A companion site (THE PRACTICAL CYCLIST) is home to
genuinely practical information about using bikes for transportation.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Randall O'Toole got me to thinking...

*This needs some serious editing, but that's unlikely to happen soon.*
The WashCycle blog has a nice interview with Randal O'Toole, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. While he rides a little to the right of the path I like, he makes some excellent points. One of his points is that bike-ped traffic enhancements are often intended to restrict or reduce automobile use, and he does not believe that this will be an effective strategy in the long run. He takes the point of view that planners are generally trying to funnel people's activities into specific channels: bicyclists here, cars there, pedestrians over here. In addition, he says, many traffic calming techniques actually make bicycling more difficult rather than easier and safer. In another article, he points out that planners are often trying to solve problems caused by previous the previous generation of planners. O'Toole is generally in favor of letting planner-free free-markets sort out transportation issues. At the moment, that means we need to build more and better roads. To be perfectly honest, he's right about a lot of things. This is painful to acknowledge, but the alternative, to maintain a comfortable fantasy, is clearly not the the right way to go. Now, we still need to keep our spirits high, and to do this, we have to have a goal. It's all to easy to build a Lego city where pedestrians rule the roads and bicycles are primary vehicular choice, but to the extent that New Urbanism looks like the Garden City movement, it ain't good. I keep thinking back to the beatified Jane Jacobs, who was something of an anti-planner herself. The Great Cities, she said, maintain a kind of mystical ordered chaos. They are dynamic, always changing, and they have a defiant quality. Cities are swarms of human activity. They are alive, and the metaphor of life can be drawn out further--a city can be healthy, sick, dying, or even dead. Cities are also collections of individuals, so the notion of health has two distinctive elements. One is the health of the collective: the ability of the city to sustain itself. Sustainability is a hip phrase these days, and rightly so. It is one of the distinctive features of life itself. Its importance depends on several assumptions related to life, the universe, and everything, so I'll just skip ahead. The second element of city health is the health of the individuals who make up the city. Here it is important to make sure our metaphor is based on life outside Kingdom Animalia, cities are more like plants or fungus or algae, rather than a person or dog. You can cut a city in half, and you get two smaller cities. They might die, but they might live too. And after a mashup like that, they are likely to change in ways we may not be able to predict. Anyway, I'd like to get back to the bike project. No time, no time. Rush rush rush.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Current Thinking and a Vision Statement

WashCycle has a nice Epic Bike Sharing Post that is at least in part a review of Paul DeMaio's recent presentation in Arlington, VA. Dig it. (I wish that phrase had not been trademarked.) I think I'm going to re-arrange this blog, yet-again, to make it first and fore-most a resource for people who need information and encouragement to ride for transportation--practical information that reduces the barriers to riding, eliminates the excuses. Here is my vision statement:

It should be easy to ride a bike for routine urban transportation. Riders do not need expensive or cycling-specific clothing, bags, or other gear. Riders should not be intimidated by other bicyclists, by bike shop staff, by automobile traffic, or by anyone else. Riding a bike should be an unremarkable activity, it should be de rigueur: the standard thing, the routine.

Bike there, with directions: