Videos of Bicycles Being Cool

I’m taking a little break from the recent string of in-depth research to look at something a little more fun. Recently, I came across this article by Sarah Goodyear about how Salt Lake City will be the first city in America to implement a protected bicycle intersection. The plan is based on Dutch designs, as well as research by Portland-based planner and designer Nick Falbo.

Protected Intersections For Bicyclists from Nick Falbo on Vimeo.

I hope that I’ll be able to see this the next time I’m in Salt Lake (all Mormons seem to end up getting stuck in Salt Lake’s orbit at some point). But also, I was glad to see this video of how a Dutch design could be interpreted for and shared with an American audience. It just made me think of some cool bicycle videos I’ve seen recently and wanted to share. For instance, and speaking of the Dutch, here is a cool video of bicycle traffic in Utrecht.

I almost wish part of this video was shown in real time rather than sped up so that you could see how cyclists interact in real time, and how cycling in the Netherlands is not the sort of extreme, aggressive sport cycling that seems to be the only kind that’s allowed in some parts of America. It is indeed a casual activity for regular people.

Speaking of aggressive sport cycling though, these videos are really cool.



At least of the videos I’ve seen, these sort of downhill urban mountain bike races seem to only take place in Latin America (although the participants seem to largely be speaking English), but you could imagine them taking place in an Italian hilltown or a Swiss village. I just don’t know where we could do it in America; we rarely build on the kind of slopes where doing this would be any fun to watch, we almost never build with those sort of narrow curves and passageways, and even when we do build on hills it’s mostly taken up by rich people who probably wouldn’t want something like this in their backyard.

I wonder what videos like this do for cycling. I could see them sort of raising awareness that cycling is a viable option, but at the same time I could see it creating the perception that the only people who cycle are these sort of extreme types. Either way though, they’re pretty fun to watch.


Cycling in the US from a Dutch perspective

Just a quick video I came across. In this video, a Dutch cyclist comments on some of the good, the bad, and the peculiar about biking in the United States. One thing many foreigners think is strange about the US is how many of our bikers are the speedy, Lycra-wearing types, rather than average citizens who go at a more leisurely pace. I think his perspective on the bike helmet is interesting. This also doubles as a good primer on the type of bicycle infrastructure you are likely to see popping up in more progressive cities, as well as an assessment of how useful that infrastructure actually is.

Rethinking how we live to stop the chronic diseases epidemic

McDonalds, McDonalds everywhere… From

We talk a lot about using urban design to make cities more healthy for people. When we discuss this, it usually comes down to making it easier to walk or bike to destinations: but there is much more to it than that, as is discussed in this post from The Conversation. They describe how we see chronic diseases (obesity, diabetes, and respiratory diseases, among others) in cities, both in the developed and developing world, because our cities are designed to make less-healthy decisions easier and healthier decisions more difficult. Industrialization has made our work easier, so we don’t burn as many calories, at the same time that our foods are becoming higher in calories, and we eat more of them. To turn this around, we need to make healthy decisions easier.

The healthy option in this post is Copenhagen, Denmark.Copenhagen is often noted for its easy bike transit, public transportation and green spaces. Part of the reason 40% of people in the city bike is because it is the most affordable option available, and because it is safe, and not limited to people in Lycra, like it is in so much of the US. In addition, local laws require regular access to healthy food, while restricting fast food options. The authors commend efforts like Mayor Bloomberg’s large soft drink ban as an effort to “Copenhagenize,” but point out that we have a long way to go to reach cities where the healthy option is the easiest option.

