07 November 2011

Parasites and Living Lungs

Golly. What a lovely place to live.

When I was in Ferrara, Italy a couple of weeks ago I was having a good chat with a colleague who works for the City. We were looking at a map of the city and he was filling me in about the various traffic and bicycle-friendly initiatives in place. For example, Ferrara doesn't have a congestion charge - it has a congestion BAN. Non-residents are not allowed to enter and goods transport must pay a fee. Eight cameras are installed around the city to photograph number plates. If you're caught in the city without a permit, you are fined €100. Ah, simplicity.

Anyway, he was telling me about a main route through the city and plans to tackle the motorists who use it. He called them parasites. I thought it was a bit out of character for him but he kept using the word. Finally, I had to ask why he was using the word and he looked at me quizzically and said that it was simply the word they used.


First attested in English 1539, the word parasite comes from the Medieval French parasite, from the Latin parasitus, the latinisation of the Greek παράσιτος (parasitos), "one who eats at the table of another" and that from παρά (para), "beside, by" + σῖτος (sitos), "wheat".
Coined in English 1611, the word parasitism comes from the Greek παρά (para) + σιτισμός (sitismos) "feeding, fattening".

What a great word. The host organism is, of course, the city off which they feed. The streets outside my flat as I write this are relatively free of parasites. The ones that plague Copenhagen aren't your traditional parasites. They aren't noctural. They desert their host organism on migratory patterns, scurrying back to their formicaries in the afternoons, only to return to feed upon their host in the morning. To continue their infestation and causing all manner of illnesses that the host organism is unable to defend itself against.

Traffic pollution with its toxic emissions and noise pollution, a lower perception of safety for pedestrians and cyclists, traffic accidents that kill and maim, reduced property prices and so on.

Parasites. It's a brilliant way to describe the motorists who roll down these streets, contributing nothing to the liveableness of my neighbourhood and others, hardly making a dent in the economic well-being of the shops, paying their taxes in other municipalities. Rumbling past, spouting the residue of their combusted fossil fuels behind them to the funky tunes on their radio while they text away on their telephones.

It's an epidemic and yet there is no Dustin Hoffman to help us. Only visionless politicians worried about getting elected for another term, organisations and NGOs who have become too politically correct to rock the boat and traffic planners who geek out over technical manuals and aerial maps instead of remembering what it is like to be a human being on the streets.

And I'm referring to Copenhagen. I know how much more infested other cities are.

On the flip side I tweeted a thought today: "Bicycle users are the transportational lungs of a city. Let's do what we can to get more of them, shall we?"

A simple sentiment. Forests and green spaces are often referred to as lungs in countries and cities. Bicycle users are much the same. I certainly don't hope my body is used to convert carbon dioxide but the 37% of my fellow citizens who choose to ride a bicycle each day are a rolling metaphor for photosynthesis - as are all bicycle users in any city. What a lovely word. From the Greek φώτο- [photo-], "light," and σύνθεσις [synthesis], "putting together", "composition". Using the energy from sunlight to do their magic.

For every kilometre we roll, we are putting money into the pockets of the state and the municipalities. 23 cents for every kilometre in Denmark. For every kilometre driven by a motorist, we as a society pay out 16 cents. Net loss. Parasitism at its finest. And that latter number is even with 180% tax on cars in this country. I shudder to think what the net loss would be in other countries.

Do I get a tax break for cycling in my city? Not that I'm aware of. Free bicycle every couple of years? Nope. A discount for not owning a car on my car share subcription? Nah. I get safe, secure infrastructure to ride around on with my children - I'm grateful for that. But I'd rather do it without the parasites in the car lane next to me. Give them tramways down the main arteries - like we had for decades and decades last century. Subsidise public transport - it's Europe's most expensive - and let the parasites evolve into useful creatures. I can live with that.

My friend Lars often dishes up great Facebook updates. Here are some recent ones:

More people ride bicycles to work and education than cars.
23% of Copenhageners have a car - 100% have a bicycle.
Nevertheless there are 2.5 times more car parking spots than bicycle rack spots.
One parking spot costs between 50 and 800 times more than a bike rack.
A parking spot takes up 12.25 times more space than a bike rack.
Society earns money for each kilometre driven by car and makes money every time someone rides one kilometre on a bicycle.
Cars kill around 1000 Copenhageners a year and make thousands more ill.
Nevertheless, the five political parties in City Hall have spent 1.2 billion kroner (€161 million) on new parking spots for cars since 2005 - but have no programme for bike racks.
What's this all about?

