Back to previous post: The Glory of You

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: Der Preis der Sterne: Die Kommandantin

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

May 20, 2011

Cycling, mindfulness, and urbanism
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:18 AM * 290 comments

On my Twitter stream, @hanlsp (Sebastian Hanlon) linked to one of those clarifying essays that the internet is so good at. You know, the ones that explain the things you always knew, but didn’t know you knew? In this case, it’s about the transformative power of cycling in an urban environment: The Real Reason Why Bicycles are the Key to Better Cities, by Kasey Klimes.

Invite a motorist for a bike ride through your city and you’ll be cycling with an urbanist by the end of the day. Even the most eloquent of lectures about livable cities and sustainable design can’t compete with the experience from atop a bicycle saddle…

Suddenly livability isn’t an abstract concept, it’s an experience. Human scale, connectivity, land use efficiency, urban fabric, complete streets… all the codewords, catchphrases, and academic jargon can be tossed out the window because now they are one synthesized moment of appreciation.

Klimes’ article makes me conscious of the degree to which cycling—as opposed to driving—is an opportunity for mindfulness, for the intimate and measured experience of one’s environment. (It is entirely possible to cycle unmindfully, of course, just as it is possible to say prayers, watch sunsets, and make love unmindfully. People are capable of many things.)

I had previously considered this contrast between biking and driving in the light of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:

You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.

On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming. That concrete whizzing by five inches below your foot is the real thing, the same stuff you walk on, it’s right there, so blurred you can’t focus on it, yet you can put your foot down and touch it anytime, and the whole thing, the whole experience, is never removed from immediate consciousness.

The insight about framing, and about being in the space rather than in your own private box, is useful. But even Pirsig acknowledges the distorting effect of speed: “so blurred you can’t focus on it,” he says of the concrete.

At cycling speeds, particularly Dutch cycling speeds (around 10 - 13 mph), that blurring is gone. I make eye contact with people. I have time to look at the new display in the window of the kaftan store (wish I had an excuse to buy one), watch the progress of the door-painting effort in the housing estate, notice the new café settling in across the road. A little boy on his scooter races me for a block or two, and I hold my speed back a bit so he gets to the corner shop before I do, winning the race. “Wat snel!” I call to him as I go on.

And I think that mindfulness is what leads to love.

If we are to reform our cities, if we are to turn them into decent places to live and work, we can only do it by loving them. Even those of us who aren’t really urbanites (I’m not, at least not in the North American sense) need to be able to enjoy visiting them and working in them. Having more people from all over experience them intimately is the first step; without that, whence comes the population that cares enough to improve them?

All of which is a verbose and somewhat self-involved way of saying, “Neat article. Read the whole thing.”


From Brother Guy @1:

The world is not a lodging-house at Brighton, which we are to leave because it is miserable. It is the fortress of our family, with the flag flying on the turret, and the more miserable it is the less we should leave it. The point is not that this world is too sad to love or too glad not to love; the point is that when you do love a thing, its gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more.
Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton

From @paulbeard on Twitter:

In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.
—Senegalese poet and naturalist Baba Dioum

From Malaclypse @21:

It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.
—Ernest Hemingway
Comments on Cycling, mindfulness, and urbanism:
#1 ::: Brother Guy ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 06:46 AM:

I am reminded of a passage in Chesterton's Orthodoxy (Chapter V, The Flag of the World). Here, he speaks of the universe, later he specifically mentions cities; but the idea is best expressed here:

"The world is not a lodging-house at Brighton, which we are to leave because it is miserable. It is the fortress of our family, with the flag flying on the turret, and the more miserable it is the less we should leave it. The point is not that this world is too sad to love or too glad not to love; the point is that when you do love a thing, its gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more."

#2 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 06:56 AM:

If we are to reform our cities, if we are to turn them into decent places to live and work, we can only do it by loving them.

Are our cities not already decent places to live and work?

#3 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 07:06 AM:

Brother Guy @1:

Wow. Thank you for that quote. That's where the post was leading, and I didn't even know it.

I shall put Orthodoxy on my to-read list.

#4 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 07:14 AM:

Kevin Riggle @2:
Are our cities not already decent places to live and work?

Some are, some aren't. I hear Detroit's not the finest place to spend one's time at the moment, and the Oakland of my childhood certainly wasn't. And even lovely ones have unpleasant neighborhoods and districts. We can do better by them.

#5 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 07:29 AM:

When you're bicycling, you're in an environment. When you're in a car, you're in no-space, and they're projecting footage of that environment onto the window-shaped screens of your compartment.

To pass through an area on a bicycle acknowledges its value. To pass through an area in a car turns it into a mere travel path or right of way, devaluing it in relation to the car's destination.

We know in our hearts that automobile traffic always gets routed through devalued areas.

Foot and bicycle traffic feeds an area like blood flow to tissue. Automobile traffic erodes as it passes. In city neighborhoods, there is always more building attrition along arterials.

Automobiles drive away foot traffic in urban areas. To understand this, sprain your ankle, then travel on foot. You suddenly discover how much your travel path is lengthened by (valueless to you) stretches of parking plaza around gas stations, fast-food joints, convenience markets, and other drive-through establishments.

Suburban industrial parks and office parks generate a sterile controlled environment by being unwalkable. The more upscale they become, with extended landscaped spaces between installations, the more they broadcast the same exclusionary message as Versailles: You can't get here on foot.

#6 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 07:30 AM:

Kevin Riggle, #2: "Are our cities not already decent places to live and work?"

Some are, many aren't. Much depends on the level of focus indicated by the "our" in your question. Much more depends on who you are.

I'm pretty sure Abi was talking about cities in North America and Northern Europe, the parts of the world she's lived in. I don't think she's pretending to offer solutions to the vast problems of places like Lagos or Mumbai or Rio. Compared to places like that, most North American and Northern European cities are indeed pretty "decent"; which is to say, relatively few parts of them are nightmarish postapocalyptic dystopias.

