29 May, 2008

Something to Think About

From Paul Krugman's blog:

As he says, "we're number one"!

Then there is this. And this.


Anonymous said...

I am surprised by the low percentage of cycling in Britain and France!

Anonymous said...

The English do OK when it comes to bicycle transport. I lived in England for 2 years.

But two issues confront bicycles in England:

The weather is awful.

And, they seem hell-bent on recreating the USA on their little island. So, the roads are turning into racetracks... Plus they've moved to a consumer society; and have been very affected (negatively) by the exploding corporate media, esp through TV, which privileges a spectator lifestyle.

Anonymous said...

When I see this, I realise Switzerland is basically a third-world country. Poor things...
m burdge

zman said...

A thing to consider is that European countries are a lot older, and cities/towns were designed around pedestrian traffic, so adaption back to those forms of transport is simpler. In the US, especially outside the Northeast, there was unlimited space for growth (unfortunately now becoming sprawl). Plus we have been going through our growth in the century of cheap energy.
The sad thing is that people will refuse, even in the age of $4.00/gal gas, to walk, bike etc no matter what. I like the Danish cycling culture, but I've been there and realize that it's not borne of some higher ideal other than economy. It may have become/will become more than that, but that's where it's roots lie.
Here, change will be slower and it will come from younger people and will take hold as the old-school thinking slowly dies off, much the same as horses-as-main-form-of-transport did.

Ivana Ridemybike said...

Our country and most of our towns are not developed to be bike friendly or encourage cycling. Take for instance Annapolis, a town I grew up, once a long time ago it actually had a small grocery store, a person could live in town and NOT use a car--if he were so inclined) now it is nothing but some corporate owned fashion boutique or something like that ( I don't go down town anymore).

We have the suburbs and the shopping districts NOW and industrial parks ( the new VO location albeit it is just on the edge of the town).

the two are separated by long distances ( in the eyes of the non-cyclist) and many hazards ( in the eyes of this cyclist.

Not rationalizing, just putting my two cents in.

Chris Kulczycki said...

Ivana, Are you talking about Annapolis Maryland? There are plenty of silly boutiques downtown; that's certainly true, but almost every one is locally owned. There are also superb art shops, wine shops (the best one is actually 0.5 miles away across the bridge), a great local hardware store, a super boat supply place, dozens of bars, cafes, and restaurants. There's a nice drug store and a couple of locally owned convenience stores. The grocery is about 1 mile away in West Annapolis. You don't need a car or even need a bike; everything is within walking distance.

I live downtown and rarely need to venture out into the SUV filled, box store-infested, soulless suburbs. If you only need to fill your gas tank once a month, and my Citroen 2CV (for trips to the country) only takes 5 gallons, you can even afford the higher downtown prices.

I've been to hundreds of European cities and towns and Annapolis is as close to a European small city as exists in the US. That's why we moved here. But there are plenty of other places in the US that are close.

Anonymous said...

z-man is typical in this culture: Im sure his comments are well intentioned and I am sure he's a thoughtful, kind person, but to say his account of social change amounts to nothing more than individual choice writ-aggregate is putting it mildly.

it is structures, and it is opportunities afforded by resource allocation, driven by the desires of the gilded and corporate elites that have shaped contemporary American history, esp. 20th century land use.

the answer to the question of WHY the USA is an "exception" when it comes to quality of life -- as compared to other Western developed democracies, and, increasingly, South American democracies -- will not be answered by surveying the choices of individuals and leaving it at that...it is NOT a choice for the vast majority as to whether they can bike or walk to pursue their lives. the structure of American life makes demands that transcend one's ability to choose differently.

There are so many books on the decline of American life-quality I wouldnt know where to begin the recommendations...

Americans have little understanding of what democracy means in any sense other than a passive sense. Until this changes, land use and the built environment will continue to reflect alienated values that militate against meaningful community emerging.

Anonymous said...

The only problem with this "new urbanism" is that it's getting really trendy with the wealthy yuppie set, so when they rush in to buy up their new million-dollar lofts, the less well-heeled get squeezed out.

This is what's happening here in Austin, TX, formerly a small, laid-back liberal college town, now turned into rich yuppieville.

Ivana Ridemybike said...

Sir Chris,
I, Ivana Ridemybike, am indeed talking about Annapolis , Maryland, Past and future host of the Gap, banana republic, the white house, Starbucks, and place of that ilk ...oh yeah ....CVS too.

Most people that were not born here love Annapolis for its quaint pseudo-romanitic feel, but those of us that have lived here all of our lives only feel the throbbing heart of darkness beating all the goodness out of a town where you could once walk down the street and know people by name. { I am prone to hyperbole}

you take a business like yours for instance, one that beats with passion and soul, you SHOULD be down town , but alas you can't afford the rent--nor would your far-away clientele be able to visit you by car as there is no where to park.

Please forgive me, I am a bitter old man ( 44) and can;t adjust to these here new fangled ways.

I still love Chick 'n' Ruths though. Oh yeah, let me also say that MRE is not in the least bit like the "Annapolis" side. Have they seceded yet ? Dude, you should of gotten a warehouse on either end of 2nd street--they bring their dogs to work and don't where socks.