Pedestrians arise: you have nothing to lose but bad infrastructure | Resource for Urban Design Information

Pedestrians not being prioritized in London. From

In this post, John Dales wonders why there isn’t really a pedestrian lobby. There is, of course, a very vocal motorist’s lobby, and cyclists are becoming more and more vocal, to the point where a candidate’s cycle-friendliness was an issue in the latest London mayoral election. But pedestrians, maybe not always happily, seem to put up with unsafe, ugly, and otherwise poor travel conditions in their chosen mode. Dales speculates that there are three reasons why we do this. First, walking is such an ordinary activity (Dales compares it to breathing), that we don’t think it needs to be a special or pleasant experience. Second, we’ve dealt with poor conditions so long we don’t even know any better. And third, we can cheat at it—jaywalking, walking in the street when the sidewalk is obstructed, etc. We, as pedestrians, need to be more vocal about our opinions of our travel ways. We need to demand better streetscapes from our cities.

The State of Cycling in Philadelphia

The Storefront for Urban Innovation.

A group of students organized a panel discussion of bicycling authorities last evening at the Storefront for Urban Innovation on West Girard Street to discuss the state of cycling in Philadelphia.

After a brief introduction from Diana Lind, editor in chief of Next American City, who hosted the event, a student moderator introduced the panelists. The first topic of discussion was bike safety.

Bike Safety

“Something we’re trying to do as a bicycling movement in America is to Design facilities that are comfortable for eight-year-olds and eighty-year-olds,” said Alex Doty, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. He said that the danger in cycling is one part actual danger and one part perception, and that people need a safe route, a place to park their bike, and to know what kind of gear they need before they are comfortable riding.

Even at this event, it was hard to find a good place to park a bike.

This leads into the need for education. As cycling becomes more popular, there are more cyclists out there who don’t know exactly what the rules are for them. “In the state of Pennsylvania, bicycles are classified as a vehicle … and have to follow the same rules as every vehicle out there,” said Lieutenant Mike Brady, a Philadelphia bicycle police officer. He mentioned how he often will pull over another cyclist after they have gone through a red light or rode on the sidewalk and they would be surprised that a cop would even be concerned with them.

Fortunately, despite the growth in cycling, last year had a record low for cyclist fatalities, at only two. “Two too many,” said Andrew Stober, chief of staff of the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities. He pointed out that most of the growth going on in Philadelphia is adjacent to major employment centers in Center City, University City and the Navy Yard, and that this makes cycling a convenient choice for new residents. “We’re putting in infrastructure that helps people get to those destinations safely,” he said.

Safety, real or perceived, is what will get more people biking. Doty mentioned that about 10% of the population will bike in current conditions and 50% will never bike no matter what, which leaves 40% who are interested but concerned with safety. He argues that off-road trails allow a safer gateway to cycling, and mentioned The Circuit, the new effort to create 750 miles of connected regional trails. Philadelphia already has twice as many bicycle commuters as its peer cities in the United States. The narrow streets of Philadelphia do present challenges, and Doty said that this keeps Philadelphia from doing the sort of large-scale infrastructure overhaul that is happening in New York. “We’re never going to be able to carve great bicycle infrastructure out of Center City,” he said, but emphasized that we need to make it a viable option.

Cyclists today are disproportionately young males, who are the most willing to take risks, but also the most willing to disregard biking laws. Stober pointed out that as more people bike and we get away form the male, 18-24 demographic, we will get safer cyclists. “And more people that vote,” chimed Doty.

Biking in Philadelphia

The State of Cycling in Philadelphia Panel.

Doty mentioned that the 10th Street bike lane started as a pilot program, and despite being very successful, political pressures from the Chinatown community were such that the bike lane will be removed from Filbert to Vine and marked as a sharrow. John Chen, executive director of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation, defended the decision, saying that Chinatown is essentially a business district, and needs visitors who drive there, as well as parking both for visitors and for loading.

The Chinatown example shows how important community involvement is. Stober mentioned that it is easy in some communities, such as at the approaches to the South Street Bridge, where residents actually asked for a buffered bike lane to calm car traffic. He said the communities around 10th, 13th, Spruce and Pine Streets needed a little more convincing, but they mostly agreed to the project, and have found good results.

there may be such a thing as too much community involvement, however. Councilman Bill Greenlee had introduced a bill that would make it such that any new bike lane had to be approved by the City Council, and that there would be no more pilot programs. Stober and others were able to work it down to only needing Council approval if a parking or travel lane were removed for the bike lane and to reinstate pilot projects, but even with these gains, no other large city has this level of interference with bike lanes. However, the city still has a great program where, if a business owner wants to replace one parking spot with a 12-spot bike rack, the city will pay for it.

