data that isolates the effect of topography.

This writer says it’s a myth cycling can’t do well in cities with hills. He reckons even San Francisco isn’t a problem:

I rolled up and down the hills of San Francisco on a one-speed Biomega, together with friends on upright bikes. I was unimpressed. And I’m just a normal schmuck in normal clothes, not some Captain Spandex MAMIL.

Seriously? I lived in downtown San Francisco when I was a student; those hills are bloody steep (c.f. Bullitt). Stick to the water’s edge and it’s flat but those hills are daunting for anyone other than sport cyclists.

There’s a sound argument that cycling can nevertheless still grow in hilly places if the right policy choices – like improved infrastructure – are made, but winning a really high mode share in such locations seems unlikely.

I don’t think topography is given enough attention. All the famous Dutch cycling cities are very flat. So is most of Copenhagen. I don’t know for sure how much flatness contributes to the extraordinary success of cycling in those cities but I suspect it’s a lot.

Flatness means less effort, so there’s less sweat and less need to wear special clothing. It helps explain the preference  for heavy bicycles in some places.

They’re more comfortable because they have big, fat bump-absorbing tyres. An upright riding posture makes more sense because obtaining mechanical or aerodynamic advantage isn’t as critical in a sympathetic environment.

Bikes can be loaded up with enhancements like baskets, chain guards, bike stands, and dynamos. The option of carrying shopping, children, a passenger, or everyday items like a change of clothes and a bundle of textbooks isn’t as off-putting as it is in undulating places.

I expect flatness is a key reason why cycling in the immediate post-war era in Australia was strongest in certain regional centres like Bundaberg in Qld and Grafton in NSW but not in others.

The role of topography is often downplayed or dismissed by cycling advocates because, I suspect, it doesn’t fit with the dream that all cities can potentially emulate Amsterdam, or at least Copenhagen.

Those with a stake in promoting cycling prefer to focus on matters where changes can be made.  Topography and climate are inconveniently immutable; they’re ‘nature’ whereas something controllable like infrastructure provision is ‘nurture’.

The lay of the land isn’t destiny; it doesn’t mean cycling can’t win a significant mode share in non-flat places. But my intuition is topography imposes a limit; even with the same suite of policies, localities with an undulating landscape aren’t likely to come close to emulating Amsterdam.

Having said that, the future might be very different. The increasing popularity of affordable, power-assisted bicycles should make topography largely irrelevant for cycling.

Cycling

Jun 9, 2015

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The 2015 Copenhagenize index of bicycle-friendly cities

Popular cycling web site Copenhagenize released the third instalment of its biannual ranking of the world’s 20 bike-friendliest cities last week. Amsterdam topped the 2011 and 2013 indexes with Copenhagen second, but the big news in 2015 is the positions are reversed with Copenhagen coming out on top. (1)

The Copenhagenize Index uses more than the level of cycling in each city to derive its ranking. It scores each candidate on 13 equally weighted criteria; variables like mode split and the quality of cycling infrastructure are included, but so are other less instrumental ones like the strength of cycling advocacy, the political climate regarding cycling, and the social acceptance of cycling. Cities with “particularly impressive efforts or results” may also score bonus points. (2) (3)

Rankings of cities on any and every imaginable dimension are fashionable because they attract readers but I find they’re almost always problematic. Even those that are reasonably transparent like The Economist’s World’s most liveable city ranking have serious shortcomings (e.g. see Does the gong for ‘world most liveable city’ mean anything?)

The Copenhagenize 2015 Index of bicycle-friendly cities has its share of problems too. A key one is it lacks transparency. For example, we’re not even told each city’s total score, much less how they rate on each of the 13 criteria. Worse, there’s no indication how most of the indicators are measured and there’s no information on sources.

What little we’re told about the methodology indicates it’s questionable too. For example, each criterion appears to be given equal weight, so that whether or not a city has a (successful) bike share program counts as much as the standard of cycling infrastructure or the share of trips made by bicycle. Moreover, some of the variables count the same thing.

This is a project that seems misconceived from the get-go. David Hembrow from the Dutch blog A view from the cycle path contends that “such lists are always false” because “there is no reliable way to make a ranking”. The sort of comparison Copenhagenize purports to make can’t be done confidently because the necessary data isn’t available on the same basis for all cities.

Estimates of cycling levels in cities or countries can and do differ for a range of reasons, such as the geographical area selected (e.g. central city vs metropolitan area); types of trip selected (e.g. commuting vs all purposes); the time of year selected (e.g. summer vs winter); the method of counting selected (e.g. number of trips vs kilometres of travel); the modes selected for mode split calculations (e.g. is walking excluded?); and so on and so on (David Hembrow translates an excellent Dutch article on this topic).

