City versus sport cycling

CIK5973W8AAqGW2.jpg-largeFew 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.

Safest bike ever built

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?


Bike sharing woes

From an intellectual or research perspective, there is room for me to support bicycle-sharing systems more than I do currently. But my perspective is strongly shaped by personal experiences. In four cities in four different countries over the past four years, I have tried to use four different systems. I have been denied on all accounts.

  • I tried to do use the system Paris. The machine would not take my credit card because it did not have the requisite ‘chip.’
  • I tried to use the system in Seville. The access machine for pod accessible from my hotel was not functioning at the time.
  • I tried to use the system in London. No bikes available at my pod.
  • On Tuesday, I tried to use Capital Bike share in DC. 24 hour memberships were not available owing to software system upgrades. Then, I read the below (thanks to Chuck Kooshian @ CCAP for sending).

Am I missing something?


Capital Bikeshare to offer limited service as upgrade gets underway

By Dana Hedgpeth February 3 at 9:54 AM Follow @postmetrogirl

The popular Capital Bikeshare program is expected to offer limited service as its operational software that powers the system goes through a major upgrade.

It is the first time in the Washington are program’s four-year history that it has done such a significant upgrade, officials said. It promises in an announcement that the upgrade will “improve the user experience for our members.” The new software is also expected to allow the bike service to “begin testing new equipment for future expansion.”

For bike riders who use the program, the upgrade process will cause some inconvenience. The software work begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday and is expected to last from 16 to 24 hours. During that time, there will be a “significant impact” on users of the system, Capital Bikeshare said. Those temporary changes include:

  • No credit cards can be used at Capital Bikeshare stations.
  • Users of the program who have annual, monthly or daily key memberships will not be able to rent bikes from the same station more than once when the upgrade is underway. Users can rent bikes from one station and drop them off at the same or another station.
  • New memberships and renewals will not be available on the bike share Web site,
  • There will be no updates for Web sites, maps and mobile apps on whether bikes are available.
  • Capital Bikeshare stations will not offer the “time credit” feature.

Users of the Capital Bikeshare program are encouraged to check on Twitter and Facebook for updates or changes in the process, according to the program.

The bikeshare program has become increasingly popular in the D.C. area. In Montgomery County, the program had about 35,000 trips in its first year, exceeding the expectations from county officials by almost 50 percent.

Help Cycling Scofflaw Science

In a project led by Wes Marshall and Dan Piatkowski, the Active Communities/Transport (ACT) Research Group is looking into the dynamics of the cyclist risk-taker who laughs at traffic laws versus the sucker who obeys them. The project was featured in the Washington Post,  picked up by MPR and mentioned in other places. More survey responses to help the research are always welcome by going here.



2014 EU BICI Series Exports |

IMG_6387-375x500My 2014 EU BICI series at featured reports, photos, and video accounts via personal observation of 13 cities within 8 different countries: Cambridge (UK), Berlin and Munich (Germany), Seville (Spain), Ferrara, Bologna and Padova (Italy), Zurich (Switzerland), Copenhagen and Odense (Denmark), Stockholm (Sweden), Houten and Delft (the Netherlands). Individual posts highlighted structural and policy peculiarities of cycling in each city. Looking back, here are key take-aways and elements other communities can learn across Minnesota and beyond.

Velo-City 2017 to be held in Arnhem-Nijmegen

velocityThe European Cycling Federation just announced that the Arnhem-Nijmegen City Region in the Netherlands won the bid to host Velo-city 2017. As part of the bid (the city/region did all the work) –but in my new capacity with Radboud University in Nijmegen–I will have the privilege of serving as the scientific director for research component of the conference. Congrats to the region for their work in landing this decision. And, its never too early to start generating ideas and a buzz about what it means to gather what likely could be the world’s most robust gathering of cycling-related researchers in one space at one time. Let me know your ideas or expectations. See you in Nijmegen, June 12-16, 2017.

Professor of Vacuuming

154a402d575f8afedb92c3dfc74a5ef6A metaphor that Mikael Anderson has been promoting is that Danish cycling is like a vacuum cleaner: a useful tool to complete a task but nothing special. Just as vacuums are a helpful element with home care, bicycles are useful means of physical travel in cities. People don’t need six shiny bikes in the garage, lyrca or “other” experience. There’s little need to ‘celebrate’ cycling because its “built into” the activity of getting around; its what people do.

An unstated implication is that that the knowledge-base for vacuuming (possibly for cycling?) therefore fails to warrant special consideration. You do not need a professor to help teach you about the merits of vacuuming, the ‘hows’ of vacuuming or the conditions under which vacuuming might be met with success. But do you need professor to help you with bicycling? That is the question I found myself asking over the past week.

I am honored to begin an appointment a visiting professor of “cycling in changing urban regions” in the School of Management Sciences at Radboud University in the Netherlands (part time, 2014-2017). You ask: an American as the “cycling professor” in a country with more cycling than anywhere else in the world? It’s a bit ironic. And, it would be a bit misguided for an American to think they can teach the Dutch about cycling.

Or can they? Relatively speaking, the Dutch do an outstanding job with their cycling environs. Interestingly the “supposedly” rich knowledge base has been fostered by practitioners and/or consultants. Research has played a surprisingly small role. Dutch cycling has basically evolved and generally speaking, they don’t know themselves what they did so well. Their systems have rarely been planned, assessed, or evaluated. It just moves on, sometimes with guidelines and other times without.

Just as we take for granted the inner workings of a vacuum cleaner, we take for granted the dynamics of successful cycling systems. Maybe there is role for a cycling professor? At least fresh eyes and fresh perspectives would help position attributes of successful systems. Documenting some of the why’s would be beneficial as well. This new position has a number of goals, inter-alia: helping lead a research program on cycling, solidifying the scientific research base for cycling, critically examining which elements of Dutch cycling can be better ‘exported,’ and collaborating on various initiatives in Nijmegen, around the Netherlands and Europe. I’ll be living in the Netherlands for roughly a month a year (not all at one time) and working with faculty in the spatial planning unit at Radboud University. As posts and insights come available related to Dutch bicycle planning and this position, they will be identified with the  ”nl” label. Just as I am looking forward to learning more about the ins and outs of cycling in new contexts, some members of my household might be looking forward to me learning more about the ins and out of vacuuming.