30 May 2008

Nothing Short of Astounding - Seminar with John Pucher

Screengrab of John Pucher's seminar at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver
I was sent this today and I can only say that it is absolutely brilliant. It's an hour-long filmed seminar with legendary John Pucher at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada.

I've read most of what's he has written on increasing cycling and making cycling accessible but seeing this seminar online is purely inspirational.

Now it's no secret that segregated bike infrastructure is the only way ahead for cities wishing to increase their bike culture and daily percentage of trips made by bike. There is no alternative to this common sense.

Seeing John Pucher summing everything up in one entertaining, informative and inspiring video has made my day. He highlights the experiences of many European cities and debunks many myths along the way.

See the film now. Quickly. It's wonderful.

More on John Pucher:
- Momentum Planet's interview with The Bicycle Scholar
- His homepage at Rutgers with links to his publications.


Anonymous said...

There is one alternative and that is to get large motorized vehicles off the roads in urban environments. But since there is zero probability of that in a world where political leadership is easily bought and sold, infrastructure changes are needed to reduce social injustices.

Zakkaliciousness said...

oh, absolutely, jack. that is THE option. But given the current situation, there is no other way to make urban cycling accessible, safe and popular than to build segregated bike infrastructure.

Mark said...

My only disagreement with segragated bike facilities, or any bike 'facility' is how they are implemented. I bike in Boston & Cambridge MA USA. We have mainly bike lanes which are solidly in the door zone, bike lanes which appear and disappear randomly, and one lovely blue painted segregated bike lane (1 block long) in which bicyclists have to fight the pedestrians over.

The road is the bike facility i use the most.

If there were well implemented bike facilities i might use them as well.

WestfieldWanderers said...

I agree with you, Jack. In Britain what cycle "farcilities" there are are commonly at the very least useless, and at the worst downright dangerous. The Copenhagen scenario is one rare case where cycling as a mode of transport is taken very seriously; thus serious money has been spent to support it.

However, I think that we all agree with Mister Zakkaliciousness in principle and that he and his family are extremely lucky to live in the cycling capital of the world.

If only we could persuade our leaders to Copenhagenize Britain, but as Mr Anonymous said "...we live in a world where political leadership is easily bought and sold..." so those with the biggest bucks get what they want - and for their own reasons, it's not more people on bicycles.

WestfieldWanderers said...

...dammit - why did i write Jack - I meant Mark!

Pity we can't edit comments after posting!

Kevin Love said...

I highly commend John Pucher's publications at the link given. They have the wonderful effect of producing verifiable facts that puncture the hype and deceit which all to frequently surround bicycle issues.

One example from John Pucher: Winter climate is a barrier to bicycle commuting. Initially plausible, until John Pucher comes up with the fact that Canada has three times the bicycle commuting rate as the USA. Yes, that's three times!

Another example from John Pucher: Portland, Oregon gets lots of hype for being a bicycle friendly city. Then John Pucher reports that if one goes a bit further North, to Victoria, British Columbia, the bicycle commuting rate is a lot higher. Why does Portland get the hype and not Victoria? They are both Northwest port cities.

I put the hype differential down to a difference in USA vs. Canadian culture. Canadians don't have the "we're biggest and best" syndrome. Even when they are.

elaine said...

Amazing. I want this guy to come to my city -- I think city planners would love it! In fact, I just forwarded the video to my local bike coalition. Thanks for the tip!

Greg said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Kevin.

I haven't had the chance to watch the whole video yet. I look forward to seeing John's analysis.

First, we are not the biggest or the best.

There's a lot we have to learn from cities around the world that have been far more successful with bicycle transportation than we have. There's a lot that we have to learn from these cities about traffic safety in general.

We're good students, but also have to integrate solutions in a totally different regulatory, legal, and political environment.

I agree with you that there should be more attention paid to what's happening in Vancouver, BC than there has been. Their greenway program is quite impressive. The treatment I've been most jealous of is their chicanes with diagonal cut throughs for bicycles at intersections. (http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1121/1144847625_159d9e18b9.jpg)

As it turns out, a key local advocate is currently traveling by train and bicycle across Canada to see what cycling in various cities is like. There's a lot to learn from her experience. You can read her excellent and detailed reports from the road here: http://www.bta4bikes.org/btablog/2008/05/29/toronto-not-so-great-for-biking/

Thanks for making the world a better place by riding your bicycle.

