Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The bottom line: Krugman on "Betraying the Planet"

Over at the New Mobility Agenda we hooked the timetable of our transportation reform program to climate issues at the beginning of this decade. And when President Clinton in announcing the creation of the Clinton Climate Initiative on 1 August 2006, warned "We have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions about 80% over the next 10 to 15 years," well we took his words to heart.

Now three years later, how do we look? The 5% to 8% annual reactions necessary to meet that timetable? Oh dear no. We have to the contrary continued to generate ever greater amounts of greenhouse gases and other pollutants than ever, and at accelerating rates. So what do we do? Just forget about it? Well, let's clear the decks today and have a look at what Paul Krugman wrote on this score in today's International Herald Tribune.

From the International Herald Tribune of 30 June 2009 * (Fair use - see below)

By Paul Krugman

So the House passed the Waxman-Markey climate-change bill. In political terms, it was a remarkable achievement.

But 212 representatives voted no. A handful of these no votes came from representatives who considered the bill too weak, but most rejected the bill because they rejected the whole notion that we have to do something about greenhouse gases.

And as I watched the deniers make their arguments, I couldn’t help thinking that I was watching a form of treason — treason against the planet.

To fully appreciate the irresponsibility and immorality of climate-change denial, you need to know about the grim turn taken by the latest climate research.

The fact is that the planet is changing faster than even pessimists expected: ice caps are shrinking, arid zones spreading, at a terrifying rate. And according to a number of recent studies, catastrophe — a rise in temperature so large as to be almost unthinkable — can no longer be considered a mere possibility. It is, instead, the most likely outcome if we continue along our present course.

Thus researchers at M.I.T., who were previously predicting a temperature rise of a little more than 4 degrees by the end of this century, are now predicting a rise of more than 9 degrees. Why? Global greenhouse gas emissions are rising faster than expected; some mitigating factors, like absorption of carbon dioxide by the oceans, are turning out to be weaker than hoped; and there’s growing evidence that climate change is self-reinforcing — that, for example, rising temperatures will cause some arctic tundra to defrost, releasing even more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Temperature increases on the scale predicted by the M.I.T. researchers and others would create huge disruptions in our lives and our economy. As a recent authoritative U.S. government report points out, by the end of this century New Hampshire may well have the climate of North Carolina today, Illinois may have the climate of East Texas, and across the country extreme, deadly heat waves — the kind that traditionally occur only once in a generation — may become annual or biannual events.

In other words, we’re facing a clear and present danger to our way of life, perhaps even to civilization itself. How can anyone justify failing to act?

Well, sometimes even the most authoritative analyses get things wrong. And if dissenting opinion-makers and politicians based their dissent on hard work and hard thinking — if they had carefully studied the issue, consulted with experts and concluded that the overwhelming scientific consensus was misguided — they could at least claim to be acting responsibly.

But if you watched the debate on Friday, you didn’t see people who’ve thought hard about a crucial issue, and are trying to do the right thing. What you saw, instead, were people who show no sign of being interested in the truth. They don’t like the political and policy implications of climate change, so they’ve decided not to believe in it — and they’ll grab any argument, no matter how disreputable, that feeds their denial.

Indeed, if there was a defining moment in Friday’s debate, it was the declaration by Representative Paul Broun of Georgia that climate change is nothing but a “hoax” that has been “perpetrated out of the scientific community.” I’d call this a crazy conspiracy theory, but doing so would actually be unfair to crazy conspiracy theorists. After all, to believe that global warming is a hoax you have to believe in a vast cabal consisting of thousands of scientists — a cabal so powerful that it has managed to create false records on everything from global temperatures to Arctic sea ice.

Yet Mr. Broun’s declaration was met with applause.

Given this contempt for hard science, I’m almost reluctant to mention the deniers’ dishonesty on matters economic. But in addition to rejecting climate science, the opponents of the climate bill made a point of misrepresenting the results of studies of the bill’s economic impact, which all suggest that the cost will be relatively low.

Still, is it fair to call climate denial a form of treason? Isn't it politics as usual?

Yes, it is — and that’s why it’s unforgivable.

Do you remember the days when Bush administration officials claimed that terrorism posed an “existential threat” to America, a threat in whose face normal rules no longer applied? That was hyperbole — but the existential threat from climate change is all too real.

Yet the deniers are choosing, willfully, to ignore that threat, placing future generations of Americans in grave danger, simply because it’s in their political interest to pretend that there’s nothing to worry about. If that’s not betrayal, I don’t know what is.

= = = END = = =

It may seem strange but the bottom line, the real urgency for transportation system reform in and around our cities that we presently have to face, does not come from the more than 1 million people killed on our roads and streets each year; nor the 50 million or so who are injured in traffic; nor from the fact that in nine cases out of 10 every year it takes you longer and cost you more wherever it is you want to go, whether you are in your own car or not; nor from all the costs and uncertainties being faced as a result of uncertainties and escalation of petroleum and resource costs; and not even from the fact that our present no-choice transportation system is not serving very well the majority of people in our communities who are too young or old to drive, too poor to own and operate a car, too unfit for reasons of physical or mental orientation to drive , or who simply choose not to own and drive a car. But no, at the end of the day the real bottom line is the fact that our present transportation arrangements are crushing our planet at a rate which makes fundamental reform in all sectors our highest political and economic priority.

You have heard all that before? You continue to harbor doubts about the veracity of the claims being made in scientific circles about the extent of the damage and its future cost? Well let me suggest that you run for political office and that you vote against any form of climate control legislation. You will not be alone.

The editor, World Streets


Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

Source and fair use: This article originally appeared in the New York Times of 30 June 2009. You can view their original article here. And click here to view World Street's policy on Fair Use. Comments welcome.

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Heads-up: Keeping up with World Streets

Using LinkedIn to keep up with World Streets

- Paul Minett, Trip Convergence Ltd, New Zealand

This is a practical post with a suggestion. I found that I was not keeping up with World Streets because I do not use the RSS feeds. And I wanted a weekly summary rather than daily emails or the monthly summary. Some people are hard to please!

Using LinkedIn to keep up with World Streets

What I found is that if you join the World Streets Working Group on LinkedIn - a free social/professional networking site -- you can get a daily or weekly (your choice) summary of the World Streets posts sent directly to your email. I use the weekly version to keep up myself.

Here is how you do it:
1. Sign in to LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com (or click on the link in item 2)

2. Go to Groups and click on the World Streets Working Group (alternatively just click this link: http://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=668837.

3. Click the ‘Join Group’ button.

4. You will see that you get options for how often you would like to receive summaries of activity in the group. The way it is set up, all World Streets posts go to this group, and then are summarised for you at whatever frequency you would like. Like something you see there, a single click takes it to you the World Streets site.
An additional benefit of joining the LinkedIn World Streets group is that you can see who else is there, and communicate directly with others there who share this interest.

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Dialogue: Who is going to take the lead?

Who are going to be the main actors leading the transition to sustainable transportation in and around our cities?

This is not entirely self-evident since there are a fair range of what would seem to be possible candidates. However in order to sort this out, it will be important that we first have a realistic understanding of what has been going on up to now. And to say the least, the news is not good.

When it comes to "sustainable transportation" there is out there a rich world of rhetoric, claims, advertisements, notices, media pieces, announcements of projects and events, that taken together can give one the impression that something important, something even transformative is going on. But when you get down to the harsh reality of what is going on at the level of the street, a very different picture emerges.

The sad fact is that after twenty years of talk, and, it has to be said, a rising crescendo of messages and even actions, the sad news is that every day in just about every city on this planet, traffic is getting worse, the amount of scarce resources consumed continues to escalate, the injustices extended, the basic economics ever less viable, and the environmental cost steadily mounting and edging toward climate meltdown. We are failing to meet the challenge. It would be exceptionally weak-headed of us to be optimistic under these circumstances.