But "not a nightmarish postapocalyptic dystopia" is a pretty low bar.

#7 ::: Jim Kiley ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 08:04 AM:

Just so happens that today is National Bike to Work Day. Bicycle commuting is one of the best things ever to happen to my fitness and wallet.

#8 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 08:28 AM:

Oh, yeah -- when I moved to Charlottesville, I had high hopes of being able to bike around like I couldn't in NYC. If I were closer to Downtown, or on one of the selected roads with bike lanes, I might have been able to... in fact, my development opens onto the (quite dangerous) connector between two large highways. None of those three highways has bike lanes. To the north there's a dirt path to the local shopping center. To the southwest is a nature trail (currently being turn up for sewer work) running along a creek -- the street beyond that does lead toward Mom's house... by way of another major highway. Still no bike lanes. Sure, I could take my bike on the bus to get someplace where there are bike lanes, but that completely misses the point of using bikes for travel rather than recreation.

And this despite the point that the city's mayor is a bicycle advocate -- the political efforts toward highway work are tied up in a project that's been hamstrung by local opposition, so I'm not expecting them to rebuild their existing highways anytime soon.

#9 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 08:51 AM:

Even living in a college town, I find there's not much more than lip service really paid to bicycling. Sure, there are two bike/foot bridges over the creek that bisects Norman, so you can avoid going a half-mile out of your way to cross, but they are too narrow for more than one bike. And there's a nice wide bike path that parallels the train track for about two miles -- in fact, when I move I will be using it as one of several alternate routes to work. But there are major roads that have "Bike Path" signs beside them that don't even have a gutter you can ride in, let alone a sidewalk or a paralleling parking lot.

Oh, and I won't be riding today. It's been pouring all night and we have lousy drainage in this town. But I rode three times earlier this week!

#10 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 08:52 AM:

There seems to be an assumption that everyone is a "motorist" or a "cyclist".

I can neither drive nor ride a bike, so both perspectives are alien. I move mindfully through in a walkable city with great transit. Trains are my preferred method of long distance travel.

You don't have to be fit and active to be present in the envioronment. You're even more there walking through it.

#11 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 10:05 AM:

I don't assume that. I spend more time as a pedestrian than as anything else.

#13 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 10:30 AM:

I'm on Jo's side on this: it's not about the transportation technology, it's about how humans integrate with their environment.

Yes, I can drive or use a bicycle. But some cities are inherently unfriendly to cyclists -- like this one: even if you waved a magic wand and abolished all motor vehicle traffic, you'd be left with a city built on top of the glacially eroded remnants of an extinct volcano, with steep cobblestoned streets. The standard form of bicycle in Edinburgh is the mountain bike (or hybrid); the summer rickshaws you see about town are ridden by the local triathlete club, for exercise!

On the other hand, it's walkable (as long as you've got sufficient cardio capacity). And yes, the point about being in your environment, rather than passing through it in a windowed box, is true -- but it's not about the technology, it's about the people.

#14 ::: Dave Kuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 10:32 AM:

One thing for certain is that cyclists have less reason to cause roadkill. A collision can be just as deadly to them as the turtle or squirrel they hit.

#15 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 11:05 AM:

It's turtle rescue season in the Blue Ridge and Smokies -- If you see a turtle trying to cross the road, please stop and help it get to the other side.

#16 ::: Joyce Reynolds-Ward ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 11:11 AM:

Dave@ 14--the only problem is, I've seen enough crazy suicidal-type cyclists to discount that reality. Plus we've had cyclists clobber pedestrians.

I'm with Jo and Charlie somewhat on the cycling front. I have a bike, and I live in a town which is allegedly bike-friendly.

Unfortunately, the alleged bike-friendliness is not for the occasional transport biker like me, but more toward the bike messenger/triathlete/racer type rider. I don't ride the major bike paths because I've heard too much about how that crew yells and intimidates bikers like me.

As my DH says, I'll believe my town is bike-friendly when most of the bikers wear real work clothes like the ones we saw in Amsterdam, not biker spandex and special outfits like we see here. I remember being impressed by the women in Amsterdam who were biking in pumps. I never see women wearing pumps while biking here.

#17 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 11:14 AM:

I don't assume that everyone is a motorist or a cyclist.

In Edinburgh I was a pedestrian and a rider of buses. I didn't have a driving license, and my bike stayed in the garage, because in addition to the geography, Auld Reekie delights in truly lethal traffic on narrow roads. It's only since moving to the Netherlands that I've gone back to cycling.

But to make cities more livable, we have to figure out a way to engage drivers. There are a lot of them, they're very vocal and influential*, and their infrastructure keeps getting in the way of livability. In many cities, bikes are a good way of getting them out of their cars, providing some of the speed and all of the independence in the way that buses do not.

Cycling also, as the article that started this conversation out states, gets disengaged drivers to interact with the world around them. In that, Charlie is right; it is the people that matter. Cycling is a tool for interacting with cities. I was merely pointing out that it's a good one in a way I hadn't considered before.

* The AAA in the US, the AA and the RAC in the UK, and the CAA are more than just roadside assistance organizations. They also lobby for motorists' interests. I don't know about other nations' car clubs except the Netherlands†.
† Predictably, the ANWB is different; they advocate for all road users, not just car drivers.

#18 ::: Emmers ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 11:18 AM:

@David Harmon, #8: Oh, is that the Meadowcreek Parkway? That was an issue when I was in grade school -- all the way back to the 90's. I hope they can figure *something* out about it. Cville has a very divided-against-itself attitude about development and "sprawl."

#19 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 11:38 AM:

Ottawa has just launched its Bixi program, joining Montreal, Toronto, London (UK), Washington DC, Melbourne, and Minneapolis. Some of us made good use of Bixi in Montreal during Anticipation.