And then this list of nine things to do in Copenhagen:

1) Transform Hans Christian Andersen's Boulevard (busiest thoroughfare and most polluted) into a tramway and bicycle street flanked by a non-commerical tree-lined allé like Prado in Havana.
2) Transform Søgaderne into Denmark's largest playground for children and adults.
3) Car-free city centre.
4) Make Israels Plads into a square without traffic except for busses on Frederiksborggade.
5) Create drive-in bicycle parking facilities over the railway lines by Central Station, Vesterport, Østerport. Drive-in bicycle parking under Nørreport. 3000-5000 parking spots for bicycles each spot.
‎6) Bicycle express routes in and out of the city that follow the S-train net - with underpasses and overpasses so you can ride from Køge, Farum, Hillerød, Frederiksund to Copenhagen.
7) Cover the entire railway yard by the Central Station and make the countries largest sports facility.
‎8) Free choice between a resident's parking permit for 4000 kroner (€537) - instead of the current 600 kroner (€80) - a year or a free car share subscription, paid by the city.
9) All A busses (main routes) converted to tramways.

All rather simple ideas. None of them are out of reach of visionary politicians. We just need the visionary politicians.

We need the exterminator to rid us of pests.

We need people who can see the value in creating an even greater armada of living lungs and who dare to move towards that goal.


hamburgize.com said...

So much to do in Copenhagen, but isn´t the cycle strategy one of the best? Only if climate disaster will continue faster politicians start to change - during the last seconds. Like the Greek Euro-tragedy.

Alexa said...

Here's yet another story on how cycling helps everyone, even if done in extremely low volume.

amoeba said...

Providing for cycling is a never-ending process.

Motorists are just like parasites, they weaken the population in numerous ways, while benefiting only themselves. Parasites who feed on society are anti-social.

George Monbiot called motorists in the UK, the 'anti-social bastards in our midst'. I believe he was and is correct.

"....the rise of the anti-social bastards who believe they should be allowed to do what they want, whenever they want, regardless of the consequences....the extreme libertarianism now beginning to take hold here begins on the road. When you drive, society becomes an obstacle. Pedestrians, bicycles, traffic calming, speed limits, the law: all become a nuisance to be wished away. The more you drive, the more bloody-minded and individualistic you become. The car is slowly turning us, like the Americans and the Australians, into a nation which recognises only the freedom to act, and not the freedom from the consequences of other people’s actions...."


Mikael said...

the strategy is fine, but it's just words on paper, not actions by politicians. not yet.

aronman said...

the maths by lars is great. should be converted to every city but i guess there are no exact numbers for bike racks for example.

and how come there are no trams in cph? i never realised that i dont see trams on the pics, but now it shocked me.

kfg said...

" . . . the freedom from the consequences of other people’s actions...."

Oddly enough there's a word for that as well: death. Life is interactive.

Richard Mann said...

A Russian friend once described the cars in her city as being "like wild beasts".

I think this might be a better metaphor (much as I like the "parasite" idea, and the directness of "anti-social bastards"): the wild beasts need to be tamed and herded; they have horns and teeth (and votes) and need to be treated with all due respect.

Jim Moore said...

"Society earns money for each kilometre driven by car and makes money every time someone rides one kilometre on a bicycle."

Should that instead read "Society loses money for each kilometre driven by car..."? This sentence would then match what you've written a couple of paragraphs above.

mc said...

Oh yeah, amoeba, lets all hail fascist Monbiot... :P

Remember though ciclists can behave as criminally as anyone else: http://www.thestar.com/news/crime/article/1020450--cyclist-fractures-pedestrian-s-skull-gets-400-fine

Also, cycling isn't necessarily an healthier transportation mean: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1360091/Heart-attacks-Cycling-work-biggest-causes.html

And yes, I do have a bike; and no, I don't have a car... ;)

amoeba said...

Yes, people who ride bikes can do bad things, but the fact is that people in cars do bad things so often, it isn't news and things that aren't news rarely get reported, except in the local press. The fact is that when someone does bad on a bike and hurts someone, it's so unusual, it usually gets reported in the national press, because it's news.

If you read the article and dug a little deeper much of the increased risk isn't cycling, it's air pollution - caused by motor-vehicles. Exercise is good. With the right infrastructure, more cycling would mean fewer vehicles and less pollution.

In the UK it's estimated that transport-related air pollution kills around 35,000 people each year.

