22 February 2013

Paint Is Not Enough

♫♪Yes, there used to be a painted bike lane right here. ♫ (with apologies to Joe Raposo)
Forty Days and Forty Nights.

This time period appears again and again in the scriptures of various religions, but especially in the christian bible (which may have inherited it from paganism) where it, amongst other things, measures the period of Lent.  The day of this posting will mark the reaching of Forty Days and Forty Nights by an example of something far less spiritual but very detrimental to the realization of the goal of Copenhagenization.  And this is an important topic to address and discuss as North America begins to see an explosion in the addition of bicycle infrastructure to its "Complete Streets" where cars are no longer allowed to totally dominate as they not long ago did.

Paint is not enough!

In most of the pictures throughout this post, you see the results of a contractor (in the United States this is usually the firm that submitted the lowest bid to do the job) working on underground utilities and the damage done to a paint-only bicycle infrastructure project. 



Was once quite a rare sight on this street.
Some background first.  This street is located in the broad urban expanses of the area known as Southern California.  I'm not going to identify where because I don't desire to use my contributions to this blog to pick on a particular city or utility company...at least not yet!  And it really doesn't matter because this could be anywhere on the continent as this sort of thing happens all the time and everywhere in North America, not only to bike lane striping but to other markings like crosswalks and stop-lines which are intended to make the roadway safer for its non-motorized users.  In truth, the city where these pictures are taken is actually very progressive, for one in North America, in its pursuance of bicycle "friendliness".  The city which-shall-remain-nameless really cares about promoting cycle use, so can you imagine how long this sort of thing would fester in a place that pays only lip-service to cycling?  Sometimes the removal of paint on roadway is caused by utility work, as in this case.  Other times it is due to a failure to repaint sun-faded markings over time, or wear and tear from winter work like salting and plowing. But since this situation is an example I've been able to document and monitor, it will be our laboratory rat or guinea pig today.

The street in question used to be a four-lane "facility" with curbside parking on each side, no turn lanes and no accommodations for bicycles what-so-ever.  The speed limit was routinely being exceeded by motor vehicles and this street was easily a candidate for at least a five miles-per-hour increase thanks to the incredibly biased method of setting speed limits known as The 85th-Percentile. Indeed the street has a higher speed limit when it crosses over into the adjoining city because there it passes by some formally industrial areas.


Source: NYCDOT Allerton Avenue project
California has a good number of what it uniquely defines as "Class One" bicycle paths.  They are exactly that, paths which offer a cyclists an unfettered ride, usually only occasionally intersecting cross-streets, and in many cases offering overpasses or underpasses to do so.  Unfortunately while these paths are usually pleasant and well used by recreational cyclists plus what the Dutch call "Wheel-runners" they almost never run past places that a person might work/study or want to go to and visit and/or shop.  These follow routes that are often facilitated by abandoned railroad corridors, or rivers (many of which in this area have been cemented into the high-capacity floodwater drainage channels that are very necessary when rainy weather does come).  That is what the above "bicycle facility" was intended to be; funds had been set aside to build a separated  segregated "Class One" path.  Unfortunately the land along which the path was to run became unavailable.  So the funds were re-purposed such that they were used to place a "road diet" on this, our guinea pig street.

But of course, the cyclist pictogram is wearing a helmet.
So the dedicated pot of money, that had been intended solely for bicycles was instead used to scrape off the old asphalt from the street and lay a fresh new and smooth layer.  Also, these funds were used to buy and install a number of new traffic signals and refurbish some existing ones so that they would recognize bicycles and cars using video cameras.  Certainly not an insignificant cost when you consider that a basic set of traffic signals now pencils in at around US$200,000, and the video camera detection systems can add at least ten percent to that number.  That did make the street easier for bicycles to travel on as these signals replaced a closely-spaced series of "Four-Way" Stop Signs, except this signalization always creates potential motorist/non-motorist conflict thanks the the USA's blanket permission of "Right-turn-on-Red (Light)".  Finally the striping-layout  shown in the diagram above was painted onto the street, except of course this being the USA, a land with far too many lawyers, the street's bicyclist pictogram has a helmet on.

(There was actually a period in time after the USA's Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) was changed to reflect this "newer" standard when I witnessed crews actually being dispatched to paint the helmet onto already extant pictograms around the city I lived in at the time!)


Now a very popular route.
So, effectively, funds originally set aside for bicycles were used to perform overdue refurbishment (because the funding mechanism for streets, a fixed surcharge per gallon of fuel, has not been increased in over 20 years) on a road also used by cars and add traffic signals that do not actually offer any special features for bicyclists apart from being able to be triggered (unless the sun is rising or setting!) by cyclists.  But the discussion of that inequality and further subsidy of the motor vehicle by persons who are not necessarily users of the automobile infrastructure can be left to another time.

The road diet has been successful.  First and foremost, this street did not need all the capacity that having two lanes in each direction was providing;  It simply did not have the motor vehicle volume.  While this is one of a longer street street in surrounding area, it does terminate in the city in which the photos are taken and so does not function as a long-distance alternative to the overcrowded "freeway" system, which many motorists in Southern California are now chosing to avoid by using these more predictable "surface streets".  The street now has a center lane for turns which has two obvious benefits.  1)Motorists needing to take a left hand turn now can sit in a demarcated refuge awaiting their opportunity to turn, and do so without blocking the other motorists who happened to be behind them, in the same lane, under the old layout.  2)When crossing oncoming traffic, the motorists only have one lane of on-coming motor traffic and therefore less oncoming vehicles to look through or around (for cyclists) to make the judgement on whether it is safe or not to complete the turn. 



No bike ninjas here
Copen  Hangnam-style! (photo by Steven Vance)
(You will notice that I am not inferring that cyclists will use this center turn lane.  The box-left turn is also called the Copenhagen Left for a reason.  Why on earth would a road/traffic engineer create, or for that matter anyone promoting citizen cycling want to encourage situation where a cyclist is forced to stand, unprotected, in the middle of two streams of traffic in order to get to the other side of the road?  It isn't done in Copenhagen and it shouldn't be assumed necessary elsewhere.  The Franklin/Forester-cult may scoff, but the 8 or 80 year old cyclist shouldn't ever have to be placed in that danger zone.  Copenhagen Lefts may take slightly longer, but the overall process is usually shorter than the typical ambulance ride.)

Finally the center lane is almost always empty except for those aforementioned left-hand turning motorists, and it can be quickly vacated by those in it either by completing  the intended turn or re-merging into their own lane of travel.  This means that the roadway effectively always has a way to permit emergency vehicles to pass less hindered than they would be when the "four-lane" street existed, especially if, for some reason, that old street layout was full of motorists.  Which is a good thing since there is at least one fire station nearby and, as is typical of public safety resources management in the USA, it usually dispatches a full size fire truck along with what the rest of the world calls a "crash-car" (except it is a pick-up truck like the one from the TV Show "Emergency!") to almost every call, regardless of need.  That center-lane creation is an important selling point because increasingly, at least in the United States, it is the Public Safety profession who object to or intervene to stop traffic-calming an bicycle-accommodating modifications of infrastructure.


So in the end cyclists ended up with two painted bike lanes on a street that is useful to many and is staying at the posted speed limit  .  Which brings us back to our contractor-created "scar".



Good thing no vehicles are parked here today!
Work was done on some sort of a pipe, which appears in this case to be for water, the clue being the blue spray paint.  The contractor dug into the asphalt to create a trench to either install, remove or repair that pipe.  The digging occurred along the length of one of the two stripes that make up the painted bike lane.  Once finished, the contractor replaced the dirt and put down some asphalt, which is now not only devoid of striping but also quite rough.  One would have hoped that the rough asphalt was preliminary and that there would be a second visit by the contractor to smooth and restripe, but that was 40 days ago.  So it looks like this is now permanent.
Savvy SUV-driver "taking the lane"?
Cyclists now have a situation where cars drift into the space formerly taken up by the bike lane, space which is uncomfortable to ride in, forcing cyclists to ride in the parking lane if it is not occupied.  The roadway that was made smooth for all users by expropriating bike path funding is now very rough precisely where cyclists are trying to use it.  The motorist is now given the impression that the painted cycle lane is gone and that they now lord over a sixteen-foot-wide (4.87 m) traffic lane, although to some extent the roughness of the current asphalt keeps drivers not in vehicles designed for off-road use (like the plentiful Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs)) ride hard against the center divider. To add insult to injury, when the asphalt that is in place was poured, it was done in such a sloppy manner that a short portion of the right edge of the former bicycle lane is also now obscured.
Defaced painted crosswalk.
Because the pipes needing repair or modification lay under it (another argument for cycletracks between parking and the sidewalk!) the bicycle facility is now, for stretch of over 400 feet (121 m) effectively gone.  While not a huge distance, it is long enough to create difficulties and anxiety for the type of cyclist these facilities are supposed to encourage.  The scar also took out some of the crosswalk striping, so pedestrians too lose a part of the road diet  improvements devoted to them.  If the contractor's job had been larger, more of the painted bike lane would now be removed permanently.  This demonstrates what can happen quickly to all the good work being done right now if attitudes and regulations about bicycles in the profession of Construction Management are not changed and if the overseers of this infrastructure are not vigilant in making sure that what gets taken away is immediately put back.  Simple temporary lane markings are available to the construction industry, why were they not used here?  And if the parking and bicycle lanes were flipped here as they are in Copenhagen, it would have been the under-utilized parking that was disrupted or scarred, not the travel lane of a mode that the city is trying to encourage.
Richmond
Long Beach (photo by Waltarrrrr)


Missoula (photo by Brett VA)
But really more to the point, isn't it time to insist that where possible, bicycle infrastructure gets built in a manner in which a sudden removal is made less possible?  Physical separation using traffic islands or raised aprons or recessed curbing as seen in places like Long Beach, California or Missoula, (yes, Missoula!) Montana or  Richmond, British Columbia show what is already in use in North America.  These forms of infrastructure are harder for a thoughtless site foreman to destroy or for negligent city staff to delete by means of apathy.  They imply permanence by their construction and they are what your city and its cyclists deserve.