Anonymous said...

In a democracy majority rules. Although we have some federal laws to reinforce social justice, it is difficult and expensive to get them enforced.

Quality of life measures are not part of DOTs' equations and thus we have painted ourselves (and our children) in a serious and unsustainable situation. Change will be expensive and politically explosive.

Keep cycling,

C said...

Doesn't help that most of the largest cities in the US - places like Phoenix (5th largest city), LA (2nd), Houston (4th) were all built in large part after World War 2 by which time the automobile had become a common part of life. Most cities in Europe have been around a lot longer than that and were laid out pre-automobile. The post war population boom and subsequent suburban sprawl made many public transport systems useless outside the northeast and a few other cities.

The one saving grace and glimmer of hope is that in many areas downtown city centers are being revitalized and people are starting to move back into cities. Heck, Phoenix is even building a light rail system. That was unthinkable when I was growing up in the Valley. Here in Seattle townhouses are being promoted as being within easy walking distance of shops.

Only problem is in many of these cities housing is now getting very expensive and is beyond the means of many middle class families. My wife and I just paid over $500k for a fairly modest 1961 house in Seattle and most of our friends say we got a bargain. We're fortunate enough - and work hard enough - to have the jobs and ability to afford such a home. Many people who hold down respectable full-time jobs could never afford that. It's even worse in many parts of California. Being able to live in a city, in a nice neighborhood, within walking distance of many of your daily needs seems to be a luxury most can't afford in many areas.

Gunnar Berg said...

Someone mentioned that the weather in England is awful. Well maybe, but Minneapolis has the second highest percentage of bicycle commuters in the nation, behind only Portland. Weather? England is bloody balmy.
I suspect it's more government commitment, driven by a growth pattern that makes parking difficult, and aided by a large downtown population.

Anonymous said...


I don't know about the weather in Minneapolis or Portland, but a Londoner once told me 70°F is a freakin' heat wave in his city. Britain is a cold, wet country no matter how you slice it.

Gunnar Berg said...

Let that Londoner commute at 20 degrees below zero for a week or two - not that I would, but people do. Of course people cut themselves to experience pain too.

z-man said...

anon, you are right, I am a kind thoughtful person, but thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt. And thanks also to C for supporting my position.
Having said that, please anon, and I'm not disagreeing by the way, what do you see as the major root cause of the decline of quality-life in America. I'm interested in your view on this.

TomCat said...

Krugman is still perpetuating the myth that all we have to do is extract more oil out of the ground and to reduce strategic reserves to lower the price.

There is another possibility- we have reached the peak production in the worlds oil fields. We saw this happen in the US in the 70's. It is happening now. Peak Oil has now been globalized. The end of oil will change more than how many miles per gallon we consume.

lamplightsg said...

As others have said, many in this country actually cannot get around by any means other than an automobile. Their towns are poorly designed and/or there is no public transportation at all.

I live in a Southern city of 100,000 and am car free, and while I believe it's the best thing I've ever done, it's certainly not easy much of the time. I am fortunate that my town is unique among many of its neighbors; we have a fairly well designed MUP and lots of nice side-streets one can use to get all over town. We even have a new, small bus line for the first time ever. This is completely unheard of in most of the surrounding towns and it would be awful to bike in those places.

And of course many people could very well do it but have likely never thought of it or don't believe it's possible. At one time I worked 31 miles from home and drove a pickup truck there every day. I finally got fed up with it and as soon as I saw a job opening closer to home I jumped on it so I could ride to work. I took a cut in pay but it was so worth it that I have not regretted it once. I soon found myself running errands by bike, even going to the doctor by bike. I started noticing I had a lot more extra cash every week! Not to mention I felt better than I had in years. After one stretch where my truck sat parked for about six months, I finally sold it back in March.

Now I can't imagine working 31 miles from home, but my life is better because I changed it for myself. I used to complain about gas and traffic, thinking there was no other way. For me there was another way, but I had to help myself instead of waiting for someone else to do it for me.

There are still plenty of people in our country who could help themselves, but instead are waiting for someone else (the government?) to solve their problems for them. That's fine if they want to go that route, but it's not for me.

z-man said...

Good for you lamplights, that is great!
And your right, gov't is not in the business of solving those kinds of problems. Build/maintain roads etc, keep a militia, collect taxes. Otherwise butt out. I shudder to think what will happen if they get hold of care. Anyone who has been in the armed forces knows that.

Anonymous said...

I've lived in LA, Tokyo, Florence and Honolulu. And I've ridden my bike a great deal in all those places.

Honolulu is a small city with lots of rain and in turn junked up streets. It's possible to ride anywhere on the island within a day or so.

Florence is cobbled, small, lots of stops and most drivers wish they drove rally cars. But ultimately a bicycle will beat a car to most anywhere within 10 miles or so. Not a lot of rage in drivers, but plenty of competitiveness to get to the next red.

Tokyo has the least space, and going fast is nearly impossible. There are just too many people, but people are just going places - there is no mentionable animosity between drivers, scooters, motorcycles and pedestrians.

