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Mainstreaming Bicycles

William Lind, The American Conservative
Contrary to what most people think, the revolution in personal mobility did not begin with the automobile. It started about two decades before Henry Ford’s first Model T, and it was based on a combination of the electric railway and the safety bicycle.

Electric streetcars and interurbans brought affordable, fast and frequent rail service to and between cities – – every American city or town with more than 5000 people had at least one streetcar line. The interurbans also tied towns and the countryside to the cities. The safety bicycle – – a bicycle with equal-sized wheels that was easy to mount – – was the first bicycle women and less athletic men could ride. It provided greatly enhanced local mobility compared to walking. Together, electric railways and safety bicycles offered the middle and working classes the level of mobility previously reserved to those wealthy enough to afford a carriage.

Ford’s Model T short-circuited that revolution in personal mobility. Had Ford been required to build and maintain the highways his cars ran on, the outcome would probably have been different. But the government took over that job, while the privately owned electric railways were taxed and regulated out of existence.

Cars also drove out bicycles, to the point where they became toys for children. In part, this was because driving a car takes less physical effort than riding a bike. America did not become a nation of walruses because we like to exercise. But cars also drove out bikes (and pedestrians) for a more basic reason. In a collision between a bicycle and an automobile, the car gets its paint scratched but the cyclist is d
(3 January 2011)

New York’s transportation chief is a latter-day Robin Hood

Matt Seaton, Guardian
Janette Sadik-Khan’s brilliant marketing of sustainable transport (dedicated bike lanes, cycle sharing, even pedestrianising Times Square) has transformed New York. Now for that congestion charge …

… You can’t talk to the people at Transportation Alternatives, New York’s long-established sustainable transport campaign (and leading pro-bike group), for more than minute without hearing their admiration and excitement about what Sadik-Khan has done for the cause. (How many city transportation chiefs do you think have an “I Love …” Facebook page devoted to them? And in New York magazine’s December 2007 list of reasons to love New York, No 35 was “Because the head of the department of transportation is a cycling radical”.) Sadik-Khan is, in fact, a more than occasional bicycle commuter: she doesn’t just talk the talk; she rides the blacktop, too.

New York is in the middle of the same transformation of the philosophy of what urban public space is for that London underwent during Ken Livingstone’s mayoralty. And Sadik-Khan, armed with the Bloombergian blueprint for a greener city, PlaNYC, has been the key player in delivering this new New York.

Just as in London, a radical shift in priorities – though Sadik-Khan would never put it this way, a “Robin Hood strategy” of robbing roadspace and investment from the transport-rich (ie, motorists) to pay the transport-poor (ie, public transport users, cyclists and pedestrians) – has been brilliantly marketed as “what’s best for business”. Congestion – sclerotic city arteries clogged with traffic – is economically inefficient, ergo making mass transit work serves the city’s economy.
(6 January 2011)

The ‘War on Cars’: A brief history of a rhetorical device

Eric de PlaceR, Grist
Back in October, I started noticing the accusation that Seattle is waging a “war on cars” was popping up an awful lot in the local press, and in suspicious ways.

On its face, the charge that Seattle is waging a war on cars is pretty silly. After all, that the bulk of the city’s political leaders support two car-centric megaprojects — the 520 bridge and the Alaskan Way tunnel — that will cost in the range of $7 billion, depending on how you do the counting. And the evidence marshaled in support of the “war on cars” idea was pretty thin gruel — adding a few bike lanes here and there, and raising on-street parking rates in the downtown core.

So I did some poking around to find out where the “war on cars” language came from. And there is something fishy — or at least fishy-smelling — about it. You could be forgiven for thinking that it’s a local example of a manufactured right-wing talking point.

… So that’s the origin of Seattle’s “war on cars” tempest in a teapot: it was a low-level meme that circulated for a decade or so; bubbled up in Toronto; was picked up by a few right-leaning national pundits in the U.S.; and was then parroted by the Seattle-area noise machine.

… There’s something almost laughably overheated about the “war on cars” rhetoric. It’s almost as if the purveyors of the phrase have either lost their cool entirely, or else they’re trying desperately to avoid a level-headed discussion of transportation policy.

Eric de Place is a senior research at Sightline Institute, a Seattle-based sustainability think tank, working on promoting smart policy decisions for the Pacific Northwest. Visit to read more on Sightline’s blog.
(6 January 2011)

Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities

Patrick Condon, The Tyee
Excerpts from the book Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities: Design Strategies for the Post Carbon World by University of British Columbia urban planning professor Patrick Condon. This self-help guide for the planet lays out seven interconnected steps to a more sustainable world. Condon holds the James Taylor Chair in Landscape and Liveable Environments.

In this series:

Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities
How city design can help save the planet. First in a series from a vital new urban planning handbook.

A Self-help Guide for the Planet
Changing the way we build our cities is essential to stopping global warming, says ‘Seven Rules’ author Patrick Condon.

Why a Streetcar Is Something to Be Desired
Rule 1 for sustainable communities: Restore the streetcar city.

Cul-de-sacs: Dead Ends in More Ways Than One
Rule 2 for sustainable communities: Design an interconnected street system.

How to Get People Out of Their Cars
Rule 3 for sustainable communities: Locate commercial services, frequent transit and schools within a five-minute walk.

You Don’t Have to Spend Your Life Stuck in Traffic
Rule 4 for sustainable communities: Locate good jobs close to affordable homes.

Why ‘Illegal’ Suites Are Good for the Planet
Rule 5 for sustainable communities: Provide a diversity of housing types.

When Neighbourhoods Work With Nature
Rule 6 for sustainable communities: Create a linked system of natural areas and parks.

Why Cheaper Streets Are Smarter Streets
Rule 7 for sustainable communities: invest in lighter, greener, cheaper, smarter infrastructure.

Seven Rules for Right Here, BC’s Lower Mainland
The author of ‘Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities’ adapts his formula to fit BC’s most populous region. Last in a series.
EB reader Jerry M writes: “Readers familiar with New Urbanism will quickly recognize these prescriptions, altogether a very good series on what ails our cities and how we might fix them in a post carbon world.”