I’ve yet to see a really convincing comparison of cities that lines all these factors up on a like-for-like basis, but I’ve seen a few that are self-serving. There are a number of ways to present a city in the best possible light e.g. if the selected geography is small and covers only the denser central city rather than the metropolitan area; if only commuting and education trips are counted and other trip purposes that are less attractive for cycling are omitted; if only the summer period is counted and the winter data is overlooked; if walking is omitted from mode split estimates; etc. (4)

Nor is it clear what the Index is actually measuring. For example, I have no problem with the idea that the strength of cycling advocacy is an indication of something, but whatever it is it’s not the same thing as what an outcome indicator like mode split measures or even what intermediate indicators like subjective safety and quality of infrastructure measure.

It’s a bit like saying Australia performs wonderfully on refugee policy because we have strong advocacy groups and a politically engaged debate. But of course our record is poor on this issue; it seems likely the line of causation runs in the other direction!

I suppose it could be argued that “bike-friendly” is such a broad term it covers a panoply of variables related to cycling; they’re all relevant. But I’m not convinced such disparate variables can be aggregated and reduced to a single summary statistic and still offer something sensible. If “bike-friendly” is so all-encompassing then I wonder if it’s measuring anything worthwhile.

I don’t have any problem with cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam being at the top because there’s ample evidence from other sources that they do extraordinarily well on the most convincing measure of all: outcomes. Cycling captures a high proportion of trips in these cities because it’s used as an everyday means of transport. But I’m not going to put much store by an Index that doesn’t even tell me the current level of cycling in each city.

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  1. The top-20 cities for 2015 in order are Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Utrecht, Strasbourg, Eindhoven,Malmo, Nantes, Bordeaux, Antwerp, Seville, Barcelona, Berlin, Ljubljana, Buenos Aries, Dublin, Vienna, Paris, Minneapolis, Hamburg, Montreal. I don’t know if Asian countries were considered for the rankings.
  2. The 13 criteria are: Advocacy; bicycle culture; bicycle facilities; bicycle infrastructure; bike share program; gender split; mode share of cycling; mode share increase since 2006; perception of safety; political climate; social acceptance of cycling; urban planning for cycling; traffic calming.
  3. Scoring on each of the criteria is 1-4. The minimum score a city can get is 13 and the maximum is 52. The maximum available “bonus” points is 12, so they can be very important. There’s not much information on how they’re allocated
  4. To understand the importance of including walking, see the exhibit comparing Stockholm and Copenhagen I used in this article, How far can cycling go in Australian cities? . It shows cycling’s mode share in Copenhagen is 20% compared to 6% in Stockholm. However, walking is 18% in Copenhagen vs 33% in Stockholm. Paris is another city with relatively low cycling levels but extraordinarily high levels of walking.

Cycling

Feb 3, 2015

5 comments

Mode split for Stockholm and Copenhagen - comparable shares for private, public and active transport, but no big difference in cycling compared to walking (source unknown; via Alexander Stahle)

There’s no shortage of data on the spectacular mode share that cycling achieves in many world cities. In metropolitan Copenhagen, for example, bicycles account for around 20% of all trips. In Dutch cities it’s even higher – around 40% in Amsterdam and Assen and almost 60% in Groningen.

Although cycling does much better in inner city areas and for the journey to work in Australia, it captures less than 1% of all trips in our major metropolitan areas.

There’s an interesting question here: given the right policy settings, what mode share could cycling achieve in Australia? Is there any reason why cycling couldn’t be as popular in Sydney or Brisbane (say) as it is in Copenhagen, or even Amsterdam?

While there’re grounds to think cycling could do much better than it currently does, there are also reasons to be circumspect about the ultimate upside in Australia (at least within conventional planning horizons).

One matter to be clear about from the outset is that international comparisons between cities are fraught. Many of the mode share figures regularly touted relate only to specific journey types (e.g. trips for work or educational purposes) or to restricted geographies (e.g. just the older inner city area).

There’s no doubting we’re well behind Amsterdam and many other European cities, but when considered on a like-for-like basis cycling is doing better in Australian cities than is usually recognised (e.g. see Cycling: how do Australian cities compare with Paris?).

Another issue is that cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen are at the top of the distribution; many European cities have much lower cycling levels e.g. Wien is 3% and Brussels is 5%. There could be factors explaining the success of outliers that might be especially difficult to emulate fully elsewhere.