LA has been re-built for cars, but there are so many ways to get places, and the expansive streets or the spread out city give it an open feel. And everywhere you need to go is a fair distance, so there are no 3 block rides.

I realize there are material effects that range farther than I can imagine in more places than I can think of. But for me the only point is this - "The mind can make a heaven out of hell or a hell out of heaven."

Roads! said...

Hi, zman.

"I like the Danish cycling culture, but I've been there and realize that it's not borne of some higher ideal other than economy. It may have become/will become more than that, but that's where it's roots lie."

In terms of personal choices? Sure. It's really, really expensive to own a car in Copenhagen.

But the "roots" are the result of 50 years of decisive action based on sane policy: turning parking lots back into pedestrian plazas, closing off an increasing network of streets to auto traffic, mitigating the impact of auto traffic where it remained, building out expansive bike-specific infrastructure. No matter why they choose to ride a bike today, few Danes would wish for a return to the unpleasant, car-choked Copenhagen of 1960.

"... gov't is not in the business of solving those kinds of problems. Build/maintain roads etc, keep a militia, collect taxes. Otherwise butt out."

What kinds of roads? Seriously. "Build roads"? This conversation is about the building of roads!

Today's Copenhagen was made possible by the people who build the roads, and the design choices that they've made over time. Here in the US we've had, essentially, one metric for success in road-building: efficiently moving a certain number of cars at a certain speed. This fundamentally-broken concept of "road" is WHY we have the cities that we have -- and why we have a culture with such radical difficulty in imagining something different. Our view of the world is informed by what we've already built in the world -- obviously, or we wouldn't be writing off most of the US as utterly irredeemable, instead of imagining solutions.

In other words: if you indeed believe that our government is in the business of road-building, you might as well ask questions about how and why they build those roads, instead of shrugging your shoulders and hoping that people just decide to spontaneously change despite a hostile infrastructure.

Ivana RidemyBike® said...

Politics and lugs always cause such division amongst otherwise like-minded cyclists.

Can't we just get along.

Anonymous said...

I used to live 25 miles from work. I commuted by bicycle every day. I did not live in Europe, I lived in suburban northern Virginia. 90% of my route was not on a bicycle trail, but along side cars on the main roads. Yes, the roads are not especially suited for bike traffic, but I got by just fine. I meet way too many cylists who like to complain about how hard it is to get around by bike and too few who actually do it. Get off your butt and do it. (I'm sure you can find something else to complain about)

Anonymous said...

I do it here in Eastern NC, in a (very lovely) town without much provision for bikes. But then, I'm like that. Most people I know are afraid to ride, and they have reason to be. I don't mean the stubborn lifers like me or those on this forum, but almost everyone else. They need some help . . . I've known a few Dutch and Danish people who biked all their life, then stop upon moving here. It's sad. I don't pretend to have any answers.


michael white

z-man said...

Easy there, it's gonna be a nice day.
I was using that as an example of what gov't should be doing.
And with respect to your comment about spontaneous change, that is all we can hope for/expect. You can't have gov't doing that kind of thing-when do you shut that off, after that can of worms is opened?
If we don't change then we pay the price, period. Each person is responsible for his/her own actions.
I love the Euro ideal in many ways. But if we wanted it that way as a nation, we never would have come here in the first place.

roads! said...

The night I wrote the previous post, I had spent the day riding 60 miles out into the suburbs, amidst the trees and fancy houses and the high-speed arterials. It was, without question, a nice day.

But come on, now.

Are "roads" something our government should be doing or not?

Should they have recently spent more than 900 million dollars to refurbish a 12-mile stretch of expressway through the middle of Chicago -- a road I cannot legally use on my bike, and which has actively destroyed the neighborhood fabric beneath it for decades? A road which in fact carries fewer people per day than a single line of the city's transit system (which has to fight tooth and nail for every budgetary concession)?

Because they did, dude. They do. If you're worried about this particular can of worms, I have bad news for you: It's already open. You and I are spending money on roads; or rather, our government is spending our money on our roads.

If that's the case, why shouldn't we ask them to build different roads? Roads which respect us as cyclists and pedestrians and transit-users? Why am I accused of complaining from the sidelines, or being un-American, when I suggest that we're building the wrong roads?

We're building roads anyway!

Can we answer that question first? I'm not trying to be antagonistic; I'd just like to know why building roads just like we've "always" built them is okay, while the suggestion that we build a different kind of road leads to these weird, polarized conversations.

z-man said...

1st off if you are indeed in the Chicago area, you are fortunate to have access to some decent mass transit.
My example was this the gov't should be keeping to things like-forget building, ok?-maintaining infrastructure etc as opposed to meddling in our lives. Hopefully I've explained it better this time.
There is more to this than you/I getting around to where we want to go.
If you have, in the last week, purchased anything, anything at all, thn the answer to your $900 mil question is, at least for the present, yes. That's how this stuff gets to you, it's how the people who bring it to you, get to work, blah, blah, blah.
I'm not even remotely saying it's a perfect system-it ain't. Gov't spending $900 mil isn't bad, a drop in the bucket, if only they didn't spend so much of your money on other stupid stuff.
Be safe out there, and go Cubbies!