We all know that something must be done and that it should be done without further delay. However it is far less clear who is going to do what under these circumstances. The fact is that despite all of the conferences, reports, talk about treaties, and even pioneering projects and accomplishments here and there, there is a continuing leadership vacuum. Who is going to fill it?

The goal of this week’s open dialogue is to ask you for your views on this. Later we can build on your feedback and ideas in older to develop a broader analysis, but what better way to start than to ask the hundreds of knowledgeable people who check into World Streets every day for their own views.

To get us started on this, you will find your left a small reader poll asking for your views on this. In addition, you will find is always that there is space for comments right below here, and we invite your contributions with real interest.

Here are our candidates. If we missed anyone important, please let us know.

* International organizations
* NGOs
* Scientific/academic community
* National governments
* Industry and private sector
* Cities and local government
* Local associations/transport, environment, etc activists/groups
* The media
* Children, schools
* Foundations
* World Streets
* You – as a citizen, parent

The word is now to you.

The editor

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Bad News Dept: Law requires disabled people to wear signs (Indonesia)

Jakarta – June 28, 2009, The Straits Times

"Lawmakers voted unanimously this month to demand disabled people wear signs announcing their condition so motorists won't run them down as they cross the street."

Indonesia's traffic nightmare

Jakarta – June 28, 2009, The Straits Times
NEW laws requiring disabled pedestrians to wear traffic signs have met with frustration and derision in Indonesia, where in the eyes of the law cars have taken priority over people.

The laws will do nothing to improve road safety or ease the traffic that is choking the life out of the capital city of some 12 million people, and serve only to highlight official incompetence, analysts said.

Within five years, if nothing changes, experts predict Jakarta will reach total gridlock, with every main road and backstreet clogged with barely moving, pollution-spewing cars.

That's too late for the long-awaited urban rail link known as the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), which has only just entered the design stage and won't be operational until 2016 at the earliest.

'Just like a big flood, Jakarta could be paralysed. The city's mobility will die,' University of Indonesia researcher Nyoman Teguh Prasidha said.

Instead of requiring level footpaths and ramps, lawmakers voted unanimously this month to demand disabled people wear signs announcing their condition so motorists won't run them down as they cross the street.

Experts say the new traffic law is sadly typical of a country which for decades has allowed cars and an obsession with car ownership to run rampant over basic imperatives of urban planning.

'It is strange when handicapped people are asked to carry extra burdens and obligations,' Institute of Transportation Studies (Instran) chairman Darmaningtyas said.

'The law is a triumph for the automotive industry. It's completely useless for alleviating the traffic problem.' The number of motor vehicles including motorcycles in greater Jakarta has almost tripled in the past eight years to 9.52 million. Meanwhile road space has grown less than one percent annually since 2004, according to the Indonesian Transport Society.

'Traffic congestion is like cancer,' Institute for Transportation and Development Policy specialist Harya Setyaka said. 'This cancer has developed over 30 years as Jakarta begins to develop haphazardly beyond its carrying capacity.' A 2004 study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency found that traffic jams cost Jakarta some 8.3 trillion rupiah (822 million dollars) a year in extra fuel consumption, lost productivity and health impact. -- AFP

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Thanks to Sudhir Gota of the CAI-Asia Center, Manila, Philippines for this heads-up.

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Profiles: Guidelines for submittals

Preparing a World Streets Profile

We welcome well written articles that report on outstanding groups and programs dealing with problems and solutions in our chosen sector, looking out for tools and approaches that have potential very broad, hopefully universal application. Probably the best point of reference to guide your submittal is the tone and content of Streets itself. Beyond that considering authors are invited to check the contributor notes here.

It's a big world out there -- and as we all know are there are literally thousands of groups and programs, each doing their bit to advance the sustainability agenda in our sector. If for instance you simply scroll down on the left menu to our listing of hot links to key organizations and programs working in our area, you will see more than a hundred of them listed here. And if you click to our Knoogle New Mobility knowledge base, you will see that we have scanned and included more than twelve hundred. And you know others yet.

Profile subjects:

Against this rich backdrop, we are inviting World Streets Profiles on and from selected organizations and programs around the world whom we regard as important players showing the way in the push toward sustainable transportation, sustainable cities and sustainable lives, and about whom we figure our readers will want to know more. Some of these profiles will report on the work, accomplishments and offerings of international organizations and NGOs, others regional or cooperative programs, outstanding projects, and yet others quite local activities that nonetheless to our mind represent interesting models for study and possible replication in other places. Activist university, research and specialized consultancy groups will not be immune to our interest either.

And yes, we shall also from time to time be profiling private sector groups whom we see as potentially part of the solution. There is certainly wide scope for profiles where there is evidence of their strong commitment to the sustainability agenda. But at the same time, dear reader, be sure that we will not be doing any greenwashing in these pages. No time for that.

In short we are looking for reliable information and inspiration for the hundreds of discriminating readers coming to Streets each day from more than 50 countries around this gasping planet. We want them to come away from their read of your profile pleased to know more about you and your work, and better yet with a few ideas about some things that they might now be able to look into or get to themselves.

Note: Just to be sure we are clear on this. These Profiles are not intended to serve as announcements for a new or existing program, such as may exist on one of the early pages of your website. They are intended to be not so much purely descriptive as analytic, critical, and showing the lessons of experience and accomplishment. Thank you for understanding this.

Profile content:

A typical profile runs anywhere from 300 to 2000 words. However please bear in mind that you probably will have the reader's full attention no more than five to ten minutes. (At least not for the first piece that will be placed on line. There is place for links to more for those who wish to dig deeper.)

You certainly have figured this out for yourself, but let's just for the record run down the list of the kinds of things that our readers expect to see covered in a profile:
• Who you are?
• What you do?
• How you got started and why?
• How you do it?
• Why you do it?
• How you pay for it?
• How, if at all, do you work with others?
• What have you learned through the lessons of experience (good and bad) that you would draw to the attention of colleagues in other places considering something along these lines?
• Where can the reader turn for more background and details on your work, possibly useful tools and reports, accomplishments, etc. ?
• What you intend to do in the future?

And if you have any good graphics or photos that help the reader to get a better feel for your project, that can be very useful.

The idea is for our authors to be collegial and frank with their peers. So share with the reader too some of the outstanding lessons you learned, possibly at times a bit painfully, through your hands-on experience, just in case the reader is interested in trying or replicating all or some part of your approach. Your counsel as to potential problems, bottlenecks, and things to avoid/provide in advance for will be precious. And if you have at any point run into problems and had to change course, back-peddle or otherwise figure out how to cope, I am sure that our readers will be grateful to hear about this as well. They have to know how hard it is . . . but also to understand that with adequate preparation, monitoring, adaptability, energy and brains on their part it can be done.

From a reader perspective:

Bearing in mind that our readers are smart people coming from many countries around the world and with a wide variety of backgrounds and experience, we try to provide for them articles which are highly readable, informative, and which look at whatever it is from their perspective.

We invite you to start by considering our readers and what they generally are looking for when they come to Streets. Information and inspiration in about equal parts I would say. And if possible all that to be written in an engaging way, bearing in mind that they are busy people and there is a lot of competition for their time and attention. Bear in mind too as you draft your piece that your readers come from many different places, live and work often in very different cultures, and more than half do not have English as their first language, meaning that we really do try to avoid too familiar usage, insider jokes, and slang.

Questions? Suggestions? Nominations? This is the place to come. Write, call or Skype to . . .

