Friday, April 29, 2011

Cycling is Good Fiscal Policy

If I was Prime Minister I would buy every Canadian a bike and give them a place to ride it. Yes, cycling is fun and that’s enjoyment I want to share with everyone. But, the main reason I want to get Canadians on their bikes is that I am a fiscal conservative and cycling is fiscally responsible. Cycling is good for the government coffers and individual pocketbooks.

It has been shown in study after study that moderate forms of physical activity, such as walking and bicycling, when engaged in regularly, can have important beneficial effects on public health. Behavior patterns are the single most prominent influence over health prospects. Some research says that a small increase in physical activity could save us up to 40% in healthcare costs. 

More than just saving us money, cycling can make us money and is actually good for business owners. It has long been known that there is a strong relationship between physical activity and mental health. Lack of physical activity has a significant impact on worker productivity. Work time missed due to mental health issues costs Canadian businesses an estimated $6.3 billion annually. Increased physical activity can reduce sick days by 15%-25%.

Increasing the number of cyclist and getting more cars off the road instead of putting more cars on the road will save us billions of dollars a year in infrastructure costs. The most deluxe cycle track cost approximately $330,000 per km. to construct. The equivalent road structure, a four lane arterial road with median, costs approximatively $4,800,000 per km. And finally, from a purely selfish individual perspective, it costs the average North American approximatively $500 a month to own and operate their motor vehicle. However cycling costs are somewhere between $5 and $25 per month.

I think the case is clear: good fiscal conservatives ride their bikes. And, politicians who tout their fiscal conservative colors should support cycling too. Investors and business owners with an interest in increased worker productivity should put their political donations behind parties and individual candidates that support fewer cars and more bikes. Cut the fat, spend less and make more.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Cycling London: Bike Parking

Bicycle parking is often overlooked and taken for granted by designers and planners. This problem has been discussed elsewhere in this blog. Transportation for London (TfL), the city's transportation authority, has established specific guidelines to help provide quality parking for cyclists. While visiting London I wanted to take note as to how well LfL's guidelines for cycle parking were working. Similar to other cycling facilities, a good bicycle parking scheme will accomplish multiple objectives. The most direct and obvious objective is to provide a safe and secure place for cyclists to lock their bikes. Secondly, it should serve as a symbol to cyclists and non-cyclists that bikes belong here and encourage the use of bicycles.

While riding through London I observed what type of parking facilities were available and where these facilities were located. The most prominent type of bicycle rack found throughout London is this large inverted "U". This is a version of the most popular rack used around the world. It provides two points of contact to the bike for a cyclist's to lock to and uses street space effectively. TfL has also used this rack very effectively as a tool to brand cycling routes in the City. These racks are highly visible and provide a level of consistency throughout the city.
Standard London bike rack is well branded and highly visible.

There are other good bike parking initiatives in London. On Your Bike, a local bike shop, partners with TfL to provide a secure bike parking facility near London Bridge. The facility operated by On Your Bike is a staffed facility and the entrance is controlled with an access card. Users register for the service and a wide range of payment options are available.
Bike Parking near London Bridge
How-to Lockup sticker

Local borough governments are also involved in efforts to promote better cycling lockup in the region. While looking for bike parking in the Boroughs of Southwark and Camden I noticed stickers posted to poles and racks informing me and other cyclists on how best to secure my bike. Apparently these instructions are not widespread enough as in almost all major cities scenes of bicycle stripped down or robbed of their quick release wheels are too common.

Good bike parking was not always available where needed though. There were some locations where bike parking was curiously totally absent or very scarce. At both Borough Market and the Tate Modern there was an obvious lack of good bike parking.
Borough Market had few cycle racks there were hard to find.
Outside Tate Modern there is an obvious need for more bike parking.
Riding through London I noticed that there were other centres that obviously lacked bike parking. Near tube stations there seemed to be a need to provide better bike parking. Not providing enough bike parking will discourage people from riding. Having cyclist lock their bikes to nearby rails, fences and poles may also clutter the walkway and become obstacles for pedestrians.
Bicycle locked up on guard rail near a tube station near Central London.
TfL uses and distributes a bike rack that is widely used and effective for securing bikes. They have also used this rack to brand cycling routes and as a reminder to all that bikes belong. A education strategy is also being implemented by local governments to encourage new cyclists to properly secure their bikes. Despite these efforts there are some obvious holes in TfL's efforts to provide bike parking.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Cycling Cambridge

Cambridge has the highest cycling mode share in the UK with an outstanding 28%. This rivals the greatest cycling cities in Europe. The popularity of the bicycle in this small city was obvious. There were bikes locked up to every post and fence and even on this rainy day there were people on bikes everywhere.  