It’s also worth noting that public transport doesn’t do as well in Australian cities either. Or perhaps more importantly, driving wins a much bigger mode share here than it does in European cities; especially compared to the ones with high levels of cycling and walking (see exhibit).

Because subjective safety is extraordinarily important for cyclists, investment in infrastructure seems to explain a lot of the variation in cycling levels between cities. There’s a correlation between the level of cycling-specific infrastructure like segregated bike paths and the mode share won by cycling (e.g. see Do more bikeways mean more bicycle commuting? and Why do Melburnians cycle more?).

So if Sydney or Perth were to build a comprehensive and dense network of segregated bicycle paths on par with world’s best practice cities, is it plausible cycling could achieve a mode share on a par with Amsterdam? Is it just about infrastructure and supportive regulatory policies?

There’s no definitive answer to that question, but there’s good reason to think there are other influences in play. The mode share of cycling in cities with comparable per capita incomes also depends on:

  • The relative attractiveness of driving – determined by factors like the price of fuel, registration charges, and traffic congestion.
  • The relative attractiveness of public transport – determined by factors like frequency, coverage, comfort, reliability and fare levels.
  • The relative attractiveness of walking – determined by factors like residential and employment density, and the compactness of land uses.
  • The utility of cycling – determined by the same factors as for walking, as well as by the directness of routes, topography, geography and weather.

For cycling to win a much larger mode share in Australian cities, there’s absolutely no question it will be necessary to invest in infrastructure that significantly reduces the hazards to riders – perceived and real – from cars, trucks and buses.

Approaching the levels achieved by even the less spectacular European cities, though, will only happen if alternative modes, most especially driving, become less attractive relative to cycling. That might come about via deliberate policy (e.g. road pricing, permitting higher densities) or external factors like dramatically higher fuel prices.

But I think the ultimate potential of cycling in Australian cities (within customary planning time frames) is also limited by another factor. Australia doesn’t have a history – a tradition – of cycling on the same scale as European countries.

For example, the Netherlands and Denmark had historically high levels of cycling even before mass car ownership. But Australia never did; even in 1935 cycling’s mode share was only around 5%, well below walking (16%), public transport (50%) and even cars (25%) at the time.

In common with public transport it’s share briefly jumped up during WW2 (to 9%) but fell back to 4% by 1950, by which time cars had well and truly overtaken public transport.

This difference might’ve been due to the sorts of factors mentioned above and perhaps to differences in per capita income at the time; but whatever the cause, it’s shaped the way Australians view how to travel. The car of course is seen as the ‘natural’ form of urban transport.

I don’t doubt that investing in infrastructure to make cycling safer would dramatically increase its mode share in Australian cities. But getting to Amsterdam-like levels would be a lot harder because our cities and our attitudes have developed around cars.

Of course our cities don’t have to emulate Amsterdam in order to do much better; if cycling were to achieve (say) a 10% mode share in Australia’s capitals that would be hugely beneficial for urban life. It’s equivalent to what public transport averages across our capital cities at the moment.

Cycling

Mar 25, 2014

5 comments

Q&A discusses urban cycling

Some aspects of the discussion of cycling on Q&A last night worried me, but the big one was the apparent consensus that cyclists need to be physically separated from motorists at all times. (1)

I completely agree that in many situations cars and bicycles should be separated e.g. on arterial roads. Indeed, it’s unlikely the next cohort of prospective cyclists will take to pedalling unless they feel very confident about their safety.

But it would be a disaster if cycling were only seen as a legitimate activity if it is confined to segregated, dedicated bicycle paths where it doesn’t interrupt driving.

It took decades to build cycling infrastructure in receptive Dutch and Danish cities; it would inevitably take longer here.

The political cap on what can be achieved at the expense of motorists is also likely to be much lower in Australian cities. Many segregated paths will necessarily be at the expense of road space and therefore at the expense of the vastly more numerous population of drivers.

Bicycles aren’t trains; they can’t be confined to a relatively small number of dedicated routes. One of their great advantages is that, like cars, they can go virtually anywhere on demand.

We can think of high quality, segregated bicycle routes as being something like freeways. Cyclists must have a safe way of travelling on secondary and local roads to get from these “cycleways” to their ultimate origins and destinations.

Even in places like Copenhagen, only a relatively small proportion of the street network is made up of fully segregated paths. Those paths account for a high proportion of all kilometres of cycling, but most of the network still requires riders to share road space with motorists.