Greg Raisman
Community and School Traffic Safety Partnership
Portland Office of Transportation

Greg said...

Just realized I pasted the wrong link about Vancouver. This is the right one: http://spacing.ca/wire/?p=2198

Kevin Love said...

Thank you for the comments, Greg.

I'm an American citizen living in Canada. I've "gone native" big-time. In so many ways I see Canada as a practical, working example of what the USA could be.

A government that ensures that all its citizens have health care. Decent public education. And funds this by not starting wars. That has land use policies that encourage bicycling and public transit.

A country that respects its largest minority group (French Canadians) to the extent that Canada's second prime minister was a member of this minority. That was over 150 years ago. A black US president? Maybe this year. Maybe not.

There is no reason why the USA cannot be the same way. I don't believe that a culture of greed, racism, militarism and violence has much of a future.

John Pucher hits several nails right on the head with his article

"Why Canadians Cycle More than Americans: A Comparative Analysis of Bicycling Trends and Policies"

Found at:


In my opinion, what is most important is not the conclusions but the observations along the way. In other words, all the things that are different about Canadian society that lead to bicycling use being three times that as in the USA.

Greg said...

On a national level, having three times the amount of bicycle use as the USA doesn't really strike me as something to be too boastful about.

Don't confuse Portland's mode share with the national, state, or even regional mode share for bikes.

The suburbs around here are getting better for cycling. But, there are still far fewer cyclists there than in Portland.

My estimation, based on our counts, citywide surveys, and Census Bureau data is that we're (City of Portland) at about 5% mode share for bikes.

Glad to hear you're enjoying the place you live.


mindcaster said...

it's very good to see it presented that way. Factual, insightful, detailed, broad, social impl, and passionate.

Zakkaliciousness said...

Pucher was speaking to a Canadian crowd and gave them appropriate words of encouragement.

Looking at North America from across the Atlantic I would say John Pucher's message should be taken seriously, in both countries. Playing the 'we're better than you' game is kind of silly when both nations are light years behind large swathes of the western world.

But progress is possible and there are pockets of sunshine like in Portland, Davis and even Vancouver.

The average North American rides 70 km a year. The average Dane and Dutch: 1000.

Room for improvement? Yes. Political will to make it happen? Let's hope so.

Andy B from Jersey said...


I see you've all met my professor at least by virtual means. You'll be happy to know that he does not own a car and either walks or rides a bike to work everyday, even though the towns around Rutgers University have done very little accommodate cyclists.

I bet you loved the comment about lots of women cycle in Denmark!

Zakkaliciousness said...

Indeed, Andy. Very cool to see him on video after reading his work and reading about him.

Kevin Love said...

Greg wrote:

"On a national level, having three times the amount of bicycle use as the USA doesn't really strike me as something to be too boastful about."

Kevin's comment:

True, but one has got to start somewhere. As our dear host has frequently and correctly pointed out, Copenhagen did not get to where it is today as a result of some master plan or Great Leap Forward. It was a large number of small, incremental steps.

In order to change the USA today, a similar strategy seems most effective. A large number of small, incremental steps.

Canada provides an example of where to go next. Not because it is the ultimate paradise, but because it is just a bit ahead with three times the rate of bicycle commuting as the USA.

Canada is also similar to the USA in geography, culture, economy and history. In terms of origins, Canada and the USA used to both be part of the same country. So Americans can see that the example for the next step is not some far-away European realm where they speak a different language and we just can't relate to them.

Instead, the example is of a people who look like us, speak the same language and are rather non-threatening.

So maybe change can be seen as easier and not quite so frightening after all.

Zakkaliciousness said...

Indeed, Kevin. All progress is good and positive and should be mentioned.

It is just comments like this: "Canadians don't have the "we're biggest and best" syndrome. Even when they are." - that I find counter-productive.

I agree that the two countries can inspire each other and should. Portland's massive investment in bike infrastructure is like nothing anywhere else in North America. They are truly copenhagenizing their city.

Seen from afar the differences between the two countries are not that different. And i have a number of Quebecois friends who would take issue with the claim that English-Canada has respected French-Canada for 150 years. :-)