(But like Edinburgh, Montreal has serious vertical profile. I picked my routes with some care.)

#20 ::: a chris ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 11:59 AM:

Jo @ #10: I'm sure you're right that walking makes you more present, but over longer-than-walkable distances, the bike is the possibility that allows immersion in the environment and does not allow "tunnelling through" an unfriendly part of town (or a friendly one).

The five miles I need to travel to get to work can be covered within a reasonable time either by bike (a bit over 30 minutes even by an 8.5-months-pregnant person) or by car. Living within walking distance of the city centre is prohibitively expensive, but biking distance gives a much bigger range. Decent-ish provision for bikes (and trikes for those with balance and strength problems, and for carrying children) means the whole route is peopled and not only "carred."

I would argue (in response to Charlie, #13), having been there and walked the ups and downs, that if motor traffic were less forbidding, cycling would still be a good way for many people to get into Edinburgh centre...outside of when it snows. In crowds and on cobbled streets you're arguably better walking, but to cover a few hilly miles by bike would still take a lot less energy and time than to walk there. As long as your bike didn't weigh too much!

General comments: Any urban design or evolution that makes it scary or hazardous to ride a bike will result in a persistent culture wherein most people who cycle are daring and aggressive by nature.

And we're all "pedestrians" when we park the car or bike or step off the train.

#21 ::: Malaclypse ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 12:47 PM:

It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.

-- Ernest Hemingway

#22 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 12:55 PM:

This whole thread really gets at one of the major reasons that Nashville did not work for me - it was a city that assumed (and pretty much mandated by design) that you drove everywhere. You knew it was a vehicular city when the undergraduates drove around campus to go to different classes (the very nice walk was on the order of ~15 minutes across campus).

Have I mentioned how much I like living in Berkeley? Where I no longer own a car*, I walk (or take public transit) nearly everywhere, and am happy?

*I do, however, have a Zipcar membership - it's nice to have for the 1-2 times a month my girlfriend and I want to do something that involves a car. The rest of the time, we walk or get our money's worth out of our ClassPass(es) [these are the heavily discounted AC Transit bus passes we get as Berkeley students].

#23 ::: Ken Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 01:04 PM:

That Bixi works at all is amazing, since it costs more than public transport (at least in Montreal).

#24 ::: Doug K ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 01:05 PM:

"The more upscale they become, with extended landscaped spaces between installations, the more they broadcast the same exclusionary message as Versailles: You can't get here on foot."

Never thought of it quite that way, but of course..

Here in our vast suburban wasteland there are a lot of recreational bike trails that don't go anywhere useful. Getting to work is seven miles by (dangerous, six-lane) road, or twelve by dodging around to link up trails with only short stretches of Hummer-infested road. At least there's something, though.

#25 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 01:09 PM:

@a chris, #20: "And we're all "pedestrians" when we park the car or bike or step off the train."

I've always wondered why large parking lots (malls, airports, etc.) don't make better provision for pedestrian traffic from the parked cars to the ultimate destination. Lately I've been seeing one row (where the handicapped spaces are) with an aisle between the cars just for pedestrians, but the rest of the lot is often solid driving lanes and parking spaces.

I'm not trying to derail the topic into a discussion of design for cars and their drivers, I'm just wondering why a place whose purpose is for *everyone* to become a pedestrian at least briefly, appears so completely indifferent to the presence of pedestrians?

#26 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 01:20 PM:

Dave @14:

You would think that that would be the case, but in my experience (living for the last 4.5 years in metro Boston, a pretty bike and pedestrian friendly area, at least by American standards) it's just not true.

Massachusetts drivers can be pretty insane, but the cyclists seem to be universally convinced that traffic laws do not apply to them.

Though that may just be because a disproportionate number of the cyclists around here are students who are still young enough to be convinced that they will live forever no matter what risks they take.

#27 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 01:53 PM:

Emmers #18: Yep... IIRC, the county has finished its part, while the city hasn't even started its part. Meanwhile, they screwed up the entryway to my Mom's development, (cars have to dodge across oncoming traffic to enter) apparently against the direct appeal of the construction crew. And then there's the current water-supply debate... instead of dredging the Rivannah Reservoir (heavily silted after 45 years), they're going to build a new dam at Ragged Mountain, flooding a goodly amount of land including several hiking trails.

My impression is that the developers don't quite own the town, but they definitely have enough power to screw with the local government.

BTW, C-ville also is quite hilly, which is a handicap for cyclists -- but I could probably deal with it, if I didn't also have to dodge traffic.

#28 ::: Alan Hamilton ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 02:47 PM:

The cynic in me says it won't work. People like cars because they can disengage from the outside world. "I'm hot, and I'm tired. My butt hurts. Why aren't we there yet? If we drove, we'd have been there in 15 minutes in air conditioned comfort. Ptui! I ate a bug!"

#29 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 03:26 PM:

I'm a Chicago native (flat city with better public transportation than most) and lifelong automobile refusenik (re suburbia: "I don't usually go where they don't have sidewalks.") One of my preferred means of transportation has always been bicycle.
There's another, interrelated issue which hasn't been made explicit. In generic suburbia (i.e., where most people in the U.S. live), you leave your private home in your private car, and park in the privately owned parking lot of the privately owned office park or mall. There literally is no such thing as public space. One of the features of that landscape which perennially astonishes me is the weird boundaries between an expensive expanse of manicured lawn and trash weeds at some property line.

The interior of a car (tending to be moreso as the size of the car increases) is intensely private space. (As I had opportunity to study back when I was a hitchhiker.) No matter how you feel about your hog or your bicycle, you're out in the open with everybody and everything else when you're riding it.