I wanted to find out why the area has been so successful. Improving cycling facilities has been a key encouraging a greater cycling mode share here in North America, so my first step was to examine the cycling facilities in Cambridge. 

Counterflow Bike Lane
Wayfinding Map
Walking through Cambridge I did not think the level of cycling facilities was all that high in terms of quality or quantity. I had certainly seen much better in visits to other jurisdictions around the UK. London, Bristol and even Taunton seemed to be making just as much effort to provide quality cycling facilities as Cambridge. There were some good cycling facilities in Cambridge such as the well marked counterflow cycle lane and wayfinding map shown above. As in many other cities Cambridge also has a very secure and successful bike station. The station in the image below is located at the Grand Arcade and operated by Station Cycles, a local bicycle shop. All of these facilities are very fine, but not outstanding relative to other jurisdictions.
Grand Arcade Bike Station in Cambridge
As in many other cities with a high bicycle mode share other than the bike station there is a notable lack of bicycle lockup facilities in Cambridge. Also, much of the bike parking that provided is poor. This results in abandoned bits and pieces of bikes left to clutter street corners.

Some of the cycling facilities found in Cambridge are quite poor. There are multi-purpose pathways in Cambridge, some over a hundred years old, that are less than two meters wide. Two meters is well under the contemporary best practice of three or four meters. While good cycling facilities will encourage more people to cycle, poor cycling facilities will discourage those who are already cycling. Yes, this path is a hundred years old, but this means that Cambridge has had a hundred year to improve this facility. 

Despite some very poor facilities in Cambridge cyclist do not seem negatively effected. People in Cambridge cycle. They cycle in the rain. They cycle on multi-purpose-pathways that would never be considered as viable alternatives in many cities. 

Obviously exceptional cycling facilities are not reason for the success that the bicycle enjoys in Cambridge. The answer to this question was not apparently obvious through casual observation of cyclists on the streets. Talking to some local residents and city staff they felt the answer was that cycling facilities had been around in Cambridge slightly longer than most communities in the UK. I was told that the culture provided by the University also contributes to the success of the bicycle here. The Colleges are located firmly in the centre of the city and the students have always cycled. The City of Cambridge was  had no choice but to recognize the number of cyclist in the city centre. Facilities were built to accommodate cyclists and this encouraged more people to ride their bikes.

The bicycle was once a fetish, a new and exciting mode of transportation for the rich and elite. Cycling was a status symbol for young students attending the colleges at start of the 20th century. In most cities, when the automobile gained prominence it replaced the bicycle. Then the bicycle became child's toy or something used by those who could not afford and automobile. But, not in Cambridge, because Cambridge had already adapted to the bicycle.
In more recent years one of the things that Cambridge has done exceptionally well is discouraging automobile use in the Centre. Before the congestion charge was a twinkle in London's eye Cambridge was taking measures to discourage automobile traffic from entering the centre while encouraging cyclists.

My time and research in Cambridge has taught me that great cycling facilities are not the only avenue to a successful cycling city. History, cultural trends and socio-economic factors have combined in Cambridge and stewed for a hundred years. Today the university city is a tasty serving of UK bike culture. 

Friday, April 8, 2011

Cycling Netherlands: Junction Facilities

Planning good junctions is the ultimate challenge in creating good cycling facilities. Bike lanes and cycle tracks will be of little value if intersections are not properly designed and constructed. Good intersections are designed to prevent or manage conflicts between road users. Intersections that successfully manage conflicts will encourage eye contact, are well organized and easily readable. One of the key components to achieving this is to slow traffic, in all directions, as they approach the intersection. The Dutch have successfully used a wide range of tools to help cyclists navigate intersections.

Different treatments are used for different types of intersections. At intersections where vehicle traffic is low and slow removing signs and delineations may actually encourage more interactions between road users. It is important to study a specific junction and determine which treatments are appropriate.

Firstly, surfaces of the bike lanes or cycle tracks are often carried through the junction crossing or intersections marking are provided. This treatment serves as a sign to motorists to be aware of cyclists and will also act a measure to slow traffic at the intersection. Defining road user space through the intersection will also help provide a well defined junction and make movements more predictable. Frequently all cycling space in or surrounding the junction is well defined by pavement markings.
Road markings or textures also have the effect of slowing motor vehicle traffic. Robust bicycle road markings tell motorist that this is cycling zone and they should be cautious as they approach the intersections. Some junctions will be completely painted red as an extra warning measure to encourage motorists to reduce speed.