I can't help thinking you're a troll, but not a very good one.

mc said...

Common sense would say criminality is proportional to user base.

Sure, just you're forgetting not everywhere is flat and suited for everyone to pedal their way around - or that physical stress can actually be as bad, if not worse, for health, as no exercise at all, depending on conditions - just "ask" the guru of jogging, who died of a heart attack, while jogging...

And yet, don't you keep buying stuff (bikes!, which don't auto-magically appear at your lbs) from across the world, instead of just sticking to local products and simply walking/running, or riding an horse/mule/donkey, helping save an endangered species, in the process?

Truth is, his vitriolic, hateful language just shows an witch-hunting mentality far more anti-social than whatever he's trying to antagonize, which should have him exposed and proscribed as the nutcase he's passing for, unless you believe repression is the way to go towards a better and healthier society, that is...

And since you asked, here's some real first class trolling for you (or is it?):

amoeba said...


"you're forgetting not everywhere is flat and suited for everyone to pedal their way around" -
I live in England, we have hills here, they're the wrinkly bits that go up and down, but not as big as mountains. Thanks for the lesson on topography. I've never met a cyclist who wasn't very aware of hills.

As for consumerism, yes people buy 'stuff', and 'stuff' needs to be transported. But the evidence shows that utility cyclists tend to buy locally compared with those who drive, who are just as likely to drive many times further to a shopping-mall for their shopping. And I think it's pretty obvious that utility cyclists, out of sheer practicality in terms of bulk and mass, would tend only to buy what they need, say compared with someone who drives a medium car, let alone a large 4x4 / SUV or pick-up.

My last two trips into London were for the Blackfriars flash-ride and for the 'Tour du Danger' [FYI that's 85 km & 90 km each round trip (with reasonable hills)]. It's amazing just how many large 4x4 / SUV or pick-ups there are in inner London. What do these people want them for? They clearly don't need them. None of them had off-road tyres, so they aren't being used off-road, except in car-parks. These people certainly don't all need 4X4 capability in London, one can't help wondering if they are just such crap drivers, that they feel they're going to need a diff-lock to break-free when they get stuck in the asphalt in the local supermarket? I very much doubt they need a 4X4 for towing either.

I've heard that in London, average car journeys are as low as 2 miles - No I haven't got a source to confirm this. But the average journey length in the UK for years has been ~7 miles. And there can be little doubt that most people could easily cycle many of the 50% of those under 7 mile journeys.

Utility cyclists, especially those who don't fly, almost inevitably have a lower impact and most probably a much lower impact on the environment than those who drive and fly regularly.

And whatever anybody says, the science is clear we will have to achieve carbon negative lifestyles and presumably, that means stop driving and flying.

Monbiot is right about the 'anti-social bastards' (ASBs) of the 'me me me' culture of modern drivers. Many ASBs want the freedom to talk on the phone, text, facebook or play online poker, brush their hair, do make-up and speed while they drive, but without the responsibilities. Some ASBs go so far as to bully and harass cyclists in-order to 'educate' them and clearly don't care if they drive over the odd one, as long as they don't get caught. Even then ASBs are only sorry that they got caught, not for what they've done to another human being. A significant proportion of ASBs are driving unlicenced, uninsured and in defective vehicles. Even then, ASBs don't get properly punished.

The Legal system in the UK is institutionally pro-driver and anti-cyclist. That becomes very clear if one compares the penalties for causing death or serious injury by any other means than driving a motor-vehicle – causing death or serious injury by motor-vehicle is not treated as seriously.
I drive, but less and less and cycle more. Cycling's a real eye-opener.

mc said...

We have hills, too - average climb rates go up to 20% and more. Good luck wannabe kings of the mountain, elderly, women and kids included.

I'm afraid your evidence leaves too much to desire, specially since you don't seem to understand the basics of the concept of buying local - hint: regardless of whether you buy at the corner shop or across the country, your biking needs still are as close to 100% eastern asian sourced as they could be.

SUVs/4x4s, we solved that long ago by simply putting an end to lower taxes from back when they were just work vehicles - you sure the problem is the owners?

I know of someone else who also drives not 2, but 1 (one) single mile to office:

That other ASB goes so far as to bully and harass non-cyclists in just the same exact manner, and also in order to "educate" them, but do you know most cyclists don't actually have any insurance? And there's no such thing as riding lessons requirements for cyclists.