Eric Britton, Editor
| editor@worldstreets.org | +331 7550 3788 | Skype newmobility |
| 8/10, rue Joseph Bara | 75006 Paris | France |

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Profiles: Shared Space Institute (Netherlands)

Sharing Knowledge on Shared Space

- Sabine Lutz, Shared Space Institute, Drachten the Netherlands

On June 23 a stunning article was posted on World Streets, by Paul Barter, of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the University of Singapore. He refers to experiments with shared space or ‘naked streets’ which have drawn considerable public attention in recent years. Indeed they have. From 2004 – 2008 seven European partners from five countries have been sharing knowledge on Shared Space.

It takes shared space to create shared understanding

In the Netherlands, since February 2009 the Shared Space Institute is operational, as one of the project’s tangible results. On June 10th 2009 the Institute had its official opening. The institute is dedicated to further exploring and applying the Shared Space principles. What do they teach us about the ins and outs of successful public spaces, and what changes need to be made to maintain them? And perhaps even more important: what does the Shared Space concept teach us about wealth and health of the people living there?

What does ‘Shared Space’ mean, and why do we think it’s needed?

Over the past decades, traffic objectives and traffic legislation have determined the way in which public spaces were designed. This was meant to improve traffic flows and traffic safety. But it was at the cost of the quality of the public spaces and the living environment of people. And it was also at the cost of the personal conduct in public, and the professional capacities of those who are responsible for public spaces.

In contrast to current practice, Shared Space strives to combine rather than separate the various functions of public spaces. By doing so, the quality of public spaces will be improved, and responsible behaviour will be evoked. So, when designing spaces, Shared Space relies on information from the surroundings to guide road users' conduct, instead of forcing them to strictly obey to traffic rules and signs. When there is a primary school, we don’t want to hide it behind fences and sign posts. Instead, we extend the school yard out into the street. We think that car drivers are not stupid. If they can see children playing in the streets, they will reduce speed and drive as careful they possibly could.

We need space for traffic and space for people

Of course, this does not mean that rules will be entirely superfluous. Without rules of the road, some well meaning drivers would drive slowly, others would drive quickly, believing correctly that they were doing so safely, and still others would drive quickly but not as safe as they thought they were. Therefore, Shared Space makes a clear distinction between traffic areas and those spaces, which should serve as people space and thus must invite to behave socially. In his article from Tuesday, June 23, 2009 on http://newmobilityagenda.blogspot.com/, Paul Barter very clearly pointed out the characteristics of these areas.

Both of them, roads and motor ways on the one hand and streets on the other, are depending on one another. Only if there is a suitable network for fast traffic, we can design all the other public space for the purposes it’s meant for: all those surprising and interesting things people want to share with each other.

We need to change our minds

But that’s not all. We learned that Shared Space does not only change our thinking about how to handle traffic and how to design our roads and public spaces. It also points out how to tackle the overwhelming power of rules and legislation in politics and in our daily lives. Shared Space gave way to the search for new ways to achieve key improvements in the interrelated areas of road safety, spatial quality, economic prosperity, governance, community capacity and confidence. It stimulates the capacity of communities to be more creative in the way they tackle a broad range of issues. And it also assists politicians, decision-makers, city staff and citizens to 'think outside the box' when looking for ways to address public issues.

Who is working at Shared Space Institute?

We are ten professionals in the Netherlands, experienced in various working fields, such as traffic engineers, urban planning, psychology, process management and geography. We are and connected to a worldwide network of researchers, practitioners and citizens. We all share the mission to develop a new way of thinking about public domains.

However, the quality of public space is not a goal in itself. We think it’s important to create ‘people spaces’, places where people can meet, engage and communicate. Space only has quality if it contributes to the quality of life. So, public space is about people and their living environment. And it is also about the quality and justice of society. As a consequence, society itself should be organised in a way that people can act as responsible members of that society.

Shared Research Program

Shared Space Institute is an international knowledge institute, dedicated to knowledge creation, knowledge transfer and knowledge implementation in the field of Shared Space. It is our starting point that public space is the heart of society. Through its quality, public space supports people in their humaneness.

Research and knowledge creation on these aspects are at the heart of our activities. Our approach is integral and cross-sector. This means that:
• research should always be carried out in partnerships with stakeholders in society, to make sure that it is based on the demands of society
• various disciplines should participate and that research should always be related to every day practice in the working fields
• our aim is not to gather theoretical information. Research never should be an aim on itself. If we say ‘research’, we always start from concrete projects
• these projects deliver research questions to be answered. The answers on their turn deliver knowledge to be applied in the projects.

Please find more background information about the Shared Space Institute’s research activities on: http://www.sharedspace.eu/en/activities/research

Needless to say, that our staff is ready to support authorities, professionals and interest groups in development and innovation processes. You’re always welcome for a lecture or a field trip to interesting Shared Space locations. For more details about Shared Space – schemes in the Netherlands please refer to http://www.sharedspace.eu/en/activities/projects.

Next steps?

At the moment, we are busy on working out the Shared Space – research program. Our main research question is centered at the cross roads of the knowledge domains as illustrated in the figure on the right. How are these domains connected to each other, and how do they influence each other? If you improve one of them, what changes does it cause to the others?

Of course, our research will further plunge into projects addressing safety issues, solving community severance, tackling congestion and enhancing economic vitality in streets and public spaces. Our main interest is at developing innovative approaches to the process of planning, designing and decision-making towards new structures for municipal organization and public engagement.

European collaboration

Perhaps interesting to mention: we would like to apply for European funding to build a partnership in the North Sea Region countries working on new strategies towards balancing rules and ethics to facilitate healthy social and economic organisms. We believe new alliances of public and private stakeholders can provide a better quality of life through a new sense of civility.

Our central result will be to deliver a proved strategy which allows to delegate responsibilities to where they belong. Partners will demonstrate this through sharing management and governance, and forming new alliances between authorities, agencies, networks and individuals. Our target groups are: public authorities, business clusters, research institutes, universities, public support agencies in urban and rural areas, and citizens' organisations. All those who are interested to join the partnership are invited to contact us.
To know more:
Shared Space Institute
Lavendelheide 21 NL 9202 PD Drachten
Sabine Lutz - s.lutz @sharedspace.eu
P: +31 88 0200 475 M: +31 6 83 20 90 78
Editor's note:
Remember this? - The unexpected interview in Groningen: Homage to Hans Monderman

* Click here for 90 second video

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Happy Birthday Vélib’ (Oh dear, what’s wrong with you?)

Next month, on July 15th Paris will celebrate the second anniversary of the path-showing Vélib project. You have seen many different views from many corners of the planet about what is going on here: its perfection, its foibles, its extensions, and more recently news reports that it is about to go into the tank since there are no bikes left. With this in view, we thought we would celebrate this important anniversary with you here on Streets, with a series of visits and conversations in order to give you a State of the Vélib report as it gets ready to move into Year III. To set the stage, here you have our first Happy Birthday message.

Paris, 15 July 2008

Today is the first anniversary of the city of Paris’s highly innovative, much sung public bicycle project Vélib’, which as pretty much everyone by now knows is a contraction of the French words for bicycle (vélo) and liberty (liberté). Over this first year hundreds of thousands of Parisians and visitors have hopped on a Vélib’ and made something on the order of 26 million trips on the streets of this fair city, most of them paying nothing more than a modest subscription fee for what is otherwise a free trip.

There has been a great deal of media coverage and a large number of visitors - and visiting critics. As you can well imagine in a situation where all those people coming from so many places, with such different competences and with so many points of view, there are a wide range of views and opinions about the project, including its high points and shortcomings. These as you will see range wildly from the legitimate to the fanciful.

The purpose of this piece then is to provide you with a sort of Vélib’ FAQ, in which I have attempted to take note of the critical observations passed on through personal contacts, press articles, visiting delegations from a number of countries, newsgroups, blogs, e-mail commentaries, woman on the street interviews, etc., as well as daily use of the system myself. Basically then this is a kvetch or complaint list.