Doty discussed other problems related to the Greenlee proposal. He said that trying to work by council districts (terribly gerrymandered in Philadelphia as they are) can lead to connectivity problems in the bike network. He emphasized the importance of pilot projects. “If you can put bike lanes in on a pilot basis, it shows that the world won’t come to an end,” he said. In fact, bike lanes on Spruce and Pine Streets have reduced serious accidents—including between cars—by 44%, making those streets more livable for everyone.

Julian Root, a Bicycle Ambassador for the Bicycle Coalition and courier for TimeCycle, said that bike lanes are important for making new cyclists feel safe, but being legally classified as vehicles, they have the right to travel on any street, bike lane or not. He mentioned that, while bike lanes do help with safety, he feels that there are other ways to deal with it, such as the timed lights on Pine Street that discourage people from driving over the speed limit. “I have a much bigger problem with pedestrians than with motorists,” Root said; they need to be educated about properly crossing the street. He said this was a big issue near the universities, where kids from the suburbs are having their first experience with the big city. He proposed that the universities have “Urban Basics 101” classes for incoming freshmen.

On the topic of education, Doty mentioned that local schools do have bike safety classes, but they are done off-road in gym class. By comparison, students in Germany and the Netherlands receive a “bicycle license” after six weeks of instruction. Doty said that Bicycle Ambassadors host “lunch and learns” where they teach adults about how to safely ride a bike in the city.

Bike Share

Bike sharing is getting another big boost in Philadelphia, after seeing successes across the country and the world. Lt. Brady said that the police were excited about the prospect of reduced congestion, but worried about bike theft.

“I think the environment is becoming right for bike share in Philadelphia,” Stober said. He answered Lt. Brady’s concern by saying that the bikes were made to be ugly, or at least conspicuous; that they were made so that parts were not easily removable; that many have GPS tracking; and that the fact that you have to be a member to check a bike out makes it so that they are sure who has a bike at any given time. He said we should see major changes in 12-24 months.

Q & A

During the closing Q & A session, many questions related to delivery trucks parking in bike lanes. Many of the panelists pointed out that delivery companies leave space in their budgets for parking tickets, so no matter how good the parking authority is about their job, the companies don’t have an incentive to follow the law. Lt. Brady said that the city was working to procure heavy tow trucks that could two delivery vehicles, and that if they could do this more regularly, it would be a much stronger deterrent. Root also mentioned that cyclists have the right to enter the main stream of traffic to go around the truck.

Doty said that there was an issue with parking authority jurisdiction. He had been told by parking authority officers that, since it was in a travel lane and not a parking spot, it wasn’t their prerogative, and that someone should call the police. He said that this related to the issue of complete streets, which would have designated loading zones for delivery trucks.

Stober pointed out that some streets in Center City do have designated loading zones, while others only allow loading in the morning so that trucks aren’t interfering with midday traffic. Although this can work in some areas, it comes back to the narrow streets of Philadelphia. There are many cases where there just isn’t enough room for everyone.

Questions also turned to taking bikes on SEPTA. Transit ridership has gone up as the economy has gone down, and has actually stayed level as it slowly continues to rise, leaving less and less room for bikes on trains and buses. Stober said that bike share and well-located bike parking near transit facilities can make up the difference for multi-modal commuters. Root reminded the audience that folding bikes are allowed on all SEPTA vehicles at all times.

Stober finished the meeting by saying that Philadelphians are famously resistant to change, and that some people will oppose these new efforts. This makes it that much more important that cyclists contact their elected officials and make sure their voices are heard.

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