Come to think of it, there may be material for a pretty serious study in the interaction of automobilization and the city and the diminishing of public space. (I've been warning for a while of the impending infrastructure crisis in a country which has spent two generations engineering itself for one car per adult in the time past peak oil.)

#30 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 03:28 PM:

Alan Hamilton @28: In many cities (e.g. London) you'll be there faster by bike*, for distances of up to about five miles, if I recall correctly.

* Than by car or public transport.

#31 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 03:44 PM:

I'm not wanting to rain on the bicyclists' parade, but down here bicyclists, whether recreational, exercisanal, delivery serviceal, all ride to combat pedestrians and conquer the sidewalks.

It's beyond dangerous what a pedestrian like me has to deal with on the sidewalks. What do you do with a woman who screams at you to get out of HER way as she cycles with one kid sitting on the fender and another pulled along in a cart behind the bicycle? What do you do with the delivery guys who whiz directly at you from the front, from behind, who are whizzing along just as you open the door to step upon the sidewalk? And those who are riding in a line for fun on the sidewalk as you are trying to bring home your groceries? Or those who say they're going to work and wherever you are going doesn't matter as much as them getting to work, or delivering their kid to school? All on the sidewalk which is supposed to be for pedestrians. And yes, there are bicycle lanes down here too. But the cars and truck park in them to make THEIR deliveries.

Also all the parking bars for bicycles are on the sidewalk cutting off yet more pedestrian space.

It's really crazy here and the bicycle craze has made it very much worse.


Love, C.

#32 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 03:45 PM:

Teresa Nielsen Hayden @5: Suburban industrial parks and office parks generate a sterile controlled environment by being unwalkable. The more upscale they become, with extended landscaped spaces between installations, the more they broadcast the same exclusionary message as Versailles: You can't get here on foot.

Actually, the feeling they generate in me is: "You don't belong here."

Which, I guess, is kinda your point.

#33 ::: mjfgates ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 04:06 PM:

Constance@31: I'm not usually a law'n'order type, but... doesn't that situation just BEG for half a dozen bicycle cops? Start ticketing delivery trucks for parking in the bike lanes, and they'll find actual parking places; ticket cyclists for riding in the sidewalk and they'll get into the bike lanes.

#34 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 04:09 PM:

I got very lucky; I grew up in Boulder, which has become extremely bike-friendly.

I also made the decision, on Earth Day, 1970, that I would never own a car.

As a consequence of these two factors, I never miss driving, because I, basically, never have.

I'm further spoiled by the local mass transit's "Eco-pass," which is a job benefit of a lot of local employers, which means that you can ride anywhere in the local RTD system (except the airport, which requires an additional fee) for free.

On those occasions when I need to haul something large and heavy, I've finally equipped myself with a bike trailer. If it's really big and unmanageable, I call a cab.

Which-all results in an average anual transportation expenditure of one or two hundred dollars.

As I say, I'm hopelessly spoiled.

#35 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 04:17 PM:

Teresa, #5: We know in our hearts that automobile traffic always gets routed through devalued areas.

Amen to that. When you travel as much as we do, you can't help noticing how often the interstate goes thru the poorer parts of town. This isn't because those areas degenerated after the road was put in; it's because that's where they could buy up the right-of-way cheaply and without disturbing any of the People Who Matter.

The Tennessee Renaissance Festival had most of its original site taken for I-840 construction; there were 3 routes that could have been used, and the other two were undeveloped -- but someone had their hand out for a bribe and didn't get it. And here in Houston, we've just lost the Forbidden Gardens site to the (largely unnecessary) "Grand Parkway".

Benjamin, #22: I'm confused. There aren't any streets that go thru the main part of the campus. Are you saying that they drove over to the athletic complex, or to their classes on the Peabody campus?

One of the big selling points about Stevenson Center was its underground connections between buildings and over to the Computer Center and the Engineering School. If you had all your classes at Stevenson, you didn't have to haul your books thru the rain except going to and from the dorm.

But yeah, the rest of Nashville... most of the residential areas don't even HAVE sidewalks.

#36 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 04:26 PM:

dcb, #30: Quite so.

Constance, #31: And yes, there are bicycle lanes down here too. But the cars and truck park in them to make THEIR deliveries.

Well, there's the root of your problem. It's not the bikes, it's still the car-centric attitude. Start ticketing those cars blocking the bike lanes, and watch how much less crowded the sidewalks get.

...and I see that mfjgates said pretty much the same thing @33.

#37 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 04:27 PM:

I've been a pedestrian, a mass-trans, a bicycle, a car and a motorcycle user (as my primary means of motion).

I like all of them. I find a car to be the one I am least mindful in. I am a pretty mindful driver, but what I am mindful of is the road. Too many things can lead to too many bad outcomes for me to be really attentive to the local environs.

As a pedestrian... I know every nook,m cranny, highway and byway of my area, but it's a small area.

Mass transit is a different mindfulness. It's, in some ways, to me worse than the car. It's harder to have an interaction with a bus route (this is in no small part because the places I have live on Mass transit do not have good mass transit, merely adequate). When it takes me two hours to go twelve miles, that's a nuisance.

When the last/first bus, is routed to add an extra several miles to the trip, that's a nuisance. When I lived where it was half a mile to the nearest stop, the bus came every 50 minutes (so one had to recall what time of day it was, to know when the bus would come), and it was an hours ride, on one bus, to get to another 3/4s of a mile walk to my destination... I miss the amount of reading I got done in those days.

I used a bike for most of six years (aged not quite 16 to 21) to get around that same area. I learned a lot about drivers,and roads, and areas. I was more mindful of somethings, less of others. I don't think that was really a well built urban area. It was strip malls and singel family homes. There was little in the way of community.

I also spent a lot of my mindfulness on not getting hit by cars.

And I got a car. I could get to community. I had more time to spend with people when I got someplace. I could stay until I was ready to leave, not leave to catch the last bus and a long walk.

I really liked being in areas whereI could be a pedestrian, or where a short bit of public transit would get me to a different place I could be a pedestrian. Even when I had a car, I'd walk. A mile to the downtown, and my coffee shop? Sure. Lets' go this way. Sometimes we'd take the horses (and tie them up outside while we had lunch... there is a mindful way to get around).

Motorcycles. Somewhere in bewteen. The gear is mindfulness. The road needs to be looked at in ways it's not been for bike, and doesn't really matter for car. I am less afraid of cars, and more aware of the things around me. I stop a little more, and a little less. If I stop, there will be the off-taking, and on-putting of gear. But I can't ride for six hours straight. I need to stop. So I do. And walk around when I get there. The puttig on of gear makes me think about the question, "do I need to make this trip."

So, for me... I think I know what is my "most mindful" way of getting around town. And for long distances. I don't think I'd have parsed it all out without this.

#38 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 04:50 PM:

Nobody is more aware of the large number of insane cyclists than someone who, like me, frequently commutes by bike. (7.5 miles each way.) I would be delighted to see a crackdown on cyclists who go the wrong way down one-way streets, ride on sidewalks, barrel through red lights oblivious to pedestrians crossing, etc. Instead, what we get is the New York Police Department taking it upon themselves to invent laws that don't exist and then ticket cyclists for violating them.

We've had cops issue tickets for riding without a helmet. (Not illegal in New York City, or almost anywhere else in the US.) We've had police park their cars in bike lanes and then ticket cyclists for leaving the bike lane to get around them. (Also not illegal.) We've had cops issue tickets to cyclists for riding down the left side of a one-way street. (Not only legal in New York State if the street is forty or more feet wide, it's also the safest practice if there's parking on both sides of the street--because all cars have drivers, but only some have passengers. Think it through.) I wish I was making this stuff up, but I'm not. Meanwhile, despite all the pro-bike stuff done by our Jane Jacobs-influenced traffic commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, I have literally never seen evidence of the NYPD ticketing anyone for obstructing a bike lane. As far as I can tell, the legal meaning of the signs that say BIKE LANE, BIKES ONLY is actually BIKE LANE, BUT IF ANYONE DRIVING A CAR OR TRUCK NEEDS TO USE IT FOR ANY REASON, PLEASE BE OUR GUEST.

So I'm actually a little tired of how conversations about this stuff always wind up veering to On The Other Hand, Irresponsible Cyclists. Tell you what, I'll take personal responsibility for the asshole cyclists when you take personal responsibility for every driver who's ever been a dangerous jerk to a pedestrian or to someone on a bike. I bet my list winds up shorter than yours.

I do think that Alan Hamilton has a point. "People like cars because they can disengage from the outside world." It's important to remember that pretty much everyone needs a part of the day when they can disengage, have some solitude, recharge. But it's crazy to build an entire urban civilization around the idea that everyone is entitled to get those moments of disengagement while piloting a couple of tons of sheet metal and burning petrocarbons across the landscape at high speed.

#39 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 04:58 PM:

Joyce Reynolds-Ward, #16: "As my DH says, I'll believe my town is bike-friendly when most of the bikers wear real work clothes like the ones we saw in Amsterdam, not biker spandex and special outfits like we see here. I remember being impressed by the women in Amsterdam who were biking in pumps. I never see women wearing pumps while biking here."

This is the point repeatedly made by Mikael Coville-Andersen, bike activist and author of the controversial and interesting blog He says that the kind of heavily-marketed "bike culture" represented by all that spandex and extreme-sports gimmickry is as much the enemy of sensible urban transport policy as the car industry is. It serves to portray Cycling as a Lifestyle, and moreover one that requires Equipment and Being In Shape and Danger and so forth, all of which is a million miles away from the central insight that a great many small trips inside a big city are just plain easier and more fun on a bike, so just get on your bike and ride. It's not a lifestyle, it's a handy tool. If these people were marketing eggbeaters, they'd have 75% of the population convinced that eggbeaters are a dangerous and rigorous tool requiring formidable powers of concentration and hundreds of dollars worth of special clothes.

#40 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 05:01 PM:

The sidewalk...well, when the streets get real traffic-y and there are no bike lanes, and one can't pedal real fast due to various physical problems, one can only use the sidewalk. I do so mindfully, especially after hearing how an old person was killed by a careless cyclist on a local trail. I do wish there were some more bike trails nearby, and that fewer of them were separated from my home by intimidating roads.
Still I wish I'd got that bike many years back--and now that my knees are shot it's easier than walking.

#41 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 05:18 PM:

Which-all results in an average anual transportation expenditure of one or two hundred dollars.

May I just say I'm envious?

Just bus tickets to get to work cost me $20 a week.

#42 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 05:20 PM:

Teresa Nielsen Hayden @ 5:

Suburban industrial parks and office parks generate a sterile controlled environment by being unwalkable. The more upscale they become, with extended landscaped spaces between installations, the more they broadcast the same exclusionary message as Versailles: You can't get here on foot.

The other thing that happens when you have those sorts of places is that everything is ever so carefully zoned so that you can't get anywhere on foot. All the houses are over here, the apartments are here, the stores are over there, and the offices are way over that way. The roads are big, and there are sidewalks, but they're not much used.

I lived somewhere like that a couple years ago. It was so amazingly soulless that I think it was stealing some of mine.

Jeremy Leader @ 25:

I've always wondered why large parking lots (malls, airports, etc.) don't make better provision for pedestrian traffic from the parked cars to the ultimate destination.

My guess would be that the design concept was for a car storage location, and to be able to pack as many cars in as possible.

Where I live now, I'm quite happy with my bike. Much, much easier to get to the shops and not have to deal with parking, and you also see some things that you wouldn't otherwise.