Traffic signal lights for cyclists are also commonly used tools at intersections. Signal lights are frequently set to give cyclists priority and will often default to green when a cyclist approaches the intersection. Dedicated bicycle signal lights will separate cyclists’ actions from other road users and allow for bicycle only movements helping better define the junction and reduce conflicts. Providing bicycle signal lights will give cyclists more information and help them navigate more difficult intersections.

Junctions where even moderate cycling traffic is expected will have measures to facilitate left turns for cyclists. One of the most common tools used to accomplish this is a two stage left turn. A two stage left  may include a turn queue box. Bicycle signal lights are used to assist in the left turn. Two stage lefts are effective mechanisms for reducing cyclist-motorist conflict and cyclist-pedestrian conflict. In Holland the phasing of the traffic lights are often timed so that cyclist can make this left turn on light rotation. 

These tools will increase cyclist visibility, denote a clear right of way and encourage eye contact. Most of these junction treatments have be adapted for North America and are used to some extent. Keep in mind that many of the solutions used in The Netherlands may not be ideal for North American road users. We need to study what the Dutch do right and use it in ways that work for the North American road user.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Fitness Tax Credit and Bicycles

Encouraging more people to ride their bikes more often seems like such a practical solution to so many problems that face us today: air pollution, carbon reduction, demand on urban land, high gas prices, demand for more roads and public transit. But, the most obvious benefit would be that it is a practical way to address the fitness deficit we have in this country. 

When one of our major national political party proposes a strategy to increase the fitness levels of Canadians it must include biking, right? Not necessarily. What the Conservatives are offering is a credit towards a gym membership or organized sports. The proposed plan is a preference to one particular industry. Why should one industry be favored and other overlooked? The cost benefit to encouraging cycling is much better than encouraging gym membership.

The boutique fitness tax credit will likely do little to encourage more people to get fit. The value will go to those who are already going to the gym with monthly memberships. This means that any gain that is made comes at a great cost.  

This tax credit is another example of bias against bicycles. Consistently the bicycle is overlooked as an apparatus for change.  Is the bicycle seen as a children’s toy and not taken seriously? The money our nation spends on health has once again made its way to the top of the political debate. Encouraging cycling is an effective means of addressing this and the spin off benefits to the environment, land use, and transportation are significant.

I encourage all federal parties to broaden their view of health and fitness. A national strategy to promote cycling has a big upside that will result in saving to the public and private purse.

Cycling with Infants: Information from Holland

During my recent visit to Holland I looked at how common cycling with an infant is there and how it is done. I made a point of looking for bicycles set up to carry infants and talking to parents, cyclists and bike store owners about this topic whenever I could.

My first contact was the Emma Kinderziekenhuis AMC, the academic children’s hospital in Amsterdam. Elske van Spanje, from the Hospital Library, told me that they had no scientific literature on the topic, but was helpful to inform me that the Dutch cycle with their newborns in many different ways. She suggested that I go to Google Afbeeldingen, the Dutch Google Images search, and type in “baby op de fiets” so I could see for myself. So I did and I suggest you do as well.

In Europe, unlike Canada, there are mandatory standards regulating child bike carriers. Products such as child bike seats and child bike trailers must meet basic standards to be sold in Europe. However, these products are designed for children nine months and older. Currently there are no European standards regulating products for children under nine months. In the absence of national or European standards some manufacturers have taken this task into their own hands. Cycleworks in Amsterdam and Nihola in Denmark have taken the initiative to test products for infants. 
I talked to Henry Cutler, owner of Workcycles, about the fears that many North American’s have about cycling with their newborns. I was told that the greatest fear was the risk that vibrations associated with everyday riding could cause brain damage. Henry responded saying he had read similar reports, “But, one could easily argue that holding and shaking a baby, perhaps out of desperate frustration, entails quite different movements and forces than the vibrations and shocks a baby would receive during cycling, riding in a buggy over a cobbled sidewalk, or driving in a stiffly suspended auto/truck over a bumpy road.”

Despite the lack of scientific research cycling with newborns is on the rise in Holland. The arrival of the family Bakfiets has had a significant influence on how people view cycling with newborns. Before this product was introduced Henry said you saw very few people cycling with their babies, but now it is steadily increasing. He also states that social factors such as more mothers working are likely contributing factors. Not all parents choose a Bakfiets, some parents carry the baby with a chest carrier, while others choose a product such as the Steco Baby Mee which mounts to the rear bike rack.