In the commentaries that follow I do not pretend to provide “scientific answers”, although in a number of cases the feedback you will find here does draw on polls, surveys and other more or less scientific compilations. But basically my specialty is pattern recognition -- and so what you see here is my attempt to spot the overall patterns and give you what I hope is a measure reaction to these complaints, questions and claims.

Finally, I want you to know that while I think Vélib’ is a very important project for many reasons, I do not wish to give the impression of defending any aspect of it. This is a new venture and one that is unique and highly innovational. It has many strong points, and things where further work and fine tuning is needed. This kind of open criticism openly discussed, a public critique, is what is needed both here in Paris. And possibly even more so back home if you are thinking about doing a “Vélib’’ of your own.

Now on with the show.

Eric Britton

Happy Birthday Vélib video
Before you dig in here let me invite you to have a look at a second Happy Birthday Vélib’ piece -- a video by the talented Elisabeth Press of StreetFilms in New York. Elisabeth spent a week in Paris researching her film, and spent enough time riding it to have a good understand of what works, and what works maybe a bit less well.

* Click here to view the 8-minute Happy Birthday video.

Thirty things that are terribly terribly wrong with Vélib’

1. The bikes are too heavy
They weigh 22 kg, roughly a third more than maybe your own bicycle. And sure! if your intention is to put it on your shoulder and carry it up five flights of stairs to your apartment, you’re absolutely right -- it’s real heavy. But the fact is that this cycle has been carefully designed in order to do the job that it needs to do. That extra weight turns out to be necessary to provide the full range of support and components necessary for it to do its job. And the necessary robustness -- bear in mind that little bike is going to be ridden by thousands of people of different weights, sizes, cycling skills, etc. over the year. And by and large when you are on the street and peddling away that weight is really no problem (though it can be a drag if you have a steep hill to climb, but you are there for the exercise anyway). In addition the weight and the careful balancing of the bicycle provides good stability, including on the cobblestone Streets which can be a little challenging (see below).

2. Paris is not doing enough to make the city safe for cycling
Let’s start by bearing in mind that until now there are very few cities in the world which are “safe enough”. Paris has doubled the number of safe cycling lanes and protection over the last five years, and is adding on the order or 40-50 km. of additional protection each year. In addition, there are the growing number of “slow speed’ projects which are reducing traffic speeds to 30 km/h, and in places, 15 km/h in an extended number of streets and zones. In addition, the city is pushing for a “Street Code” (as opposed to the national “road code” which is oriented to highways and high speed areas, which will among other things require that in the case of an incident the drivers of the heavier vehicles are required to prove their innocence– as opposed to the present practice which requires a proof of guilt (far harder to do). Bottom line: Paris is today a safe city for informed and prudent city cyclists. And it is getting safer all the time.

3. Bike lanes are inconsistent
There are two ways of looking at this. Starting from the pure Paris perspective: the streets and sidewalks widths and surfaces here vary enormously from place to place, meaning that it is out of the question to have the sort of unified cycle paths or lanes as will be seen, for example, in the better North American or other out of town leisure cycling projects. This means that there must be a wide variety of strategies for dealing with the opportunities and problems that arise when it comes to protecting cyclists in such radically different environments. So as you cycle Paris you will see a varied network consisting of painted lanes (which they do extremely well , I might add), longitudinal barriers separating bikes from motorized traffic, provision for one way cycling, a variety of ways of separating bikes from pedestrian traffic on sidewalks, careful signage, bike boxes, and more. There are also places in which you have to rough it out, share the road with the traffic. All of which is to say that this is above all a real world environment for “city cycling” and to do it well knowledge and experience helps.(Just like when you drive your Ferrari.)

If by contrast to Paris your city has been laid out with a uniform grid with wide streets and ample space for making a uniform sets of engineered cycle lanes, well go for it. But that will rarely be the case. So you will almost inevitably have to do as they have in Paris and use your noggin. Sorry.

4. Only for young healthy males
In Paris, something like 40% of all cyclists are female. And you will see plenty of older people on the streets, on Vélib’s or their own bikes. Moreover there is a strong trend – the more cyclists there are on the streets, the safer they become for cyclists. And as this happens, more women and older people will join the happy fray every day.

5. Paris drivers are aggressive and dangerous
More folklore than truth to this. This is a fairly common complaint of visitors who have myths in their mind about the French but who have not spent enough time in a bike on the road even in their own city. It is right to the extent that most people who are in temporary control of a couple of tons of hurtling steel and rubber, and in a hurry (and what driver is not?), such drivers and inevitably is going to constitute a menace to smaller, less visible vehicles, such as you or me on a bike. So, as long as drivers can speed, cycling is going to be a slightly risky venture.

But here in Paris if you spend enough time on the streets you will observe that drivers are being tamed. And the key to this is the greatly increased number of cyclists out on the streets today. The cyclists are de facto following the tried and true strategy: “occuper le terrain”, which can be loosely translated as “safety in numbers”. The more cyclists on the street, the safer it becomes. And that already is a strategy.

6. Can’t find a bike/parking slot:
This can be a problem, especially for people who are not accustomed to “working the system”. The odds are that if you try it enough there are going to be occasions when you can’t find a bike in the first (or second) station you go to. Or that if you are in a hurry and show up at your intended destination you may find it full. There are three strategic responses to this two-headed dilemma. The first is to wait. The second is to learn the system, in which event you just head like an arrow to the station you by experience know is more likely to offer what you are looking for (remember with 1451 stations in this small city (105 sq. km) you are unlikely to have to walk or peddle more than five minutes to get to the next station. Simplest of all, you can click button 4 on the Velib station monitor, and then you can with one more click (5) check out the status of all nearby stations for free bikes and parking slots. There are thousands of practiced users of Vélib’, and that’s what they do every day. (All while waiting for better times to come).

7: Can’t even get good information about bike/parking availability.
Yes you can, even if it is not yet perfect. You can if before your trip you check out the couple of web sites that provide you with this information with a single click. The one that I use daily is http://www.parisavelo.net/ (I never leave home without it.). There is also an ‘official” one from the city of Paris at http://www.en.velib.paris.fr/trouver_une_station, and another excellent one is at http://www.unvelovite.com/Velib/

Of course you are not always at your computer, so what can I tell you to help you avoid bike angst. Well, you will see that the map on each Vélib’ station does indeed show the nearest stations, but they do not (yet) provide information on their status. (This already exists in Lyons and there is every reason to think we will be seeing it in Paris.) There is also a still-clunky WAP 1 gizmo that you can use with your mobile phone for which you can find instructions at http://www.velib.paris.fr/actualites/decouvrez_velib/les_stations_velib_sur_votre_mobile. (I for one have never had the patience, but that’s just me.)

The final word on this is that the city and the operators are working on it and we are sure to see continuing improvements, both in Paris and in the other leading city projects. In the meantime, develop your knowledge by using it, and you will see that you will use it every day.

8. Many broken bikes at stations
By my own rough calculation, on average I encounter one bike with a problem per ten or so. In most cases the problem is immediately apparent: a loose chain, flat tire, problem with the steering alignment, maybe something with the seat, and more rarely other less visible problems. For a while there has been a fad to cut off the bike baskets but on the basis of daily visual inspection this fad seems to have calmed. If there is something wrong with your bike the etiquette is that when you leave it off or discover the problem, you crank the seat down and turn it in the opposite direction. Then the next person (and the staff) will know immediately. Mechanical problems come with the terrain, and once again point up why managements and maintenance are the keys to the success of any of these systems.