Actually, I think that's another thing that living in the places that Teresa mentioned has going against it: you don't really notice the scenery when you're driving, but there's no scenery to notice when you're walking or biking either.

#43 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 05:24 PM:

Teresa @ 5... the more they broadcast the same exclusionary message as Versailles: You can't get here on foot.

I for one would gladly purchase Teresa's novel "Bicycling to Versailles".

#44 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 06:02 PM:

Patrick, #38: It's important to remember that pretty much everyone needs a part of the day when they can disengage, have some solitude, recharge. But it's crazy to build an entire urban civilization around the idea that everyone is entitled to get those moments of disengagement while piloting a couple of tons of sheet metal and burning petrocarbons across the landscape at high speed.

Hear, hear! During the periods when I was able to take the bus to and from work (which, in Nashville, basically means "you work a standard shift downtown during business hours and never have to stay late at the office"), I found it generally easy to use the bus ride itself as that rewinding/recharging period by having a book to read; it make a tangible break between "work" and "home" in a way that driving a car didn't. I can't imagine being that disengaged while trying to navigate rush-hour traffic.

#45 ::: Samuel ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 06:26 PM:

This is why people should ride segways, like I do.

#46 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 07:15 PM:

Just a proofreading note: Malaclypse's Hemingway quote that was added to the original post has 'Hemingway' spelled wrong.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled comment thread, already in progress.

#47 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 07:27 PM:

This is an interesting topic, as I find myself driving a minivan in the Netherlands for the second straight weekend (out of 100% necessity - I tour manage a musician currently on a 5-week European tour, who plays her own 88-key electric keyboard and therefore must not only tote that, but its associated gear everywhere she goes). It's been interesting knowing that in my motor vehicle, I am at the absolute bottom of the totem pole on the road, behind the cyclists and the pedestrians (in that order).

So far I have managed to avoid killing anyone, and I hope to keep that streak going until I head back to the UK on Monday.

If I lived here, I would absolutely own a bike. I wish I could own a bike at home, since I don't have a car of my own, but in New Haven you have to either a.) have a death wish to ride on the streets, even where there are bike lanes (see PNH's note about NYC bike lanes above, the same holds at the other end of the commuter rail line as well) or b.) be willing to be One Of Those Assholes Who Bikes On The Sidewalks. I'm not mentally built to be either. Not to mention, the average length of time between bike acquisition and bike getting stolen in New Haven seems to be just about 2.5 weeks. Not worth the trouble.

#48 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 07:56 PM:

Patrick -- I'm not driving so FU on this and everything else because you are not experiencing what it is where I live.

dcb, #30: Quite so.

Constance, #31: And yes, there are bicycle lanes down here too. But the cars and truck park in them to make THEIR deliveries.

Well, there's the root of your problem. It's not the bikes, it's still the car-centric attitude. Start ticketing those cars blocking the bike lanes, and watch how much less crowded the sidewalks get.

...and I see that mfjgates said pretty much the same thing @33.

Tell it to the mayor. Have you ever been hit by a bicycle, and have a back problem? I have. Tell it again to the mayor. You are not thinking of what NYC actually IS.

Love, C .

#49 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 08:04 PM:

Really, exactly where are the delivery trucks and vans supposed to park when their parking has been impersonated as a bike lane? Do you all get it? The mayor pretended to make bike lanes but in the meantime did nothing to provide for the essential services of delivery parking. Which, without, the place CANNNOT exist.

The mayor is forever making traffic cut off in certain parts of the city, while then, what happens down here, where it all then gets funneled? WHERE I LIVE? I'm supposed to be happy with this: more and more and more truck and auto traffic, more and more bike traffic, that then runs on ME and my back, etc.

Honey, this ain't gonna work. NYC, though once upon a time Nieuw-Amsterdam isn't Amsterdam. It's NYC which is fU to everybody coz I'm here to get mine and if you object to anything I do, FU and I run over you.

Love, C.

#50 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 08:22 PM:

The city I live in has decided to remove their "cyclists must use bike lane/bike path" signs after they were forced to admit that the current system was inviting accidents at every place where some car might want to turn right, as well as endangering pedestrians. Bicycling has become so much less nerve-wrecking and so much more fun. Not to mention faster, as the streets are in far better repair than the sidewalks that the bicycle paths were on. Of course, one gets yelled at by motorists for driving on the street, but better yelled at than having two near-accidents every day on the way to work. As a motorist or pedestrian, I'd want to shout *encouragement*.

Next city over, you can get a rental bicycle at nearly ever streetcar station. Costs 1 Euro per 30 minutes, half that if you get a frequent user card, which costs 8 Euro per year or less. Renting these bikes is cheaper than parking a car, actually. Faster, too. Though the roads are bad, there is one serious hill, and lots and lots of cobblestone.

I usually take the car when I have to manage gear. When I have the laptop bag for work, my sports bag, my sheet music and a guitar to schlepp around from 8 am to 11 pm and no place to store the gear for one place while I'm at another (cannot leave the laptop in the gym locker, for example) the trunk of my car becomes very convenient to have around. I have not found another solution for this so far.

#51 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 09:08 PM:

In today's local paper: cyclist injured by hit-and-run driver. Comments on story heavily critical of all cyclists.

My husband bicycles for exercise and fun, regularly riding 30-50 miles on semirural roads. He also bike-commutes about once a week in good weather. I'm too scared to ride on any of the roads here, and the only non-car bike trail is too far from my house to fool with.

#52 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 09:35 PM:

I feel unhappy tonight reading this thread.

I can't bike. I often can't walk much. I am unhappy that a bunch of people I generally like and respect are so comfortable dismissing any experience I get of the world riding with friends in their cards as necessarily inferior and probably fundamentally fake.

I didn't really need this much more incentive to feel like I'm leading a fake failed life.

