Sunday, July 31, 2011

How the Dutch get out of a car

As an American who has been living in Amsterdam for several years, Russell Shorto is struck, every time he goes home, by the way American cities remain manacled to the car. He wrote an article about this in the New York Times: While Europe is dealing with congestion and greenhouse gas buildup by turning urban centers into pedestrian zones and finding innovative ways to combine driving with public transportation, many American cities are carving out more parking spaces. It’s all the more bewildering because America’s collapsing infrastructure would seem to cry out for new solutions. Geography partly explains the difference: America is spread out, while European cities predate the car. But Boston and Philadelphia have old centers too, while the peripheral sprawl in London and Barcelona mirrors that of American cities. More important, I think, is mind-set. Take bicycles. The advent of bike lanes in some American cities may seem like a big step, but merely marking a strip of the road for recreational cycling spectacularly misses the point. In Amsterdam, nearly everyone cycles, and cars, bikes and trams coexist in a complex flow, with dedicated bicycle lanes, traffic lights and parking garages, thanks to a different way of thinking about transportation. Velo Mondial is promoting this way of thinking in the Amsterdam Mobility Embassy that will be set up in the fall.

Friday, July 15, 2011

San Francisco holds the wrong debate

San Francisco drivers know that to travel east or west through much of the city, Fell and Oak Streets offer a rare path of progress: up to four lanes wide, one-way, fast-moving and laced with synchronized traffic signals, otherwise known as “light karma.” The good times, however, could soon be over. The San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency is in the early stages of a plan that could squeeze cars on these popular routes to make room for bike lanes — by eliminating travel lanes or by removing street parking spaces. The project is emerging as the biggest showdown to date between automobile drivers and those who advocate greener travel options.  The project would add bikeways connecting the Lower Haight’s popular Wiggle bike route with the Panhandle park. Advocates say bikeways are safer for cycling, which has grown in popularity in recent years; some 7 percent of city trips are now by bike, according to the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. There are fears that removing a travel lane will increase automobile congestion. Read on in the NYT. Velo Mondial adds that this is the wrong debate; it should not be car lanes versus bike lanes, but about accommodating all and making the corridor more efficient. The experience proves that this is very well possible; we are ready to help out.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

NY's Teething Problems

Bicyclists trying to get legally from one side of Central Park to the other have long faced a challenge: because the park’s pedestrian paths are closed to cyclists, they have to either ride the looping vehicular drive south and then head north again. Now, in an experiment hatched by the Central Park Conservancy and the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation cyclists will be permitted to share with amblers and dog walkers one of two crosstown paths as long as they ride slowly. Really slowly. Like five miles an hour. Given the state of New York City’s bike wars, the announcement of the plan has stirred fierce debate. It is being hailed by bicyclists and pro-cycling organizations and denounced by anti-bike forces, particularly on the Upper East Side, where some residents fear collisions. The Upper West Side may indeed be more bike friendly, with several members of the pro-biking group Transportation Alternatives also being on the community board. By contrast a leader of the Defenders of the Historic Upper East Side, said, “We have an older population in Community Board 8 and they complain they’re already terrified by the population of bicyclists going in the opposite direction on one-way streets.” Read more in NYT.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Sustainable Mobility Plans for Oxford

OXFORD is to trial its own “Boris Bikes” cycle hire scheme in the hope it will be rolled out in a city-wide scheme. Visitors to Thornhill Park and Ride will be able to park up and hire a bicycle under the plans, which mirror a scheme introduced by Mayor of London Boris Johnson. Oxfordshire County Council chiefs say the trial will go to the city’s four other park and rides if successful. It is part of a Government cash boost that has also given the green light to a 500 space expansion of 850-space London Road park and ride for 2013. Two new buses will also connect it to hospital sites and the city centre. The £3.5m plans were hailed as a key move towards cutting congestion and street parking, particularly among Oxford Brookes University and hospital workers. Rodney Rose, cabinet member for transport at Oxfordshire County Council, said of the bike scheme: “It will be so much quicker for workers to get to work that way and relieve congestion for everybody else.” The news was welcomed by residents, who said park and ride users often leave their cars across her drive and on grass verges: “If it has the desired affect then I will welcome it with open arms. The idea of supplying bikes is absolutely brilliant.”Read on in The Oxford Mail.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Life without cars?

While American cities are synchronizing green lights to improve traffic flow and offering apps to help drivers find parking, many European cities are doing the opposite: creating environments openly hostile to cars. The methods vary, but the mission is clear — to make car use expensive and just plain miserable enough to tilt drivers toward more environmentally friendly modes of transportation. Cities including Vienna to Munich and Copenhagen have closed vast swaths of streets to car traffic. Barcelona and Paris have had car lanes eroded by popular bike-sharing programs. Drivers in London and Stockholm pay hefty congestion charges just for entering the heart of the city. And over the past two years, dozens of German cities have joined a national network of “environmental zones” where only cars with low carbon dioxide emissions may enter. Like-minded cities welcome new shopping malls and apartment buildings but severely restrict the allowable number of parking spaces. While some American cities — notably San Francisco, which has “pedestrianized” parts of Market Street — have made similar efforts, they are still the exception in the United States, where it has been difficult to get people to imagine a life where cars are not entrenched. Read on in NYT.
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