9. My bike doesn’t work!
That probably because you failed to apply the 100% no-brainer start-up test of the regular user. You start by visually inspecting the bike for damage or malfunction. Then you pinch or kick both tires to verify air pressure, pick up the bike and spin the rear wheel, squeeze both brakes, and then adjust the seat to your size – all before flashing your smart card and checking it out. Now this does not guarantee 100% glitch free cycling, but it does 98% or better.

10. Velib’ is not “tourist friendly” – Some tourists credit cards cannot access bikes
Hey. Reality 1: The system is intended as daily transport for Parisians and not tourists (see below). All bank cards with smart chips work just fine, and Amex too. Otherwise no problem, you should most probably be renting a bike anyway.

11. Bikes are too expensive for tourists who want to use them to stroll through Paris
That’s quite right. If you keep it for an uninterrupted four hour stretch, for example, your bill will quickly run up to 19 Euros. That’s more than it would cast you for a full day if you rent it from a bike shop.

12. They are killing the bike retail business
Wrong. More cyclists on the street attract yet more cyclists. The number of people riding their own bikes has roughly doubled over this first year of Vélib’. And while some of these bikes have come out of the attic, others are coming new from the shops. The bike hire, purchase, and maintenance business is doing well in Paris. (But this did not happen by accident.)

13. The stations are not sufficiently visible to cyclists on the move
This is true. In other cities the stations are more visibly marked, but the Paris authorities decided to protect their built environment and not have aggressive signing or lighting of the stations. There is doubtless room for doing better, but the protection of the beauty of the city has to be a high priority.

14. Bus drivers are aggressive and threatening
I don’t observe this in my own cycling here. First of all the drivers are professionally trained, and those in particular who operate on the reserved lanes where cyclists share the right of way with buses and taxis proceed with great caution. I would offer that the onus by and large is on the cyclists (though the taxis drivers could do with better prepping) One nice touch you will see when you get into a bus lane here is that when the bus pulls up behind you to signal its presence, the drivers will ring a bicycle bell. Nice symbol and an agreeable way to share public space.

15 Vélib’ cyclists undisciplined and dangerous.
Performance is uneven here. While I observe that the Parisians by and large are safe cyclists (after all they know the terrain and are not just kidding around), the same is not always true of visitors who may, for lack of prudence or experience on the road, put themselves in the way of trouble. Both the city and the operator of the system are aware that increased efforts and information and education are called for. But it will be up to the tourists to do their part.

16. Vélib cyclists should be obliged to wear helmets
On the several occasions in which there have been accidents the media and some of the public suggest that helmets should be mandatory. Now, an ample amount of observation and work have been done on this subject such that it has been concluded by a majority of experts with knowledge of city cycling that this is something that should be vigorously encouraged but not mandated by law. Compulsory helmets would mean an end to city cycling as it is widely practiced today in the leading cycling cities and countries (See www.ecoplan.org/library/helmets.pdf for more on this).

17. No bikes at the top of hills
They do tend to accumulate at the base of the hills since many folks apparently don’t want to pedal or walk their Vélib’ up a mountain (of which there are none in Paris of course but there are inclines that can raise a sweat.) So if you are looking for a bike and unless a nice lot of fresh Vélib’s has just been delivered to your favorite hilltop station, you may want to walk to the base of the hill to find your steed. (That said, the operator and the city have recently come up with a scheme which provides some incentive for getting your bike up to the top f the hill

18. No rear view mirror on bikes
Right. And in my view there really should be, but this is not an easy call. In any event, part of being a good cyclist is to profit from your unhindered full field of vision, which also requires the ability to look behind both right and left. But then again, not all or tourists or all our new Vélib’ users may have that level of skill. (Moreover we have to bear in mind that one more piece of equipment may not be without its fair share of maintenance challenges.)

19. Vélib’ is not reducing car traffic and pollution.
It is, but the calculation is a subtle one and can be carried out really only at a basic conceptual level. As a rough rule of thumb, one survey showed that more than 10% of all trips were reported as substituting for car trips. Thus if there were 26 million Vélib’ trips performed over the year, for an average trip of 4-5 kms. I..e, more than 100 million (polluting cold start, center city) vehicle kms of which 10% or so are substituting for car trips. Ten million vehicle kms-plus is a number, after all.

Beyond that what we are seeing here is a process: as people start to cross over to non-car solutions for their local transport requirements, the car itself slowly begins to become redundant for many city dwellers. Public bicycles are an important part of this conversion process. More use of bikes, of public transportation, of taxis, rental cars. And finally you go over to carsharing and sell that old banger once and for all. Or hang on to it for as long as it makes sense for your out of town trips.

20. They only steal passengers from public transport carriers
This is interesting, and not entirely baseless. However the synergies are not altogether negative . In Paris a bit more than half of all Velib trips might otherwise have been taken by bus or metro . There are however two, and at time quite considerable advantages of this dynamic trade-off. First of all if the Vélib’ user voluntarily takes a bike, it’s because she thinks it is quicker and often more agreeable. And since the transit services of Paris, like may other cities, are often pushed to capacity and beyond, so in good weather at least the Vélib’ option provide better conditions of transit for all those hoping to find a seat on the bus, train or subway. Win-win, as some insist on saying.

21. Bikes take away parking spaces for cars
They sure do, but given that most of those cars carry only one person most of the time, this modal shift is a good thing not only for the city but also for local commerce. People who come into stores by bike or on foot, come more often and, studies show, tend to spend more money for higher quality produce. Not only that, the Vélib’ trip can in most cases in the city be quicker and bring the customer closer to the point of purchase.

22. Bikes steal street space from cars.
Yes, that’s right, and so they should. Public bikes need a bit of road space, and if they get what they need it has to be taken from somewhere – that being namely the chaotic street space that is most often used to poor efficiency by high carbon, un-sustainable, high cost (to all concerned), threatening, often dangerous and space-hungry car transport. This needs to be accomplished carefully and with respect to those who up to now have depended on their cars for much or all of the transportation needs. So this needs to be managed as a subtle, strategic process.

23. Bus lanes are too wide
This point has been made on repeated occasions by the adversaries to Vélib’ , and more generally to the new mobility innovations in Paris. The shared lanes are 4.5 metres wide, which is the size required for safe overtaking and worked out through careful negotiations between all the concerned parties.

24. Paris buses not equipped to carry cycles
No they are not. And most probably given the size of the service area, the availability of public bikes and the density of the public transportation network, this is not a significant option for Paris. (But this does not mean that this is something that your city should not at the very least be looking into).

25. Vélib’s do not like cobblestone streets and intersections
They do not at all. And if your city has a lot of them you will do well to consider how to work around this problem. In such cases maintenance costs zoom up, and when it rains so too do the accidents. Cobblestones and public bikes are not friends.

26. Too ugly and numerous to position near to historic monuments and plazas
This is weird, but it is a point that has been made by several groups concerned with the protection of the built patrimony environment in Paris. The irony is that while there is plentiful provision for car parking near to these monuments and public spaces, yet for now the Vélib’ stands are required to hide on side streets. This is a situation which surely will not last.

27. Theft and vandalism are threatening the project
The reported figure is on the order of three thousand bikes stolen or completely trashed in the first year. That’s a lot, but think of it as on the order of 300 per month or ten per day. And that out of 15,000-plus bikes on the road every day. Difficult but surely workable. (This should not be taken as encouraging laxity on your part I you are thinking about a PBS in your city. The vandalism and theft challenge is a real one and an indicator among other things of the level of social peace and inclusiveness in your city. From this respect it is every bit as important as climate and topographic considerations, and of course the quality and extent of safe cycling infrastructure.

28. It’s a “left wing” project
Oh dear. This does seem to crop up in certain media from time to time. It’s a pure blue herring. Public bicycle systems are social and environmental systems that correspond to our 21st century need for low carbon, resource-efficient, high amenity life styles. And that’s all there is to it.

29. It is wrong to have street advertising
This is essentially a pure demagogic position. Each city will have its own policy about outdoor advertising. If a public bicycle project makes use of a partnership of this kind, what is important is to get it right. And the mechanics of that can be quite delicate. That’s for sure.

30. The whole project is just a gadget
This is a very mature challenge actually. The fact is that the Vélib’ project in Paris, and indeed in all the other high impact cities with such systems, until now accounts for only a sliver of the total number of trips needed to ensure a healthy economy. But they signal and support an important change to a new way of getting around in cities. And that is at the end of the day probably their major contribution. And BTW, they also work. Including in Paris.

Happy birthday Vélib’. Great going Paris!

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Battle for Street Space - Part II

Innovations that Expand Public Realm in the Streets

- Paul Barter, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, University of Singapore

Traffic Calming—The First Wave
For several decades there have been efforts to use roadway modifications, such as humps and chicanes, to control motor vehicle speeds on streets whose primary roles are non-traffic ones (Hass-Klau 1990). Such traffic calming began in north-west Europe and by now is familiar almost everywhere.

Early traffic calming tended to focus on streets at the lowest levels of the roadway hierarchy to reinforce the primacy of access and pedestrian activity at that level. More recently, adaptations of traffic calming techniques have been applied to some streets at higher levels of the hierarchy, such as short stretches of shopping streets and the main streets of towns. An early Dutch traffic calming innovation, the Woonerf or “home zone”, involved a complete redesign of urban residential streets to make it clear to motorists that they were guests in a home environment. This was a precursor to the more ambitious shared space experiments.

Tempo 30 Zones (Or “Twenty’s Plenty”)

A variation on traffic calming is to simply signpost very low speed limits, notably 30 km/h (or 20 miles/h). Many European cities now have extensive Tempo 30 zones (Figure 1). Graz in Austria has been a pioneer, with a blanket 30 km/h speed limit over much of the city. Only major roads allow higher speeds of 50 km/h or more. Sweden’s “Vision Zero”, which aims to eliminate road deaths and minimise the effects of the “foreseeable crashes” between pedestrians and motor vehicles, has prompted more Tempo 30 zones in that country.

Shared Space (Or “Naked Streets”)

The shared space approach to streets emerged in the 1990s, pioneered by the late Hans Monderman in towns across the northern region of the Netherlands. Sometimes called “naked streets”, this approach is also seen as a second generation of traffic calming that has been spreading rapidly with trials underway in many countries. Shared space completely overturns the idea that urban road safety depends on predictability and on clearly defining who has the right of way (Hamilton-Baillie 2008). Shared space designs often remove most traffic lights, signs and kerbs. No particular user or movement has automatic right of way. This forces road users (car or truck drivers, bicycle users and pedestrians alike) to proceed cautiously and to negotiate their way forward, mostly through eye contact. Australian innovator, David Engwicht (2006), calls this “safety through intrigue and uncertainty”. If this is difficult to imagine, then the videos at http://www.youtube.com/user/Sharedspace will help.

Low speeds are both a consequence of and a necessity for this social mode of negotiated motion. In high-speed traffic the human mind is not capable of negotiating with other road users through eye contact. We can only do this at or below about 30km/h. Both crash incidence and the probability of death or injury, even for pedestrians, are very low at these speeds (Shared Space project 2005). Trials have included main streets and intersections in town centres. Surprisingly, travel times hardly suffer because, although top speeds between junctions are much lower, there is much less stopping at intersections.

Even though shared space includes motor vehicles, they become very much part of the public realm at low speeds. Monderman made clear that shared space design is only for the parts of the network that can be designated as public realm. His vision of an expanded public realm includes many surprisingly busy streets. However, it does not include those major arterial roads on which high speeds remain important. These remain traffic space.

Accidental Shared Space

The informal emergence of shared space street dynamics can be seen when pedestrians and/or slow vehicles dominate a street space, leaving motorists little choice but to proceed on a negotiated and cautious basis. This is common in inner urban streets of many developing countries (Figure 2). It can be seen also on the narrow streets of Singapore’s Little India area. Such “chaos” is of course widely lamented, with pedestrians and other road users blamed for indiscipline. Moreover, at times of low pedestrian activity, traffic speeds do rise and crash risk and severity can become very high. However, the imposition of traffic-focused design in such places would often be a mistake. A better option for these streets might be shared space by design rather than by accident.

Bicycle Boulevards/Slow Streets Network

Traffic-calmed “bicycle streets” on which bicycles have clear priority over motor vehicles are common in German cities, among others (Pucher and Buehler 2008). A number of North American cities, notably Berkeley, California, have successfully used bicycle boulevards to enhance their network of safe, low-stress routes for bicycle users. Bicycles enjoy relatively uninterrupted journeys along these streets, whereas motor vehicles often face detours.

Multi-way Boulevards

Surprisingly, it is also possible to create public realm and local access functions on very busy roadways that move a large volume of fast-moving traffic. Multi-way boulevards are one way to do this. The Boulevard Book by Jacobs et al. (2002) highlights their potential and provides guidance on design. The trick this time is to create slow spaces at the edges

Some of the most elegant and successful streets in the world, such as many of the avenues in Paris, are multi-way boulevards. They are typically grand streets that have a central zone that is primarily traffic space. Then there is a tree-lined landscaped zone with walkways. This wide median separates the main traffic lanes from a smaller roadway next to another footway and the building line (Figures 3 and 4). In the best boulevards, this side-access street forms the low-speed public realm where traffic, bicycles and pedestrians can share the space safely. The authors argue that well-designed multi-way boulevards, such as Avenue Montaigne in Paris or the Passeig de Gracia in Barcelona, have good safety records, and the traffic lanes work better than equivalent space on conventional roadways. Many countries in Asia, including India, China, Vietnam and Indonesia, also have a tradition of multi-way boulevards. Some, such as CG Road in Ahmedabad, already work well while others could benefit from an effort to ensure low traffic speeds in the service lanes in order to include these lanes and their adjacent medians as part of the public realm.

“Road Diets”

“Road diets” is another innovation that allows public realm to be created with minimal impact on the utility of traffic space. As you may guess from the name, arterial roads have their traffic lanes reduced (and sometimes narrowed). However, a centre turning lane or turning bays are added, often with medians and an expansion of pedestrian and cycling space as well. In many situations, all this can be done without a loss of vehicle capacity.

Department for Transport (DfT) U.K. March 2007. Manual for Streets http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/sustainable/ manforstreets

Engwicht, D. 2006. Intrigue and Uncertainty: Towards New Traffic Taming Tools. Creative Communities International (This is an e-book which can be downloaded via http://www.lesstraffic.com/index.htm).

Hamilton-Bailie, B. 2008. Shared space: Reconciling people, places, and traffic. Built Environment 34 (2), 161- 181.

Hass-Klau, C. 1990. The Pedestrian and City Traffic. Belhaven Press, London.

Jacobs, A.B., Macdonald, E. and Rofé, Y. 2002. The Boulevard Book: History, Evolution, Design of Multiway Boulevards. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.

Patton, J.W. 2007. A pedestrian world: Competing rationalities and the calculation of transportation change. Environment and Planning A, 39(4), 928 – 944.

