Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Bike Wars -- segment on HBO "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel"

The latest edition of the HBO show "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel," has a segment called "The Bike Wars."  It discusses the conflicts between bicyclists and motor vehicle operators in the US and then does brief segments in Copenhagen, Denmark and Amsterdam, Netherlands, where in those places, a majority of trips are accomplished by bike, complemented by walking and public transit.

An extra online clip with Megan Hochman covers more ground, including how she holds classes for law enforcement officers on cycling and the law.

The story doesn't say much that's new to people involved in the issue, but it's well articulated and should resonate with people who aren't familiar with the intricacies of the argument.  The images are nice.

In terms of relating the European "cities" to the US experience, they missed the key point about the difference in opportunity between cities and suburbs in opportunity to capture bike trips.  The greatest opportunities to capture trips by bikes are in the cities, but most people in the US live in suburbs--despite the recent bump upward in city populations. 

Plus, they didn't discuss infrastructure much in terms of the US context.  That the US is not city-centric the same way that Europe is makes a big difference in terms of infrastructure.

Nor did the mention at all the fact that gasoline prices, parking prices, excise taxes on cars, the cost of getting a driver's license, etc., are all much higher in Europe, compared to the US.  This affects the willingness to bike also.

They ended the segment making the point that 1/3 of commuting trips are no more than 5 miles in length.  They also didn't discuss the difference between recreational cycling and racing and biking as transportation, and how this has shaped attitudes on "both sides." 

I'd like to see a follow up segment on the Idaho Stop.  It's a shame they didn't do a bunch of additional online segments.
"Why would you ever ride a bike when you have a perfectly good car?"  -- Megan Hochman, formerly a cycle racer, now a lawyer representing cyclists

"Why should I have to share the road with you?"  -- Megan Hochman, on the attitudes of motor vehicle operators

-- 20% increase in deaths of cyclists in the US over the past 3 years
-- in 47 states, killing a cyclist is a misdemeanor offense

-- 50% commuting by bike
-- fully protected bike lanes with dedicated signals
-- dedicated long distance 
-- cyclists stop at lights

What's special in the US is the failure to understand that the mobility network has been constructed to favor and privilege the automobile.  As long as that doesn't change, the conflict between motor vehicle operators and sustainable modes--walking, biking, and public transit--will not abate.

The difference between Denmark and the Netherlands is that those countries made the decision 40-50 years ago to re-articulate the mobility network to privilege sustainable mobility ("The Dutch ThinkBike project in DC").

-- 60% of people use bikes for trips every day
-- so many people bike there isn't enough parking
-- adding 40,000 legal

"Perhaps, fittingly, the question for biking is one of 'balance.'"

Minneapolis only US city ranked in top 20 bike cities in the world

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At 12:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How long was this segment?

At 12:34 PM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

not that long. maybe 7 minutes.

At 10:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So in 7 minutes you expected them to compare and contrast the urban and suburban built realms of two continents, examine opportunities for trip capture in each, critique the favored status of automobility; analyze fiscal policy, drivers licensure, and the costs of automobile acquisition and ownership in different cultures, and explain what an Idaho stop is?

At 5:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Well Richard can do it, why not Byrant Gumbel? He's the one making big bucks.


At 10:40 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Actually what I expect is a whole show.

e.g., there is an assignment editor for a tv station in Minneapolis who is a bicyclist. After he did a story on the Hennepin County bike plan, I wrote him and suggested he could do a whole series of pieces on biking issues, and get them to run across the station network. (I can't remember the network the station is affiliated with.)

He never even responded.

But yeah, were I doing the show, I'd get the line producers to really dig into the issue, instead of being too glib.

They did interview this guy who lives in Copenhagen, Tim Blumenthal, who does tours for US people.

He almost got to the succinct point I made, that it's the mobility system. But Bryant Gumbel's words focused on "balance" not optimality.

I've been thinking of writing a short follow up with the title:

balance, moderation, choice, optimality.

It's not about "balance" it's about building the system necessary to generate the outcomes you want. For various reasons, those countries optimize sustainable mobility, and they make a majority of policies congruent with in a path dependent way that outcome.

In the US, we just try to graft on to the automobile-centric mobility system some accommodations for biking.

The reason the suburban vs. city issue is so important is that at many scales, biking doesn't make sense, because of the way we've developed our land use and transportation system.

But in those places where the links between residence, work, and school are much tighter--those places are usually cities--biking is an optimal choice.


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