With the lack of scientific research and government standards reliable bicycle manufacturers work responsibly to fulfill an increasing demand. There is a need for sound and controlled research to replace unfounded speculation.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Cycling Kelowna: cycling with children part 1

Out for a Sunday family ride and noticed that there are few more families out on their bikes each week this time of year. The children’s bike trailer is the first choice of most cycling parents in Kelowna. It is a reasonable choice. The trailers have excellent safety records, stable and carries all the extra stuff for a child. The bike trailer is really the only choice local bike stores offer parents in Kelowna. There is no bike store in Kelowna that stocks a front mounted child’s seat. Despite the many benefits of the child’s bike trailer the child’s bike seat seems to be making a comeback. Why are parents, apparently in increasing numbers, choosing children’s bike seat over trailers?

Initially it is easy to assume that price could the driving force behind the recent popularity. The highest rated brand child seat is still likely to come in several hundred dollar’s cheaper than the lower end child’s bike trailer. This is undoubtedly and important consideration for budget conscious parents. There are other factors to recognise because even parents with more disposable income are choosing bike seats.

The child’s bike seat offers a quicker more casual means of transporting your child. With the bike seat you do not need to wrestle with attachments and fasteners every time you want to ride with your child. You simply strap the child in the seat and ride. It is also easier to ride with the bike seat on busy urban cycle tracks or bike lanes. The seat is more compact, so if storage space is a concern its wise consideration. Front mounted seats such as the Bo-Bike Mini also offer the unique benefit of providing a more intimate cycling experience with your child.

Bike seats will likely appeal to more experienced cyclists because the weight of the seat and child will have more impact on the cyclist’s balance than a bike trailer. The simple task of getting on and off the bicycle can be more difficult with the child’s bike seat and require a greater level of confidence. If you do happen to fall or lose balance on your bike the child on the bike seat is more likely to sustain an injury than a child in the trailer. In fact, most injuries to children in bike seats are caused from the fall from the bike to the ground. So, the parent cycling with the child’s bike seat will likely have the experience, knowledge and confidence that they are unlikely to fall.

The move towards more parents choosing bike seats instead of trailers is an indication of changing bike culture in North American cities.  Firstly, there are more parents that feel more experienced cyclists. Secondly, parents are cycling as part of their everyday transpiration needs and want a more convenient product. Third, more bicycle friendly facilities that make it easier for cyclists to move around town.

Cycling Barcelona Part 4: Cycling Culture

Growing up, the local cycling facility I rode on was a cracked strip of asphalt with weeds growing out of it on the dusty edge of some forsaken road. The only people on this long narrow piece of neglected pavement were the fitness obsessed neighbours in spandex pants, the local prophet in a long robes telling sinners to repent and me, the twelve year old kid with no licence. This was not a beautiful bike path.

The street two blocks over was beautiful and filled with fast shiny cars, which I imagined being driven by beautiful people. A lot of thought and money had been put into that road, but little thought or money had been put into my bike bath. Skip forward 20 years. There are some beautiful cycling facilities in Europe and North America that have involved a lot of time, money and thought. These cycling facilities are filled with beautiful people riding their bikes in slim fit suits and kitten heels.

There is a dynamic relationship between cycling facilities and cycling fashion. Nice cycling facilities mean more cyclists. It also means that there are more people riding with ease and grace. If cycling looks easy and casual that will likely lead to even more people on their bikes. I don’t think Barcelona’s experience with this dynamic relationship is particularly unique, but it does serve as a notable example.

Barcelona had already been investing in cycle tracks and buffered bike lanes when in 2007 Bicing, Barcelona’s bike share program, was implemented. Suddenly, fashion conscious Barcelona was seen as a city that you could ride your bike in. People were riding the Bicing bikes. Bicing and other cycling facilities are highly visible and make cycling accessible and easy.  “This acted like a virus,”,LlĂșcia & Daniel of Ramonas Barcelona, a bicycle clothing and accessory company said, “many people rediscovered cycling and as many people imitated them.”

Cycling in the City has grown, the way people move and cycle has changed. Investing money in good, beautiful cycling facilities has paid dividends and has changed the public perception of the bike. Fitness freaks in yellow spandex shirts and mentally ill people in long robes no longer define the fashion in the bike lane.

Bike culture in Barcelona is changing and what people wear is a sign of that change. It is a sign that is repeated in the cycle chic movement all over the world, smart stylish fashion you can ride your bike in. Good cycling facilities have enabled cycle chic and cycle chic has encouraged even greater numbers of cyclists. After all, what cyclist wants to be competing with rush hour motorists in heels and skirt.