Pucher, J. and Buehler, R. 2008. Making cycling irresistible: Lessons from the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany. Transport Reviews 28 (4), 495-528. http:// dx.doi.org/10.1080/01441640701806612

Shared Space project. June 2005. Room for Everyone: A New Vision for Public Spaces. Report of the European Union Iterreg IIIB project ‘Shared Space’. Available via http://www.shared-space.org

Shared Space project. Oct. 2008. Final Evaluation and Results: It Takes Shared Space to Create Shared Understanding. Report of the European Union Iterreg IIIB project ‘Shared Space’. Available via http://www.sharedspace. org

Svensson, Å. ed. 2004. Arterial Streets for People. Report of the ARTISTS Project (Arterial Streets Towards Sustainability). Available via www.eukn.org/urbanmatrix/ themes/urban_policy/urban_environment/La

Paul Barter is an Assistant Professor in the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore where he teaches infrastructure policy, urban policy, transport policy and an introduction to public policy. He has published studies of transport policy in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. His current research interests are in innovation in transport demand management, public transport regulation, and contested priorities in urban transport policy.

This article appeared in the May number of JOURNEYS, a new LTA Academy publication (The Land Transport Authority of Singapore) and is reproduced here with their kind permission and that of the author. We felt that this is such a good survey it deserves wide circulation and international, and we are pleased to provide it here. To view the original article and illustrations, you are invited to click here.

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A Dutchman looks at the bike renaissance in the Big Apple

Following up on yesterday's Streets peice contrasting (some) biker attitudees in New York and Paris. New York is changing; I have never seen so much cycling on the streets as this spring. Not in an abundance as Amsterdam, but closing in on Paris and London at least.

Paul White and his staff are doing a wonderful job at Transportation Alternatives. When he and I addressed a professional crowd of planners, one of the people present was almost moved to tears when he said that they had been working so long and so hard to achieve something and that now, all of a sudden, it was happening indeed.

Janette Sadik-Khan, the Commissioner for Transport of the City of New York, whom I met at a dinner party during the Bike Film Festival, in the meantime closed off part of Times Square: a wondrous experience.

Many people taking pictures, and I was one of them. Here you can see the impact of this closure to pedestrians. Have a look:

Pascal J.W. van den Noort
Executive Director Velo Mondial

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mass Bike Rides in Paris – Vive la différence

We were talking bikes a bit back with Paul Steely White of Transportation Alternatives in New York City (“Our mission is to reclaim New York City's streets from the automobile, and to advocate for bicycling, walking and public transit as the best transportation alternatives”) about a problem they face when an open conflict flares up occasionally between the organizers of the Critical Mass bike rides (who want to do it freely, i.e., when and where they want, i.e., their way) and the city authorities and the police (Oops!). Paul was asking,” Is there another way?”

Americans often think of the French as being individualists, hot tempered and unruly. Hey, that can happen, but at a time when you in New York are simmering in June, not only from the your local warming but also and far more permanently, consider the story of the mega bike rides in Paris. A bit of a cautionary tale.

If you come to Paris . . .

If you come to Paris with your bike or skates, you will be able to join a mass ride once or twice a week and make a grand swing of the city lasting a couple of hours, and all that in safety and harmony with the city, the police and the public (other than some drivers who can get a bit excited if they have the chance, but we have them under control). You will not be stopped, you will not be warned, you will not be arrested, and you will not be struck or manhandled. But if you are from New York City you may be a bit disoriented and surprised by the way it works here, police and all.

The Paris Friday Night Skate organized by http://www.pari-roller.com is the big event, with up to fifty thousand on line skaters joining the ride, but this note will look at its little brother the mass bicycle rides in this beautiful city. They have a lot in common.

While there is also several weekly bicycle mass rides, the main one is a regular Friday night ride organized by a public group "Paris Rando Vélo". The ride starts at City Hall at 10:00 pm and takes about two and a half hours to cover 20-25 km. An average of 500, 600 cyclists participate in the summer, half that number in the winter months.

How it all started

The bike mass first took shape in 2000 after a major transport strike which had the effect of bringing a lot more cyclists onto the streets. An organizing group – which later formed an “Association” (a main form of organizing and registering community and public interests activities in France) took shape and their first step was to meet with the Prefect of Police to report on their intentions and to ensure that they were in full compliance with the law.

The police said OK, but you have to organize and police yourselves (having run into some problems and manpower requirements with the much bigger Friday night skating mass ride for which after a rough start beginning in 1995, eventually came to be have good police, emergency and city services support. But such support ties up resources so the Prefect insisted that the cyclists would have to do their own policing (We can do the skaters in another letter from Paris for you.)

So the event is entirely self-organized , with the Association providing a couple of dozen staff members as monitors, with a handful leading to way to stop traffic at all intersections and the rest simply keeping an eye on and herding and when needed lending a hand to anyone who may get into a bit of trouble. Paris Rando Vélo also organizes private rides, so if you come to Paris with a bunch of friend and want to do a bike tour of your own, you will find their full coordinate at the end of this short piece.

Both mass events are encouraged by City Hall and the elected officials, who see them as good for Paris and good for Parisians. The police are apparently having a second look about possibly providing further backup, but with or without it the Paris bike mass works.

Cycling in cities: It is, in fact, “One more Convenient Truth”.

Lessons for New York from the Paris experience over these last years? Hard to say what these might be Paul because the basic cultures are so different, but here are a few thoughts that come to mind:

1. Transportation professionalism. If you want to change something in the transport sector, you better be a pro. While French cyclists can be as self-centered and aggressive as anywhere in the world, their success has come through taking off the hard edge and coming in as a responsible community group that can perform -- they have found that it is more effective to organize, prepare, contact and negotiate than to engage in street warfare with the authorities.

2. Iron discipline: Given the complexity, the delicacy of the transportation metabolism of a city – even at 10:00 on Friday nights – there must be absolute discipline for both the route and the timing. Nobody likes surprises, including those who will have to carry the ball if you drop it.

3. Be there or be square: Numbers count and so does regularity. Everyone should be accustomed to you being out there when announced and start to see you and the event as part of the normal city landscape. And of course if you ever find yourselves at odds with the authorities it certainly helps to have fifty thousand voters smiling and riding right behind you. Numbers talk

4. Have your man in City Hall: It really helps to have your man in City Hall (In Paris it’s Denis Baupin, who is vice-mayor, a Green and a cyclist himself. And he is committed). And there is no doubt that a great key is to have the mayor on your side as well (which is the case with Mayor Delanoë here). If your guy is just there for the odd photo op, get rid of him and find yourself someone with real commitment, day after day after day.

5. Be your own good cop: The ability to do the monitoring and self-policing work yourselves is a big plus. Perform with discipline and the authorities come around. They may have to bite their lip, but they will become part of the solution

6. Communicate like a winner: Reaching out to the press and the media, and in the process getting your main message across. That being about winning, not about either fighting, losing or raw deals (even if that is also true for now).

A final thought from this side of the Atlantic has to do with self confidence and steadfast determination. (Am I starting to sound like your grandmother?) Cycling – and mass cycling events, well organized, without a chip on your shoulder and coordinated with the community as a whole – is a part of the process of solution to the pressing problems of transport, the economy and quality of life in all our cities, New York included. Cycling can show the way for the rest.

* * *
More on Paris Rando Vélo

The website for Paris Rando Vélo, the organizers, is here, complete with photos and videos (and of course in French). If you click here you can follow along with a typical Friday night ride . You will not see a great deal of violence.

Here is the plan for next Friday's ride: 21 kilimoeters for a leisurely two hour ride with a water brreak in one of Paris's parks. Coming?

Paris Rando Vélo
09 rue Lavandiere St Opportune
Paris, 75001 France
Christophe Dupasquier, Secretary General
Tel. +336.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Battle for Street Space - Part I

Earning a Public Space Dividend in the Streets

- Paul Barter, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, University of Singapore

Abstract: Experiments with shared space or “naked streets” have captured imaginations and considerable media coverage in recent years. Most of the excitement stems from surprise that streets without kerbs, road markings or signage can work well and achieve “safety through uncertainty”. This paper looks at another equally important insight from shared space.
It focuses on a series of innovations that, like shared space, re-arrange the roles of streets in new ways to yield a “dividend” of expanded urban public realm, with little or no loss of transport utility. Such a space dividend should be especially welcome in dense cities that are both congested and short of public space.