I could go on to talk some about the experiences of drivers and passengers less restricted than myself, but the hurt is personal.

#53 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 09:45 PM:

I'm with Jo and Charlie.

I live and work in a very car-centric city with relatively few cyclists compared to New York. I've been interested to see that some bike lanes have been marked around the Atlanta University Center, but I haven't see too many people on bikes yet.

What I do notice is people (generally members of the housekeeping staff) walking not on the pavement but on the roadbed when they're coming to work early in the morning. This is a very dangerous practice.

#54 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 09:55 PM:

Bruce Baugh @ 52... the world riding with friends in their cards

Aces High?

#55 ::: Joyce Reynolds-Ward ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 10:19 PM:

Bruce, FWIW, I do disagree with a certain amount of the conclusions about cars distancing you from your environment. Yes, it's true in an urban setting. But in a rural setting? Not so much. Dirt and gravel road settings, or regular driving in challenging weather? Um. If you're distanced from your environment, you'd better damned well not be out there in a fracking car.

A lovely older couple from Canada found that out the hard way just recently. Followed their GPS to a very isolated place where the Oregon-Nevada-Idaho borders intersect. Their van got stuck.

The woman was found by ATVers. She was still alive, after some horrendous count of days. Her husband set out for town with the GPS and supplies.

They still haven't found him yet.

Detached from your environment while driving leads to that kind of issue. People die, not just from wrecks because they misjudged the conditions, but because they didn't learn how to engage with their environment while driving. You have to learn how to read what you're driving in when driving the backwoods, or you just plain die. You get your car stuck, or you drive off the road.

I drove to Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood an average of 2-3 times a week this winter to go skiing. Did I see a lot of challenging conditions? Absolutely. Was I disengaged from my environment? Absolutely not. And do I enjoy my drives, including the environment around me to the degree that I'm looking for spots where I know critters will hang out? Yep.

But then again, I'm one of those Evil People who likes to go driving in the country and See Stuff.

#56 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 10:31 PM:

A gentle rebuke to certain posters: Part of the problem with urban design, and a big part of why it so often ends up shortchanging those who already have less to spare, runs as follows:

Many of the development and political interests find it useful (to them) to set people against each other. After all, if the drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians are all convinced that their problems are Those Other Folks' Fault, the politicos only have to satisfy one interest group (the one with the most money/influence) instead of taking the trouble to make room for everyone.

Folks, don't help them set people against each other. I can't drive for various neurological and historical reasons, but there are still times I need to have someone drive me someplace. I hate not being able to bike because of the roads I mentioned, but someday (perhaps soon) I might not be able to bike anyway, because my joints are starting to crap out on me. On the flip side, I do recognize that bicyclists can be assholes too... but as noted above, that's often because they in turn are being crowded off the street, or out of their lanes, by cars or trucks.

The answer to these issues is not to slam the competing interest groups, but to work for a compromise that meets everyone's needs. That takes a lot more effort than picking one group and demoting the others to second-class citizens -- but that's just more reason to put the pressure on the politicos, not your neighbors.

#57 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 11:05 PM:

Alas, Kansas City is a very car-centric place, mostly because it sprawls over about six counties with far-flung suburbs. I live near the Kansas City, MO center and work about 0.6 miles from home.

I sometimes get, 'well, why don't you walk to work? Why do you drive?" I live just behind and about 20 feet lower than the highest point in the area. Where is work is 500 feet down the bluff and there are no good sidewalks anywhere between Broadway and Main (Broadway has no sidewalks for a stretch north of 31st St., and Main has overgrown ones on the east side of Liberty m=Memorial Park.

and I'd have to go UP the hill at the end of the day, when I'm the most tired.

and Kansas City is kind of dangerous to bicycle traffic. there are few bike lanes, and a lot of the drivers are f-king ignorant. Then again, a lot of the bicyclists seem to regard traffic signals, stop signs, etc. as a loose suggestion. Someone came bicycling up (wrong way) on my home block, I rolled down my window and said, "you're going the wrong way, watch for the cars (he almost ran into me and I was going really slow). his reply was 'f-k you!"

#58 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 11:21 PM:

Patrick Nielsen Hayden @ 38: "But it's crazy to build an entire urban civilization around the idea that everyone is entitled to get those moments of disengagement while piloting a couple of tons of sheet metal and burning petrocarbons across the landscape at high speed."

Yes, this. But also: it's crazy to build an entire urban civilization around the idea that there's any one right way of navigating the city, one decision that will meet everyone's needs and enable everyone's personal utopia. A variety of options ought to be integral to any urban vision, ranging from walking to cycling to mass transit, and even some driving. Those walkable corner groceries don't deliver inventory via bike messenger, as Constance points out.

For me, biking isn't a great fit for commuting. It's nice in theory, but in practice I find it involves more rain and sweat than I'd like. And when I get where I'm going, I have to find somewhere to put it, and then worry about it getting stolen (cf Meredith @ 47). I like walking, and I like undergrounds, and buses are okay if that's what there is. But I want other people to bike if that's what works for them! Because it is immersive, it is mindfulness-inducing, and it is less dangerous to me-the-pedestrian than driving. And I want to be able to bike when/if that's what works for me. Spaces designed for bikers are far closer to a pedestrian ideal than car-built ones--denser, as Teresa @ 5 notes, without all that parking space.

And "driver's ed" should be changed to "commuting etiquette" and have sections on driving, cycling, and walking--what's allowed, and what to expect from others. And a pony.

#59 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2011, 11:32 PM:

Who knew: cycling is the topic that can really get Fluorospherians at each other's throats.

All y'all are good people and smart people, making the transportation choices that work for you right now. Can we talk about transportation and urban planning without taking swipes at each other personally? Please? I think everyone has useful and valuable perspectives on this subject.

