Published Jul 8 2009 by Energy Bulletin
Archived Jul 8 2009

Bikes and traffic - July 8

by Staff

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How driving a car into Manhattan costs $160

Felix Salmon, Reuters

In the world of urban planning, there are few things hairier than transportation hypotheticals. When NYC pedestrianized Broadway in Times Square and Herald Square in May, the transportation commissioner said that traffic speeds would go up — but now it seems that we won’t know until December at the earliest whether that’s actually true.

At the same time, however, a smart model of what exactly would happen if you changed this or charged for that is a prerequisite for making any kind of informed improvements to a snarled-up central business district. And so, ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to Charles Komanoff’s absolutely astonishing Balanced Tranportation Analyzer — a 3.5 MB Excel spreadsheet which is the product of many years of research and analysis into the question of New York City traffic.

This thing is so big and so complicated that even with all of the detailed explanations in it, it’s hard to understand — you really need Komanoff himself to walk you through it. But he recently did just that for me, and so I can point you to the “Delays” sheet, for instance, where Komanoff attempts to quantify the externalities imposed by any given car in NYC traffic.

...Being a cyclist, I’m acutely aware of the issue of externalities — it generally costs you nothing to blindly step off the sidewalk and into the bike lane, or to open your taxi door without looking behind you, but it can affect me greatly. Komanoff’s a cyclist too, but he’s concentrating in this spreadsheet mainly on vehicular traffic. After crunching the numbers, he calculates that on a weekday, the average car driven into Manhattan south of 60th Street causes a total of 3.26 hours of delays to everybody else. (At weekends, the equivalent number is just over 2 hours.) No one car is likely to suffer excess delays of more than a few seconds, of course, but if you add up all those seconds for the thousands of affected cars and trucks, it comes to a significant amount of time.
(3 July 2009)



Bicycle Production Reaches 130 Million Units

Gary Gardner, Worldwatch Institute

Bicycle production was up 3.2 percent in 2007 to 130 million units, a continuation of the upward trend that has characterized production for most of this decade.1 (See Figure 1.) Global output continued to be largely a Chinese affair, as China produced two of every three bikes made worldwide.2 (See Figure 2.) India, the European Union, Taiwan, Indonesia, and Brazil were the next five largest producers, accounting together for about a quarter of the total.3

Cycling is potentially an important mode of sustainable transport: it is non-polluting, inexpensive, and good for users' health and the quality of urban life. But the amount of cycling in most cities worldwide remains well below its potential.

The share of all trips made by bike varies greatly among countries. Chinese cities still register some of the highest cycling rates in the world, despite growing consumer interest in private automobiles. In the most cycled cities, such as Tianjin, Xi'an, and Shijiazhuang, the bicycle accounts for more than half of all trips.4 In the west, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany have the highest rates of cycling, ranging from 10 to 27 percent of all trips.5 This compares with about 1 percent of trips in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia.

...Increases in global commodity prices in 2007 and 2008 could soon affect bicycle pro duction. Price hikes for steel, butyl, rubber, titanium, and other materials are driving up production costs, and materials shortages have left tens of thousands of partially completed bikes in warehouses.10

At the same time, the spike in gas prices in the first half of 2008 began to stimulate cycling, especially among commuters.11 Dealers began to stock bikes and accessories in anticipation of increased demand.12 In some U.S. cities, including Toledo in Ohio and Charlotte in North Carolina, rising gas prices led officials to resurrect or start police bicycle patrols.13 The Trek Bicycle Corporation reports increased sales of police bikes for the past three years.14

The Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, and other European nations reached high cycling rates through policies that give priority to cycling, walking, and public transportation over private automobiles.15 Bikeways that are separated from traffic, stoplights timed to the speed of bikes, shortcuts allowing cyclists to make right-hand turns before intersections, traffic calming in residential neighborhoods, ample bicycle parking, and coordination with public transport have all made cycling safe, fast, and convenient in strong biking cities.16 (See the Video Resources section for links to videos that illustrate various biking infrastructure features.)
(12 November 2009)
An older story, but that one that brings out some significant facts and with good links. It would be interesting to see if the trends they were charting then are still going in the same directions. KS


Bike Among the Ruins

Toby Barlow, The New York Times
One night a little over a year ago, crossing Woodward Avenue, I crashed my bicycle. As I flew head over heels across Detroit’s main boulevard, I thought, well, in any other town, I’d be hitting a car right about now. But this being the Motor City, the street was deserted, completely motor-free.

While bike enthusiasts in most urban areas continue to have to fight for their place on the streets, Detroit has the potential to become a new bicycle utopia. It’s a town just waiting to be taken. With well less than half its peak population, and free of anything resembling a hill, the city and its miles and miles of streets lie open and empty, beckoning. And lately, whether it’s because of the economy or the price of gas or just because it’s a nice thing to do, there are a lot more bikers out riding.

This budding culture brings some commerce with it. Down on the waterfront, and just three hundred yards or so from the headquarters of General Motors, my friends Kelli and Karen are in their second year running the Wheelhouse bike shop. One might think, given the economy, that starting a business in the D makes as much sense as stepping on a nail, but Kelli and Karen’s shop is thriving; their profits in May were double what they were a year ago.

...Our abandoned landscape suggests an opportunity that alternative-transportation proponents should consider: instead of raging against their cities’ internal combustion machines, they might consider a tactical retreat to the city that cars have pretty much abandoned.

Despite the press, survival here isn’t so hard. Businesses like the Wheelhouse and the Hub have already shown how well Detroit can work as a new business hothouse. With the legendarily affordable real estate and without needing to pay for car payments, gas or insurance, bicyclists could rebuild Detroit into a model of a two-wheeled economy. They could pass laws promoting bikes over cars and designate entire avenues motor-free zones, which, given the state of many of them now, wouldn’t be so much of a stretch.
(4 July 2009)

Hmmh...cheap real estate, low car traffic, lots of urban agriculture. City of the Future? KS.

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Photo credit: flickr/shapeshift