What are streets and roadways for? An obvious answer is traffic movement. But that is clearly not the whole story. A second role is to allow the reaching of final destinations— the role we call “access”. Thirdly, streets can be valuable public places in their own right. In addition, moving high-speed motor vehicles differ enormously from movement by low-speed, vulnerable modes such as bicycles. Unfortunately, speedy motor traffic movement and the other roles of streets are in serious conflict. For almost a century, the tension between these roles has been at the heart of debate over street design (Hass-Klau 1990; Jacobs et al. 2002). This article reviews emerging resolutions to this tension.

The Battle for Street Space

The essence of a street is that it serves all these roles simultaneously—providing for traffic movement and access, and as public space for urban activities. However, mainstream roadway management has spent many decades seeking, like Le Corbusier, the “death of the street”. It tends to turn everything between kerbs into “traffic space” where motor vehicle movement is the design priority (Patton 2007).

Motorised traffic, slow modes and pedestrians are strictly segregated in both space and time. The role of streets as “public realm” has been largely restricted to the pavements (sidewalks) and to pedestrian zones. Most cities are desperately short of attractive public space and space for the networks needed by the gentle but vulnerable modes such as walking and cycling.

Since the 1930s, traffic engineers have routinely classified every roadway in a hierarchy according to the degree to which it serves either traffic movement or access. Major arterials and expressways which are at the top of the hierarchy are managed primarily for maximum vehicle mobility. Any access functions are carefully limited to contain “friction” with the mainstream traffic. Only streets at the lowest level of the hierarchy are used mainly for access. Furthermore, the planning process often seeks to remove as much activity as possible (and hence, the “public space” role) from roadways and their vicinity. The influential UK report of 1963, Traffic in Towns by Colin Buchanan, reinforced the idea that segregation was essential (Hamilton-Baillie 2008).

The roadway hierarchy has no place for streets that serve both traffic and multiple other purposes (Svensson 2004). Yet, traditional urban streets and main streets remain ubiquitous. They provide (inadequately) for both access and mobility and are sites of perennial conflict. Such conflict is especially obvious in the heavily used streets of many dense Asian cities. The conventional traffic engineering approach offers little guidance for such multi-role streets (Svensson 2004).

Expanding Public Realm without Evicting Motor Vehicles

Recently, a series of promising street management innovations has emerged that re- assert in new ways the multi-purpose nature of the street. (See Box Story “Innovations that Expand Public Realm in the Streets”.) They offer ways to increase the public realm without removing the motor vehicles or seriously undermining the utility of the motorised traffic system. Does that sound too good to be true?

These innovations exploit common insights and principles. First, they involve making a strong distinction between “traffic areas” or “highway” and public space or the “public realm” (Shared Space project 2005). Traffic areas are the realm of conventional traffic engineering where high-speed motor vehicle movement is primary, with its flow carefully segregated from slower users like pedestrians and cyclists.

Second, some of this redefined “public realm” can be shared. It includes new spaces designed for the peaceful co-existence of public place activities, slow movement by vulnerable modes as well as motor vehicles, especially those seeking access to the vicinity. The key to such co-existence lies in keeping speeds low, ideally to no more than about 30 km/h (Shared Space project, 2005). Low speeds mean that motor vehicles need not be excluded but those present will mainly be making access movements or on the “last mile” (or the first) of their trips.

Third, these innovations shift the boundary between public realm and traffic space, so that a surprising amount of what we now think of as traffic space becomes part of the low-speed public realm. In shared spaces and in other slow zones, such as Tempo 30 zones and bicycle boulevards, whole streets and intersections are converted to public space. In multi-way boulevards, public realm includes everything from the building line to the outer edge of the central, high-speed traffic lanes. This newly expanded public realm serves local motor vehicle access, slow-mode movement, public space roles and sometimes some through-traffic (with low priority and at low speed). Only the high-speed traffic movement is excluded and kept within traffic space.

Fourth, a key design goal is that both the public realm and traffic space should work better by being kept distinct (Shared Space project 2005). Cities still need high-speed traffic space of course, just as some pure pedestrian space must also remain. But a surprising amount of shared public realm could be reclaimed without diminishing total traffic capacity. The key is that most of the expansion of the public realm envisaged here would take over traffic space that does not work very efficiently anyway. For example, the capacity of many of today’s motorised traffic lanes is reduced by turning movements, kerbside drop-offs, parking, loading and other street activities. After transforming such spaces into public realm, the remaining traffic space can be re-designed more thoroughly for its traffic function. Moreover, the new public realm retains some traffic function, albeit at low speed, as a safety valve at times of extreme congestion.

A high percentage of traffic volume in most cities is carried by roads at the top of the roadway hierarchy. Much of the remaining traffic is in fact short-distance traffic, or is on the first or last “mile” of a longer trip, or is circling for a parking spot. Such traffic does not need high speeds. In fact, a slower environment is more appropriate for access movement. Furthermore, although public realm requires very low peak speeds, the approaches discussed here also usually reduce the need for stopping and starting, so that average speeds and travel times are often little changed. Therefore, reclaiming such space as public realm has less impact on traffic performance than one would think based purely on the percentage of traffic space “lost”.

Expanding the low-speed public realm would also allow us to be much more tolerant of a diverse range of small, vulnerable vehicles that currently do not fit easily into our transport systems. These include bicycles, in-line skates, skateboards, kick scooters, wheelchairs and many other “Personal Mobility Devices”.

Barriers to Change

As with most innovations, change will take more than a simple policy decision. In most countries, roadway management practices are deeply embedded in institutions, their missions, objectives, performance-measures and boundaries of responsibility between agencies; in professional guidelines, codes and design standards; and in traffic rules and road user education.

Fortunately, little change is needed in conventional roadway management when it is applied to its appropriate domain i.e. the highspeed arterials and highways. It is only within an expanded public realm and at its boundaries that drastic change is called for. Standard practice must no longer apply to such spaces. Level of service (LOS) has no place here. Nor do conventional approaches to road safety, such as removal of “fixed hazardous objects”. Roadways that form part of the shared public realm should not resemble highways despite the presence of motor vehicles. Design principles for such streets, including signage and road markings, must be different from those for traffic space.

The public realm of streets needs a whole new set of procedures, guidelines and metrics of success. More research is needed to develop them. This is beginning to happen through experimentation in many countries (Shared Space project 2008; Hamilton-Baillie 2008; Jacobs et al. 2002). The Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom have revised their guidance manuals on street design (e.g. DfT 2007). Traffic engineers will need to adapt their problem solving to the special challenges of designing shared public realm. They will need to collaborate more with urban design professionals and urban planners, who will also need to take more interest in the streets that they have long neglected.


This article has provided a quick review of promising new ways to reconcile movement, access and place-making within our precious urban rights of way. New public space is gained through including low-speed access movement by motor vehicles within the public realm. It is this “public space dividend” that has been my focus. It may be too soon to tell if these ideas can deliver on their promise. We may only find out by trying them out.

This article was first published in the May edition of JOURNEYS, an Academy publication of the Land Transport Authority of Singapore(LTA). We thought that many of our readers might not have picked it up, so we are most pleased to reprint here with their kind permission and that of the author.

Paul Barter is an Assistant Professor in the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore where he teaches infrastructure policy, urban policy, transport policy and an introduction to public policy. He has published studies of transport policy in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. His current research interests are in innovation in transport demand management, public transport regulation, and contested priorities in urban transport policy.

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