Few events draw as much attention to cycling as the Tour de France. Lance Armstrong—love him or hate him—did wonders for bringing Americans from all walks of life into cycling; the lure included more people cycling in lycra, but also for city (utilitarian travel) purposes. A rising tide for all (of cycling) usually buoys both sport and city cycling. In many conversations, the two are undifferentiated, even though they demand wildly different infrastructure and (often) draw from different cultures.
But there are conditions when the two clash or don’t exist harmoniously. I am thinking of: (1) cycle ways with speed restrictions (slower cyclists don’t like the fast ones whizzing by), (2) image issues (at least in the US) of “requiring” lycra to bike to work, (3) excessive gear requirements (e.g., special shoes, coats, types of bikes); and of course (4) the helmet debate (considered imperative for cycling for sport—even in the Netherlands—but never for city cycling). There are other examples where the two clash.
Utrecht (the Netherlands) will be hosting the first stage of the Tour de France on July 4 and one dimension of the clash between sport and city cycling is front and center. The city is banning all bicycles along the route for safety and other reasons (i.e., parked bikes or other, apparently).
Cycling for sport trumps city cycling, even in the Netherlands; at least in this instance.
Yet another derivation of the bicycle was unveiled today, the Babel Bike, claiming to the safest every built. The prevailing worldwide research suggests that a huge impediment to spurring more cycling stems from the safety concerns of current (or potential) cyclists. These populations are, rightfully so, worried of getting hit by autos. Reducing this psychological fear via any measure to—better protection via infrastructure planning or vehicle design—would likely go a long way.
But an outstanding question is how to retain historical, cultural, or efficiency qualities of the bike while making safety improvements. Newer better forms of bikes are emerging all the time. The protective quality of the Babel bike is a distinguishing feature of such, particularly the role bar. Over the past two or three years, the cycling industry has been witnessing developments and innovations where bicycles are becoming more like cars and vice-versa. The two modes are migrating toward one another providing new transport opportunities and challenges.
However, relatively speaking, in-trepidation varies by culture and setting. Cyclist safety is considerably lessened in the Netherlands, for example. While realizing that safety concerns largely motivated the initial focused attention toward bicycling in the 1970’s, the overall bicycling environment in Holland is relatively safe. The ‘helmet-free’ habits are testament to this. The Dutch are already protected by the cycle-centric rules of the roads and the way infrastructure is designed. Traffic and other safety concerns (faster moving cars, trucks) are simply less of a nuisance on most streets and intersections, though certainly not all. One can therefore expect the safety benefits of the Babel bike to likely have less appeal in Holland.
On top of this, the Dutch have developed a passion for the so-called “grandma” bike—cycling in an upright and comfortable manner. This is distinctive and a appreciated part of the social fabric (e.g., cycling next to one another; cycling on the back of the bike). These are traits which have historic and cultural significance which the Babel bike will not be able to replicate.
Thus, one can expect its strongest effect likely to be in those places where cycling presence is strong, cycling conditions are percieved relatively unsafe, and where people still are ok being exposed to the elements. Are there such places out of 3 or 4 places in Northern Europe?
My post, Cycling Safety Feedback Loop is up at streets.mn…
“Assuming cyclists have “safety in numbers,” the real question I posed in my last post is how can St. Paul or Minneapolis (or Anyplace, Minnesota) get more people on bikes?
My post: Would you spur swimmers to the beaches of Amity Island? is up at streets.mn…
“Jaws, the blockbuster thriller film from the mid 1970’s was the highest grossing film ever until Star Wars was released two years later. The mechanical shark, the beach scenes on Amity Island, and the music score brought it all together. The dynamic between the obdurate mayor (Richard Vaughn) and the police chief (Martin Brody) largely revolved around a tension about how to address an activity that, in the public’s eye, has safety risks. Thirty years later, it’s a tension we wrestle with in bicycle planning.”
At streets.mn, I have the following post: Eyeing two unintended outcomes of the bicycle facilities arms race.
“In less than a decade, the Minneapolis Midtown Greenway (Minnesota) has quickly risen to one of America’s most beloved darlings of a bike path. Similarly, the short stretch of the Cedar Lake Trail to the Twins Stadium provides much needed closure over an important stretch for cyclists in downtown Minneapolis. Both are critical assets for […]”
Rodney King’s quote might continue to live on. I am sensing a common new theme this spring centered around education and other efforts to encourage bicycles and cars to “get along.” This theme certainly comports with my developing theory of the importance of autos and cars being able to better “co-mingle” in downtown (and other environments). See: (1) the New York bike sharing folks are holding classes to help educate cyclists about riding with cars around and (2) the creative Bikes Belong video of the month, encouraging the modes to “roll together.”
The NY Times reports on an article re: pedestrian and cyclist safety from the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery.
-Gathering data from 1,400 people who have been injured is impressive.
-That pedestrians are most vulnerable in crosswalks is not surprising; it is where the pedestrians are–the whole “exposure” aspect.
–But now, we finally have a partial silver lining to the obesity epidemic in the US: excessive weight may prove a boon for pedestrians in a collision. Victims with an above-normal body mass index were found to have less severe injuries than their counterparts. “It is not implausible that a greater proportion of torso and extremity fat may protect against injury”
Minneapolis recently released a new report examining bicycle crashes. It is based off of 10+ years of DPS crash data which is pretty limited to begin with. I am pretty sure there is not much new in this report that we did not uncover back in 2006 or 2007 with our analysis of the same data; but, that was not commissioned in-house by Public Works and it was not done by Public Works. So, it is more important for them to be able to listen to themselves.
The Atlantic Cities article covers some popular press elements of the descriptive stats. They claim to see, again, an attribution of or mention of safety in numbers, directionality, and causality. But, as has been pointed out by others, there little to suggest we have anything here other than more people riding and crash rates staying level.
What really is needed is to figure out how to use the count data to uncover more reliable and geographic measures of exposure.
The helmetless debate ensues, this time in the NYTimes.
Where should we come down on this matter? Here is what I want to know:
(1) Where helmetless behavior reigns strong, what is the average speed of the cyclist?
(2) Where helmetless behavior reigns strong, what is the average speed of the auto?
Nothing ever talks about these matters. I imagine both are substantially slower than in most US settings. Here’s a proposition: bring down the speeds of both and helmetless behavior might not be such a big deal.