Sharing space on secondary and local roads demands deliberate measures to reduce conflict. There are plenty of options e.g. 30 kph speed limits, traffic management infrastructure, public education, enhanced legal status for cyclists.

Cycling will continue to have a very limited role in Australian cities if it’s effectively confined to “cycleways”. They’re necessary, but our cities have enormous road networks; cyclists must feel safe using them.

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  1. I also don’t think Rachel Griffith’s reference to motorists “deliberately mowing down cyclists” was helpful. The issue isn’t the rare alleged psychopath; it’s motorists who carelessly and heedlessly scare, injure or sometimes kill cyclists. It’s usually unintentional, but it’s common.

 

Cycling

Nov 25, 2013

5 comments

Bicycle share of trips in Europe, North America and Australia (%). Source: Pucher and Buehler

Serious policy debates about urban transport invariably come down to the relative merits of cars versus public transport. More trains and more light rail (but only occasionally more buses) are favoured as the way for Australian cities to grow and at least maintain their liveability.

The bicycle is almost always relegated to a minor role; perhaps a few percentage points mode share at best. Yet we know from experience elsewhere that it’s possible, given particular conditions, for cycling to make a much bigger contribution to the urban travel task.

In metropolitan Copenhagen, for example, bicycles account for around 20% of all trips (1). In Dutch cities it’s even higher – around 40% in Amsterdam and Assen and almost 60% in Groningen.

That’s much higher than public transport’s share in Australian cities. Averaged across Australia’s capital cities, public transport accounts for around 11% of all travel. It’s higher in some cities and lower in others e.g. around 14% in Sydney and 8% in Brisbane (2).

Both public transport and cars will be an important part of how Australian cities deal in the future with a growing population, but I think the potential of cycling as a policy ‘solution’ is often seriously underestimated.

It’s well established that bicycles have a low impact on the environment, require little road and parking space, and on their own account almost never suffer serious congestion.

If they can be separated from general traffic as they are in many Dutch cities, they’re exceptionally safe. Indeed, the level of subjective safety is so high in the Netherlands that hardly any cyclists wear a helmet.

The advent of low-cost, efficient power assistance now means bicycles can travel long distances without raising an uncomfortable sweat. They can also be ridden by people with compromised fitness.

Compared to a speedy car, bicycles can be costly in terms of time lost in travel. But with rising density and congestion, bicycles are increasingly more time-competitive with cars for a large proportion of urban journeys.

All that’s well known. But there are two key reasons to be bullish about the potential of bicycles.

The first one is that cycling is a private form of transport. Travellers in rich countries like Australia have shown that, given the option, they much prefer private transport over shared (public) transport.

Like a car, a bicycle is available on-demand. There’s no waiting; service frequency and span of hours don’t matter. It goes straight to the traveller’s destination without deviation, without stopping, and without the need to transfer. Importantly, like a car, it isn’t shared with strangers.

Bicycles are very much like cars. Given safe conditions and the option of power assistance for those who want it, I think bicycles (and scooters and small motor cycles) can compete more effectively with cars for many journeys than public transport.

Public transport is hard to beat for accessing highly concentrated destinations like the CBD, especially from more distant origins. But it’s very hard for it to compete cost-effectively against private forms of transport for the sorts of trips between dispersed origins and destinations that now characterise most urban travel.

The second reason is that the social and private costs of cycling are exceptionally low. Relative to a car, a bicycle has very few negative externalities. Even an electrically-assisted bicycle generates limited pollution, emissions and noise.

Relative to public transport cycling requires little public subsidy (in NSW each rail journey costs taxpayers $10 on average). As with cars, most of the financial costs are paid by the traveller.

Except for roads – which are necessary anyway for emergency vehicles, freight and amenity – bicycles impose little cost on the budget. Dedicated bicycle “roads” are cheap to build and maintain; they don’t need the pavement strength, the width, or the generous curve radii of roads.

Getting an order-of-magnitude increase in cycling’s mode share requires two things. One is that cars must be less competitive. There’s a good chance that will happen organically due to traffic congestion but it can and should be encouraged by regulatory and taxation policies e.g. congestion pricing.

The other is safety. Bicycles need to be separated from cars, trucks and buses. That’s been the key to the bicycle’s success in the Netherlands. Since cyclists and drivers will nevertheless need to share road space for the foreseeable future, driving also needs to be “reinvented” as an activity that sits lower in the pecking order than cycling and walking.

Extracting the potential benefits of cycling isn’t likely to come painlessly. A big increase in mode share will to a large degree come at the expense of motorists. That will mainly be in the form of roadspace reallocated to cycling and as a consequence of rules that modify the behaviour of drivers.

It’s not necessary or probably even realistic to expect cycling in Australian cities to match what’s happened in Dutch cities. After all, there’re large differences between cities even in countries with an established cycling culture. However a mode share that (say) came close to public transport’s current share would make an enormous difference to Australian cities (3)

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  1. You’ll see much higher figures tossed around for Copenhagen but these can be misleading. They refer to only certain types of trip (e.g. work and education) or to small geographies (e.g. juts the central part i.e. City of Copenhagen).
  2. For convenience, I’ve used shares of travel (i.e. kilometres); if measured in terms of numbers of trips, public transport’s mode share would be a little lower.
  3. I’m aware that much of the potential of cycling also applies to scooters and small motor cycles, perhaps even more. There are issues though, including differences in speed and access to dedicated infrastructure like off-road trails and bicycle lanes.

Cycling

May 16, 2012

5 comments

Subterranean London - all things underground, old and new (click to see more)

Fremantle City Council is proposing cyclists over 18 years of age have the option of riding without a helmet within the municipality for a trial period of between two and five years. The proposed trial would apply to segregated cycle paths and streets with a speed limit of 50 km/h. (H/T Michael McPhail).

The rationale for the trial is familiar. Council says the social cost of “lost” exercise deterred by the helmet law exceeds the social benefit from the head injuries that helmets avoid.

Presumably Council has done its due diligence, but the trial probably requires State Government permission – or perhaps even legislation – so I think it’s got very little chance of getting up. The politics just don’t work.

It would be a pity though, because from what I can see (e.g. here, here and here), much of the Australian evidence relied upon in this debate is either too old or too weak. The discussion would really benefit from some contemporary and objective data. Continue reading “Should Freo go helmet-free?”

Cycling

May 7, 2012

5 comments

How the Dutch got their cycle paths

A key reason the Netherlands has the highest level of cycling for day-to-day transport in the world is its extensive network of high quality, safe bicycle paths. But it wasn’t always like that – the key message of this video (see exhibit) is that most of the bicycle network was built from the mid-1970s onward.

The implication is there’s no special “Dutch” factor that makes the Netherlands experience unique or non-replicable. Other countries who’re prepared to follow the same strategy should also expect to generate a huge increase in the use of bicycles as a means of transport.

Up until the 1970s the Netherlands, like everywhere else in the developed world, was being re-shaped to accommodate the car. However there was a significant change in direction around that time. Cycling was prioritised over cars as a matter of conscious and deliberate policy and authorities started to build segregated bike paths.

An interesting and potentially very useful question for policy-making is why the Netherlands changed course in the mid 70s and other countries – like Australia – didn’t. The video posits three key explanations for the change in direction taken by the Dutch.

First, there was “public outrage” over the number of buildings being demolished and the amount of space given over to cars for roads and parking. Continue reading “How come the Dutch got cycle paths and not us?”

Cars & traffic

May 7, 2010

5 comments

Over on the Bicycle Victoria Forums there’s a thread on something called “vehicular cycling”. This term is new to me and probably to most readers too.

As I read it, the key premise of vehicular cycling is that cyclists should “claim” the roads. Rather than being segregated in bicycle lanes that too often are narrow and impeded by parked cars – or worse, herded into off-road paths that are too indirect and are shared with unpredictable pedestrians – vehicular cyclists ride well away from the edge of a lane (although not in the middle) in order to be more visible to drivers and hence safer.

Cyclists in Copenhagen

They are concerned that construction of separate cycling infrastructure, such as Copenhagen-style lanes and on-road lanes, will reinforce the idea that cyclists are not legitimate road users.

There’re possibly some nuances here I’ve missed, but that seems to be the general idea. I think there’s a lot of logic to it. Even if a completely segregated network is feasible, it will be a long-term project, so there’s little choice other than to mix it with motorists in the meantime. And the meantime is likely to be a long time. Even in The Netherlands and Denmark, a significant proportion of cycling continues to be done on roads. So it seems sensible to find ways that cyclists and motorists can co-exist safely.

I can see that responsible cyclists, who ride defensively and maximise their visibility, could very well be safer if they adopt a more assertive approach. However I’m much less sanguine about how safe vehicular cycling is for irresponsible riders. Here I’m thinking mainly about children but there are also some adults who do irresponsible things like ride at night in dark clothing or without lights. Continue reading “Should bicycle lanes be abolished?”