In the example I gave you, the penalty for the cyclist was a "whooping" 400 dollars, whereas in this case it was life without parole:

The problem is that nutcase talks as if he roots for this team:
And don't doubt they have plenty followers (and, much more importantly, financiers), otherwise stuff like WW2 would've never happened, so the question is: do you believe you could reach a better future taking that road? I know we can't, but your mileage may vary...?

amoeba said...

'your biking needs still are as close to 100% eastern asian sourced as they could be.'

Utility cyclists buy less stuff, if they don't drive. That tank of fuel, that drivers buy weekly or fortnightly, cyclists either buy less frequently, or not at all.

Many utility cyclists are concerned about the environment, therefore are deeply aware of the carbon footprint of what they buy.
I'm not talking about the faux environmentalists who waffle on about the environment, make a lot about recycling stuff but then fly half way around the world to look at some natural wonder like the Great Barrier Reef.

As for hills, I'm certainly no 'king of the mountains', but life in hilly areas happened before the car and it's likely to happen when cars are history.
Geography is a fact of life, and we have to solve the problem of carbon zero energy, because if our energy slaves go on strike, and no-one in the industrialised will enjoy that. Many would die.

The average UK citizen in 2005 used energy at the rate of 5.5 kW 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. These 'slaves' 'fetch' the energy that permits us to live as we do: supply potable water; transport us; grow our food; transport our food; cook our food; wash our clothes; warm our houses, water etc. The average UK citizen used 110 energy slaves (the energy equivalent of the daily work of a fit human male in prime condition), whereas the average US citizen used 200 energy slaves.

mc said...

People spend because they are conditioned to, not because they need. That, regardless of lifestyle: as long as there's money to milk (and the least possible), there will be "reasons" to spend it (newer, eco-"friendlier" products and activities, for instance...).

Anyone actually concerned about life, wouldn't care about "environment", but *nature* - the difference is much more than just simple semantics. That's just mind conditioning.

Life also happened before the phone, tv and internet, which are as much major sources of pollution, resource usage and energy expendage, not to mention exploitation and war - so are you willing to part with them, as well, in order to free those energy slaves?

CO2 is a mystification, not a problem (doesn't even actually absorb/reflect IR rays, for instance, unlike water vapour) - on the contrary, it's actually beneficial: plants will use water more efficiently and grow bigger, producing more, the more there is of it.

But the point was that penchant towards despotism couldn't be more opposed to the claims of social concern, and that's why I took issue with it: it makes him part of the problem, not solution.

So yeah, definitely not very good at trolling - he is, though, just that I've probably been around for long enough to not just fall for it... ;)


amoeba said...


"CO2 is a mystification, not a problem (doesn't even actually absorb/reflect IR rays, for instance, unlike water vapour) - on the contrary, it's actually beneficial: plants will use water more efficiently and grow bigger, producing more, the more there is of it."

This is all untrue. You clearly understand little about climate science, but believe you are more knowledgeable than the world's experts.

First of all, I direct you to the Dunning-Kruger Effect:

Water Vapour versus CO2
There is no correlation between CO2 and Temperature Myth
CO2 Lags Temperature Myth
Human CO2 Insignificant Myth
CO2 Plant Food Myth
"CO2 will fertilize the plants and increase food production."

More arguments [Myths]

Johan Andersson said...

I thought this was how Dustin Hoffman was supposed to help: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c412hqucHKw

Mikkel Nielsen said...

"Cars kill around 1000 Copenhageners a year and make thousands more ill"
According to Danish Statistics, only 406 people were killed in traffic and that was COUNTRY-WIDE statistics.
In 2011 only 220 people were killed in traffic, so I find it very hard to believe that around 1000 Copenhageners were killed by cars in any year.
It's just plain stupid to make up facts.

http://www.vejdirektoratet.dk/DA/viden_og_data/statistik/ulykkestal/%C3%85rsstatistik/Documents/Trafikuheld%20%C3%A5ret%202007.pdf (page 3)


Mikael Colville-Andersen said...

Mikkel. Read the post. Noise and air pollution from cars kill 1000 Copenhageners. Not accidents.

amoeba said...

On the subject of (societal) parasites. The external costs of each registered car in Denmark is 2000 Euro, (2008 figures). External costs are not paid by the motorist, but are shared-out among the tax-payers, who may or may not drive.

See Table 4, p. 34, for the breakdown of externalities.

The True Costs of Automobility: External Costs of Cars
Overview on existing estimates in EU-27
Dresden, October 12th, 2012