21 February 2013

Nørrebrogade - a Car-Free(ish) Success

Nørrebrogade Buszone 2
The tale of Nørrebrogade keeps getting better. This is the street that the former traffic Mayor, Klaus Bondam, tackled in order to cut the number of cars and increase the liveability for the residents. We're written about the street many times. There is a long list of intiatives that have been tried and tested on the street, which is also the busiest bicycle street in the world.

The City of Copenhagen recently published a study about the first stage of the redesign of the street: Københavns Kommunes Evaluering af Nørrebrogadeprojektets Etape 1. Please don't try to pronounce that without qualified linguistic supervision.

The results include the following:

Car traffic has fallen by 60% from 15,000 to 6,000 a day.
This is a neighbourhood where 19% of the residents own a car, so the traffic was/is largely "parasites". The street had long suffered from lack of development and was a sad, lifeless transport corridor through what is a fantastic, densely-populated neighbourhood.

Nørrebrogade Refitting 02
These cycle tracks are now completed. Loads of space for conversation cycling and overtaking.

The number of bicycle users has increased by 20%
Between 2008 and 2012, the number of bicycle users increased by 20%, due to a variety of factors. The Green Wave for cyclists, which was first launched on this street, has improved the traffic flow for bicycle users and is considered the primary cause of the increase. Generally, the traffic calming effect of the project has encouraged more people to use the street. In addition, the widened cycle tracks at the southern end of the street, where the bicycle traffic bottlenecks, are a massive help dealing with bicycle congestion.

The highest number of bicycle users to cross Queen Louise's Bridge in one day is 40,000.
There are bridges with high numbers of bicycle users, and one of them - Knippels Bridge - is giving Queen Louise's Bridge a run for its money, but these 40,000 bicycles are a fantastic number.

The number of pedestrians on Queen Louise's Bridge has risen by 60% from 4731 til 7616
This is really a noticeable change. You can really see the increase if you frequently cross the bridge. The traffic calming of the street clearly encourages more people to walk.

The travel time for buses up and down Nørrebrogade has fallen by 10%
Faster buses? A good thing.

Car traffic in the entire Nørrebro neigbourhood has fallen by 10%
The nay-sayers guessed that shutting off the street to through traffic would only send the motorists out onto many other streets in the neighbourhood. They were wrong. There has been a fall of 10% in the entire neighbourhood. Also, on the large arteries surrounding the neighbourhood there hasn't been a compensated rise in the number of vehicles.

Noise pollution has been reduced

Noise pollution from car traffic is a major problem in Copenhagen - like in most cities. The noise levels have been reduced on this street. The only effective way of lowering noise pollution is removing cars or speed limits.

The number of small businesses has only fallen by four.
Rumours of imminent death for small businesses were grossly exaggerated - as they always are. Bicycle users, bus passengers and pedestrians are the backbone of retail sale. There are only four fewer small businesses on the street. Which is roughly the same as most other neighbourhoods in Copenhagen.
Copenhagen Winter Cycling - The Bridge Winter Traffic
Nørrebrogade is a success. We were never in doubt. Now it's time to roll out the concept over all of Copenhagen.


Previous posts about a car-free Nørrebrogade:
- The Drastic Measures of Visionaries
- Dots and Bikes and Bondam
- Load on, Load off
- Flexzone on Nørrebrogade
- Surfing the Green Wave in Copenhagen - See the film
- The Green Wave Spreads

15 February 2013

Building the Bicycle Snake

UPDATE: A year back we blogged about the Bicycle Snake - Cykelslangen - being built to both help connect the popular Vesterbro and Islands Brygge neighbourhoods of Copenhagen, and to create a simpler more direct route around Copenhagen's unfortunately quintessential American-style shopping mall for the 9000 cyclists that transit that area every day. We've been talking about it, waiting for it, and with it's elegant Danish design - really been looking forward to it.

Which is why I was so pleasantly surprised when to discover yesterday that construction has started. A year behind schedule, but hey it's on its way.

As I wiggled down a little ramp on a cargo bike, bumped over cobblestones, and squeezed past delivery trucks (the maze the Bicycle Snake will relieve us from), these are the developments made thus far:

Ok, so it's not much, but in the lower left corner you can see where construction has begun. You can also see a cyclist riding off the sidewalk/current bike lane onto cobblestones where he then dismounts his bicycle and carries it up two flights of stairs. In a few months, he should be sans cobblestones, dismounts, stairs, and riding (10 metres) high. For a brief reminder, taken from approximately the same angle, here's what it will look like:
photo of Cykelslangen from architect Dissing + Weitling

Until then, we've got the City's standard friendly post reminding us that, roughly translated, they're building better connections for pedestrians and cyclists and until it's finished this summer they hope we can bare with them and have a bit of extra consideration and respect for each other in the construction zone.
I think we can.

Essentials?



The city of Portland, Oregon in the USA is one of , if not the most progressive cities in North America when it comes to building bicycle infrastructure. While it pales in comparison to Copenhagen, Portland has managed to build a network enticing enough to have raised the bicycle-to-work/study share up to 6% which is remarkable if you understand that "Portland was a city like any other US city in the 1980s and early 1990s in terms of transportation behavior". (Although we've heard they only do their bike count in June, not like Copenhagen, for example, that counts at over 40 permanent locations and another 160 intermittent locations, but we'll leave that alone for now.)


In other words addicted to the car; though to be fair, Portland did build one of the first post-WW2 Light Rail lines in North America in 1986 and did so by using monies that were originally aimed at widening what Oregon calls a "freeway".

This has come at a "great" financial cost of course, the total being an estimated US$60 Million, which is a lot of money... 


...until you realize what the extension or widening of limited-access divided-highways cost.


And in the case of Portland, US$60 million is also what 1 mile (1.6 km) of "freeway" costs to build.  Now, to be honest, highway projects in the USA vary in price so look at this report and remember that these prices are per "lane-mile" (if the proposed "freeway" is going to have 3 lanes in each direction, multiply these numbers by 6).


Widening roads is not cheap either.  A news item this week announced that 1.2 miles (1.93 km) of road in Los Angeles county would have a Carpool Lane and a General Purpose Lane added in each direction for just US$214 million(!)  An underpass designed to eliminate an at-grade or level crossing in Orange County California is penciling is at US$92 million.

But you won't hear much about the costs of those projects as they are built for the bull in society's china shop, the automobile; because the mainstream media in the USA (and increasingly elsewhere) ignores the bull but then scrutinizes the costs of bicycle and railway facilities.


CNN's domestic USA service (which is very different from that which you may encounter with the CNN logo outside North America) recently ran a report critical of the spending of public funds to upgrade a railway in the Northeastern State of Vermont on a show hosted by Anderson Cooper (Cooper is, ironically, the Great-Great-Great-Grandson of railroad builder and magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt)  

The piece has been roundly criticized by many for being out-of-touch with reality, the best critique being made by DC.Streetsblog's Tanya Snyder who defended the rail improvements for having "spent .00006 percent of the federal stimulus money on needed track improvements and came in on time and under budget."   The cost to the taxpayers of this "outrageous railway boondoggle"?  

US$52 million.


Remember what the Portland Bicycle Infrastructure cost?

Typical service before deregulation
A subsidy you will rarely hear about in the mainstream U.S. media, is "Essential Air Service" (EAS). This program was put in place at the end of the old system of government controls on prices and the number carriers allowed to serve city-pairs that existed until 1978.  It was intended to ease the "shock" created when the now deregulated airlines could then serve any city they chose, based on market forces.  Service to these smaller cities, usually flown as a multi-stop, "milk run" service on jet equipment, had often been a requirement if the airline wanted to also offer non-stop service, often as a monopoly, between two large American cities.  EAS now subsidizes the fares of airlines flying to these smaller cities so that they can keep service and connection to a "hub city" at a level of about US$170 million per annum for the Lower 48, or enough to replace Portland's bicycle infrastructure over three times each year.
Air Greenland now arriving!
By the way, the term "Lower 48" which comes from an Alaskan perspective is a simple way of referring to the contiguous or mainland states in the USA.   Alaska and Hawaii also receive EAS funding, but their history/geography/topography/ethnography and lack of road networks justify there being some assistance. This is not unlike Denmark itself which sends block grants to the home-rule government in Greenland which in turn subsidizes helicopter flights there to small towns un-reachable by any other means of transport. EAS was intended to slowly fade away in the 1980's, but has instead been expanded, and subject to massive intervention by politicians who want to "bring home the bacon" for their constituencies.  Perhaps the prime example is Hagerstown, Maryland to Washington's Dulles Airport (which is in Virginia) a route that covers 54 miles (87 km) in its 40 minutes of flying time, a trip that would take 75 minutes in a car or bus.
The CNN piece focused on a train called "the Vermonter" which runs from Saint Albans near the border with Quebec, (a previous incarnation of this train used to serve Montreal) down to Essex Junction a stop near to Vermont's largest city Burlington, thence to White River Junction,  a city near Hanover, New Hampshire, the home of Dartmouth College.  It then mostly  follows the Connecticut River, which divides Vermont from New Hampshire, south into Western Massachusetts through to New Haven, Connecticut. At this point the train joins the busy Northeast Corridor to New York City and finally ends up in Washington, D.C. 
Source: M.J. Bradley & Associates for NRDC
While focusing on the dollars spent on rail infrastructure that should last for many years, CNN did of course not mention an air route funded under EAS that runs roughly parallel to the train, from the Lebanon, New Hampshire airport, which is close to White River Junction, to White Plains, in New York State's Westchester County.  While the Westchester County Airport is in an area north of New York City itself, it is also close to the headquarters of many large companies.  Those passengers wishing to continue to Manhattan are offered a free connection by van. Before I go on, should I mention that there is a profitable  private bus company that runs from Hanover and Lebanon to Manhattan,  Boston and the Boston Airport?  I think I won't as I would have to look up all the sordid details of what the Interstate Highway System cost to build and now, operate and maintain which would make this post longer than it already is.  And those buses don't have to serve the intermediate stops like previous carriers were once required to, like the train still does, because the time and distance penalty for leaving a limited access highway to serve a city on a route is much greater than it is for the typical railway line which were built through small cities rather than around them.
Only one pilot today!
The Federal Government quietly spends US$1 million per year to subsidize two dailys flights on 8-seat (9 seats when they are flown with only one pilot) Cessna 402s.  It spends an additional US$1.3 million to pay for four trips a day from Lebanon to Boston, for a grand total of US$2.3 million.  Both routes are operated by the same airline, Cape Air, which has transformed itself from a Hyannis, Massachusetts based island-hopping airline that was one of the bases for the TV show "Wings" to a company that has won EAS contracts all over the United States and its territories.
This EAS Subsidy does not include the financial support from City of Lebanon to the airport itself, derived from property taxpayers due to the financial structure of New Hampshre, or the US$1 million that the federal government grants each year to the airport for "improvements", or the airport's traffic control tower, as it is part of the national air traffic control system.  Both of these fundings are based on the existence of the EAS flights.  And since the Boston flights arrive into a "secure" gate there, the Lebanon Airport must have airport security screeners present for those departures, which are paid for through a ticket fee. However at around 6,000 "enplanements" for Boston at US$2.50 per, that's not generating very much money per year, so funding and capital for the security is coming from elsewhere.
EAS rules requires that at least 10,000 passengers board the subsidized flights each year; something which was only pulled off by Lebanon in 2012 by using steeply discounted fares during the last week of the year.  This situation made for a fun day trip  (sponsored by the taxpayers to the tune of US$230 each way (The US$2.3M annual EAS subsidy to Cape Air divided by 10,000)) from Lebanon to White Plains for one member of the Airliners.net forum who wrote a trip report about it.  One way fares on these flights are normally in the US$130 range.  It is touted as a means to access businesses in the area for those who are unwilling to take the bus (see above) from Boston's airport or drive the 76 miles (123 km) from the one in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Might get some work done.
However, I will confess that the fully Wheelchair-accessible 206-seat train, which could operate with many more cars equaling many more seats, requires US$2.7 million in subsidies to operate.  That's still less than the two daily nine-seat airplanes plus their share of the associated Lebanon airport cost to fly to White Plains (I'll ignore the federally-supported costs of Westchester County Airport since it handles many more and larger aircraft operations)  And, yes, the rail project project mentioned was only for Vermont.  There are other projects in Massachusetts and Connecticut, admittedly at additional cost, that will result in even further time savings for the trip as a whole along the entire Vermont to New Haven corridor as well as the potential to add more frequency of service.  But then one should note that this rail corridor that the Vermonter uses north of New Haven is owned by private companies who also contributed funding to the project, and despite the public funding for improvements, unless there is an exemption I am not aware of, these private railroads pay property tax on the land their rail "right-of-ways" occupy.  If you are reading this in the USA, go someday to your local property tax collector and ask who the largest property tax payer is in that municipality or county. If there is one, it is usually the railroad who owns the local rail line.   Is there property tax levied on airports and roads?  No! And in regards to capital expenses, I can't begin to speculate what it would cost to buy the land for the Lebanon Airport today and then build the terminals from scratch.
Rail lives (or dies) on intermediate market business, this is what it does best given the ability to stop in cities along the way without the aforementioned time and distance penalties.  Remember neither the airplane nor the bus can do what this train does, connecting not only Burlington, Vermont  to Washington, but also Wallingford, Connecticut to Waterbury, Vermont or Hanover, New Hampshire to Amherst, Massachusetts (also home of educational institutions), and this part of the world to the rest via New York City, et cetera, et cetera.  And you can bring your bike along, and your laptop, and buy a beer.  
All for less than the cost of an underpass.

13 February 2013

Motorists Dismount

Motorists Dismount
Buttons that pedestrians or cyclists are forced to push in order for a computer program - programmed by a car-centric engineer - to grant them authorisation to cross a street in their city have to be among the most archaeic remnants of a century of city planning that caters only to the automobile.

And that was a long sentence. Sorry.

I wish for their immediate demise. The only thing goofier is the pedestrian flags in some American cities. Talk about ignoring the bull. Not to mention engineering instead of designing our cities.

One of the things I like most about cycling in Copenhagen is that I don't have to push any of these buttons. There have been a few but they tend to get removed and thank goodness for that.

Here's one from the archives:
The Power is Mine
(Although now I'll have to check if it's still there...) Still, they are a rarity here and I've only seen them at t-intersections.

So why not signage like the graphic up top? If we're going to level the playing field - which we should - after this centuria horribilis. Let this sign be posted in densely-populated urban centres, near schools and kindergartens and basically anywhere we're keen to reestablish liveable cities.

More wacky buttons from around the world:
Ljubljana Bicycle Life_5 DC Overcomplication Sao Paulo Streets 052
Ljubljana, Slovenia & Washington DC & Sao Paulo

Pedestrian Crossing Button Halifax Ignoring the Bull
Berlin & Halifax, Canada

Ottawa Application Form Lean on your city. #cyclechic #amsterdam #bike
Ottawa & Amsterdam


11 February 2013

Car Fasting is the New Fast Car

Religion

We've often wondered where the religious types were on intelligent transport. You'd think there would be enough inspiration in their books - Bible/Torah/Koran to support healthy, modern living. Yet it's not often you see churches and religious organistations coming out in support of liveable cities.

So then our friend Paul in Vienna sent us a link to an intiative by the Catholic and Protestant churches of Austria.

Car Fasting - or Autofasten, in German. A brilliant intiative to encourage people to go on a car fast and seek alternatives.

Here's what I lamely translated from their website:

Car Fasting is ...


- An initiative to encourage a change of independent mobility between Ash Wednesday (13 Feb) to Holy Saturday (30 March).
- Suggesting choosing available alternatives like rail, bus, bicycle, foot, car-pooling) in order to discover something new and to experiment.
- Contributing to new experiences and to public health.
- An opportunity to shape a better future - together.
- An initiative of the environmental officers of the Catholic and Protestant churches in Austria.

You can support car fasting by:

- Not driving or driving significantly less
- Walk your children to school
- Walk to church and encourage others to do so
- Attaching a Car Fasting sign to your bicycle
- Supporting the bicycle advocacy group ARGUS
- Encouraging car-free alternatives in your company
- Forming a car pool
- Planning a car-free holiday
- Transforming parking spots into green spaces
- Taking public transport frequently
- Switching your motorist club memberships and instead support soft mobility, like www.vcoe.at
- Supporting alternatives: www.fairkehr.net
- Distributing Car Fasting material: newsletters, stickers, flyers - spreading the word by talking about it
- Demanding that politicians improve public transport
- Using private car sharing or trying car sharing systems like www.carsharing.at

Great stuff. Let's hope that relgions get their game face on about modernising our cities and encouraging more sustainable transport solutions.

Autofasten - in German.

10 February 2013

Cycling to Copenhagen Airport

Cycling to the Airport
Standard cycle track in Copenhagen. Sign indicating that you turn left here for the airport.

I will fully admit the irony of my epiphany. It's even a bit silly. The story has, however, a decent ending. The nature of my work involves a great many trips to and from Copenhagen Airport. We're lucky in Copenhagen. The airport is the most efficient and well-designed airport I've seen anywhere in the world. It is easily accessible and is located close to the city. You can get there by bus, metro and train, as well as car or taxi, of course. This being Copenhagen, I knew there was fully separated bicycle infrastructure the whole way out there, as well. From every direction.

Last October, on the eve of a journey to Zurich for my TED x talk, my friend Ole - previously written about on this blog - asked why I didn't just ride my bicycle to the airport. I shrugged and said that I live 6 minutes walk from a Metro station and it takes 25 minutes on the Metro to get there. I'm not a "cyclist" - I don't demonstratively ride my bicycle everywhere. I like to walk and take public transport, too. I ride my bicycle because it's quick, efficient and rational. My Metro journey takes 35 minutes, give or take, and that was the most efficient way to get to the airport.

With that trademark twinkle in his eye, Ole said, "That's what I thought, too..." He pulled out his smartphone and showed me a journey he recorded on the Endomondo app. It's like many other apps for tracking journeys, but being a Danish product, it rightly has "Cycling - Transport" as an option. Ole lives in a different neighbourhood but we live about the same distance from the airport. He showed me the bottom line: it took him 35 minutes to ride to Copenhagen Airport. The same amount of time as I use on the metro. And Ole rides a bog standard upright bike in style over speed.

Damn. There is was. Rationality staring me in the face. I woke up the next morning and hopped on my 60 year old Swedish bike with my carry-on bag for the two day trip to Zurich and rode to the airport.

It took me 39 relaxing minutes on my old one-speed. 11.39 km in all. I parked at the bike rack outside Terminal 3 and waltzed right up the escalator to security. Feeling silly that I hadn't realised it before. Piece of cake.


The trip was, of course, on standard separated cycle tracks the whole way.
Cycling to Copenhagen Airport
One little 400 metre section along the motorway was one of the old-school bi-directional types, which was nice.

Cycle chic. Rode my bike to the airport. In style. #cyclechic bit.ly/VCuOHE
I parked right outside Terminal 3. Luckily, there was space


There is, however, ample bike parking at the airport, as you can see on Copenhagen Airport's website. They are often filled. Many employees live in the nearby neighbourhoods, so they ride to work, although I'm sure others have discovered the simplicity of cycling to the airport.

So. Great for short trips with a carry-on bag. On my longer trips, I have more luggage, obviously. I would love to ride my Bullitt to the airport on these occasions. The problem is that theft of cargo bikes is big business so I am not keen to leave the Bullitt parked all exposed for a week or so.

I rang the airport and talked to a guy in the parking department. He could understand the problem and was kind enough to give me his best guess about which of the bike parking areas would be most secure - an area with a lot of traffic throughout the day and night. Still, I'm not keen to risk it.

There are underground parking levels all over the place. Perfect for cargo bike parking but currently only reserved for cars. At Copenhagenize Design Co. we've approached the marketing department at Copenhagen Airport about providing secure parking for cargo bikes and we're looking forward to hearing from them. The airport has decent facilities for bicycles but mostly because it's in Copenhagen and it's a necessity. Although the bicycle pump when you arrive in the baggage area certainly impressed this guy last year.


The main challenge is that car parking is lucrative. Ole took a photo of this ad at the airport recently. "A hot dog on the platform or a cosy dinner with your partner - Why spend the evening on a cold train platform when you can take your own car to the airport. Park in the airport's best spots: Direct and Standard. Then you'll get home quick to your partner."

So the message is clear. Car parking is big business for the airport. Although creating cargo bike parking facilities would, of course, be modern and marketable. Good for the airport's brand. Let's see if they're up for it.

We've mapped out where the best locations would be and it would be an inexpensive investment with a lot of return in the form of marketing. Just look at how much focus the oil company Statoil has recieved because of their bicycle stations at their gas stations in Copenhagen.

Cycling to the airport is easy, rational and time-efficient. I hope more people consider doing it.

Baggage Handler Commuting
It's also a great way to get around if you work there.

-----

On the subject of airports and cargo bike, here's an article and film about how I get picked up by friends with a cargo bike every time I arrive at Rio de Janeiro's Santos Dumont airport. Let's face it: a city with cycle tracks to the airport is a modern city.

---
Bicycles and Airports set on Flickr right here.

07 February 2013

How to Spend 27 Billion Kroner


The Robert Moses Fan Club that in Denmark is pushing ahead with their idea of a harbour tunnel that will only serve to increase car traffic and congestion over large swathes of the Danish capital. Here's what we'd rather have for the 27 billion the new underground motorway will cost.

Design by Emma Sivell, with Copenhagenize Design Co., for Cykelrepublikken.

A larger version is available here.

06 February 2013

AnsaldoBreda (Part One)

Snow and Ice build-up damage to the underside of trains recently delivered by AnsaldoBreda for "Fyra" service between Amsterdam and Brussels. (Source: Dutch Railways)
(NB: This post contains some links to news stories in languages other than English. Please let Google Translate be your friend)

Denmark, Belgium, and The Netherlands are three small countries that share many similar characteristics. All three are Constitutional Monarchies, all three share a border with Germany, all three stare down the North Sea, all three think strong black licorice is delicious, all three have languages that, when spoken, make a person sound like they have a throat ailment, all three have strong bicycle culture...okay, Belgium is doing some catch-up on that one...and all three have ordered intercity (long-distance) trains from AnsaldoBreda intended to be a backbone of rail service in each country.

The company which now titles itself "AnsaldoBreda" was created through a merger of Ansaldo Trasporti and Breda Costruzioni Ferroviarie in 2001. It is a subsidiary of Finmeccanica, a conglomerate which in 1993 also acquired other now-unrelated divisions of the former Gio. Anslado & C., which also use the name "Ansaldo" as a prefix in their names.  For example Ansaldo STS is a signals and automation company also owned by Finmeccanica but run separately from AnsaldoBreda, though they do work together on some products.

Finmeccanica is partially (30%) owned by the Italian State.

AnsaldoBreda's V250 sitting in the Yard
(Confused already? Wait for the next paragraph, and blame the European Union and their market directives about the seperation of rail operators form raill infrastructure)
Earlier this month, Fyra...which is a brand of train service operated by a company called High Speed Alliance BV...a joint venture between "NS Hi-Speed" (which itself is a joint-venture of the Dutch Railways and the airline KLM)...and the Belgian Railways...

(i.e. (KLM+Dutch Railways)+Belgian Railway=High Speed Alliance ="Fyra", a marketing brand of train service)

...completely suspended operations of its new V250 trains built by AnsaldoBreda.

The V250 trains only began service this past December, years after they had been promised, and had immediately become notorious for delayed and canceled trips.

Credit: SergioGeorgini via Wikimedia
InfraBel is the Belgian track infrastructure authority and is separate from operator the Belgian Railways. On Thursday, January 17th, InfraBel discovered train parts on its portion of the new, specially engineered high-speed rail line ("HSL4") that runs from Brussels to the Belgian-Dutch border.

These parts were soon discovered to have fallen off of the V250 after a particularly snowy day. Except these were conditions that did not result in damage to Fyra's HSL4 companion, the Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV)-based high-speed trains run by the train operator Thalys (Paris-Brussels-Amsterdam and v.v.) on the same tracks.

The Amsterdam-Brussels city-pair had for over 50 years been serviced by an hourly joint Dutch-Belgian operation named "The Benelux train" (originally the trains had been slated to continue south from Belgium to the City of Luxembourg). These trains stopped at major cities between Amsterdam and Brussels, including the "other" Dutch Capital, The Hague. These trains were slower than the both Thalys and the V250, but they offered service not requiring payment of a surcharge (Thalys) or a reservation (Thalys & Fyra) and most importantly...

...The Benelux trains carried bicycles

No box or bag required, just buy a bicycle ticket and roll on board into the designated bike storage area.

Fyra had been running limited Netherlands-only services using traditional electric locomotive-hauled train cars/carriages/wagons from Amsterdam to Breda, a city in the Netherlands which has no relation to AnsaldoBreda or predecessors, on the Dutch counterpart rail line to HSL4, the HSL-Zuid ("High Speed Line South"). This service had been implemented in this form because the V250s were delayed, as was the completion of both HSLs.  (The Amsterdam-Breda trains are still running today, BTW)

So, finally, the V250s which had been ordered eight years prior, entered service and began to offer mostly fares priced above what the old Benelux train had been charging, did not make a stop in The Hague, and...

...Fyra would not carry bicycles!

Nope, no way no how. Okay, if it was a folding bike, like a Brompton, in a bag, that would be alright, but no regular bicycles allowed...at all...on a train...that operates(or did for a while) in the Netherlands and Belgium.

Such Heresy! Indeed, even the Thalys trains, allow a bicycle to travel inside a slip cover of certain dimensions with the front wheel removed.

As of today, nineteen days later, the V250s sit in a storage yard awaiting further repair which had been promised "within a few days" and a decision on whether to return the NS HiSpeed owned V250s to AnsaldoBreda will be made in three months time. (The Belgians immediately cancelled three undelivered trainsets)

 Fyra has announced that a shortened version of the Benelux train will return in two weeks, which is quite an amazing task given that the planning of train "path-slots" on the busy railways of Belgium and the Netherlands normally takes one or two years. Whether these substitute trains will take bicycles is not known. They will stop in The Hague, but owing to corridor capacity having been already reassigned, will not continue to Amsterdam. Connections at Rotterdam will be available.

...is not supposed to look like this after it snows.
Needless to say, the whole situation is a scandal for the press in both countries to focus upon, the rail executives of both the Dutch and the Belgian Railways have been called before the Belgian Parliament and to meetings with the Dutch Government as well as television news interviews.

Fyra/High Speed Alliance is losing many millions of euros on refunds and in revenues. Because the V250 was to be the premier train product initially on the international service, and was to eventually replace the locomotive-hauled trains on the domestic service to Breda the City, it has itself become referred to as the Fyra Train. Or "Failra". Some speculate that the name is an acronym for"Forget Your Rapid Arrival".  #Fyra has trended on twitter in both countries and has been used to describe other delayed and problematic AnsaldoBreda and Finmeccanica products.

AnsaldoBreda's IC4, also sitting in the Yard.
And this is not unlike the situation Denmark's State-owned Railways (known as DSB) has found itself in with its IC4 trains, or as the Flemish-/Dutch-speaking press now prefers to call it, "The Danish Fyra". More about that, and other AnsaldoBreda failures in part two next week, but the mere existence of these now delayed and outdated-design products may have an impact on the use of cycling on both sides of the Wadden Sea.

The Internationally-renown Transit-Oriented-Development expert Robert Cervero of the University of California at Berkeley, in the USA, will tell you that bikes and walking are superb means of transport, but that they do have their limits, and that to extend the walk- or bike- shed you need a mechanical means to move mass amounts of people in to, out of, and between employment, activity and other centers (or "nodes" as planners are want to call them). Trains provide an ideal means of doing this, and have the benefit of being able to carry large numbers of people, and people with bicycles, per departure something that buses still have a hard time doing. Bicycles can be used at both ends either to get to the station, and/or complete the journey's "last mile".

In Denmark, trains are now operated with the idea that one can bring a bicycle on board with no dis-assembly required and at little or no additional cost, so as to have one's own bicycle when you arrive the destination. However, space on the long-distance InterCity trains (which the IC4 was intended to operate) is limited and now requires a reservation in the summer

In The Netherlands, the preferred practice is to offer excellent and/or plentiful bicycle parking at the local station, and plentiful, easy to rent bicycles at most destination stations. Like Denmark, one can, outside of rush hours, also roll an assembled bicycle on to a train, and though one must buy a ticket for it, no reservation is required. This was also the policy on the Benelux Train into Belgium.

CalTrain Bike Car
The trend in Europe, and for that matter in North America, is that in the past twenty-five years, more and more local and regional trains have been either redesigned to accept, or replaced with rolling stock better suited for bicycles. At the same time, longer-distance Intercity trains in Europe have been upgraded to high-speed trainsets, moving away from the traditional locomotive-hauled cars/carriages/wagons into which a bicycle car could be easily introduced; on some routes, the only train using this older arrangement is the overnight train with sleeping accommodations Many of these newer high-speed trainsets were designed to be as light-weight and as low profile as possible for maximum efficiency. They were designed years before the beginning of Bicycle Culture 2.0 and so usually either ban bicycles like Fyra or made transportation of bicycles a bit of a hassle like Thalys.

Refurbished TGV-PSE with newly added bicycle storage area
The original TGV was designed in the mid-1970's, and, after conversion to electricity due to the same 1973 Oil Crisis price spikes that gave rebirth to cycling in Denmark and the Netherlands, entered service in 1981. The first trainsets are now reaching 30-plus years in service and so are being rebuilt to extend their lives. As these first sets are refurbished, bicycle accommodations are being added to them making them more friendly to bicycle carriage than newer trainsets. The big problem for cyclists with the delays to the IC4 and the Fyra V250 programs is that these are still new trains, just not built with bicycle carrying capacity in mind, and if their "teething" problems are ever fixed, their service life-clock will then start. They will at that point probably be decades away from their mid-life re-buildings during which a storage solution for assembled-bicycles might be installed. In Denmark presently with the IC4s, where bikes are allowed to be taken aboard, software and coupling issues are such that often only a single trainset, not the intended four, is the maximum allowed to operate each departure to which the IC4 has been assigned. So bicycle and seating capacity on these departures is lower than it was intended to be.

In Part Two, I'll present the track record to date of the clowns at AnsaldoBreda and why they are leeches on the rail and transit industry.