*offers Internet hugs and/or beverages of choice*

#60 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 12:18 AM:

Portland, Oregon is often touted as having great mass transit, and being friendly to bikes. That is true of some areas -- and not of others. The part of the city that was built up before WWII (before common car ownership) has a topography that works for mass transit. The suburbs that came later don't. From the hinterlands, you can drive to a transit center with parking, and then ride a bus or train into the city, but moving about in the suburbs using transit is a sad affair. In all the years that I lived in Beaverton, I only took the bus once.

I now live in the old "streetcar" suburbs on the inner east side, so I can get around my part of town, and to work downtown, quickly and easily on mass transit. I can also bike safely. I avoid bike paths as much as possible, as they are on busy streets. If you go one block over from the busy street, you commonly find it full of cyclists. When I started riding my bike, I was struck by what a different view I saw of cyclists. When you're riding, and looking for safe roads, you find yourself on quiet streets with few cars, and lots of sedate bike riders. When you're driving a car, you pick the arterial streets that are fast, so you just see cyclists who like to go fast and enjoy a bit a thrill. They ride very differently. Riding to and from work, I see a lot of people in regular street clothes. I've seen a woman with gray hair wearing a suit that looked like a lawyer. Tonight, I was behind a young woman in a pale blue dress with white collar and cuffs that looked like it must have come from a vintage store. She was wearing shoes with kitten heels.

It really annoys me when I see people riding bikes on sidewalks. It's dangerous, not just to the pedestrians, but to the cyclists themselves. They're at a real risk every time they cross a driveway or street, because car drivers aren't expecting traffic moving that fast from sidewalks.

#61 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 01:21 AM:

One thing I notice a lot as a pedestrian is when things are situated in the middle of their parking lots. See, when you put your business on one side of a parking lot, you at least hope to be part of a neighborhood. When it's all the way out in the middle, so I have to duck through traffic to even get to the door... It's pretty obvious you don't give a shit about anyone who didn't drive there. The highest community ambition you could have is maybe the desire to be part of a shopping center.

#62 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 01:24 AM:

Roger Ebert reviews a film slightly germane to this discussion, Bill Cunningham New York. Mr. Cunningham is, among other things, a cyclist in NYC.

#63 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 01:53 AM:

A then-co-worker was hit, from behind, by a bike messenger. Who then tried to leave the scene, and when that failed - another co-worker had grabbed the bike - claimed that she was the one at fault.
The city just spent a fair amount of money to put in bike lanes (taking out a traffic lane on each side) on one street, and has already taken out the bike lanes on one section of that street, where the street was actually wider (because no one was parking there - it's next to gated-and-guarded tracts).

#64 ::: Wirelizard ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 02:21 AM:

Patrick, somewhere upthread:
"So I'm actually a little tired of how conversations about this stuff always wind up veering to On The Other Hand, Irresponsible Cyclists. Tell you what, I'll take personal responsibility for the asshole cyclists when you take personal responsibility for every driver who's ever been a dangerous jerk to a pedestrian or to someone on a bike. I bet my list winds up shorter than yours."

Yes. This.

Also the discussion of the cocoon-effect of cars. Let's face it, the common automobile is, for the vast majority of us, the most comfortable, controllable, luxurious surroundings we find ourselves in. Climate control, stereo sound, comfy upholstery... we can wrap ourselves in all that, then hurl it though the world at a good clip - while our enviroment conspires to isolate us from the actual world.

Awesome combination.

Ever tapped on a driver's window (at a red light, say) to tell them they've cut you off/nearly made you crap yourself/done some other oblivious driver trick? I got out of that habit, because the response from these people being yanked out of their cocoons almost always started with an f-bomb and got even less civilized from there.

When I do drive, I work hard at not being a cocooned cretin. The window is almost always rolled down at least a bit, for starters, unless it's really doing that Wet Coast monsoon thing.

Just to spread the blame, cyclists and pedestrians (especially joggers) who plug into their iThingy and turn the music up can be nearly as oblivious as cocooned cretin motorists. Just not quite as potentially lethal to those around them.

#65 ::: Nuala ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 02:27 AM:

I disagree with Charlie's absolute statement about not cycling in Edinburgh. He lives in the very steep bit of the city but I live out to the West in the old brewing area and I can zipped into town very easily on my heavy sit up and beg bike. If I want to be more leisurely or am travelling with the kids I can go in along the canal.

That said, last week I cycled down to Stockbrige and the cycle back up to Princes Street level at 10.30 at night cold with no chance to warm up first wasn't fun.

Cycling (plus small cloth sling in my basket) makes day to day life for someone like me - 2 small kids, no car - significantly more fun. It increases my range, allows the elder kid to get exercise and is just more enjoyable than negotiating the buggy on and off the bus. Ideally I'd like to use a Dutch or Danish style box bike for the kids but we don't have storage so instead it's bike plus bike seat plus 4 year old on her own steam.

#66 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 04:17 AM:

Well, we do get worked up about this, don't we?

I think the argument that we are being set at each other's throats has some weight, and goes some distance toward explaining the tension in this conversation. But there's a bigger piece of it, too: a sense of fragility around our transportation, particularly in the US.

Our lives, as constructed, require us to be able to get from work to home, to the shops, to all the places we need or want to be. We're critically dependent on transport. And in many places, for many people, there aren't a lot of alternatives. They have one solution, often cobbled together, frequently fragile, and no fallbacks.

People critically dependent on fragile solutions feel vulnerable. They get defensive. They take generalities personally, elide specifics and exemptions, ignore context.

But I had hoped that we, as a community of careful readers and thoughtful people, could have done better than that. I'm gravely disappointed and very deeply discouraged that so many of us didn't do so.

Could we please take it as read that as many of our cities are currently constructed, cars are crucial to many people's lives? Can we please take it on faith that those of us in this conversation who want to change things don't want to make people's lives impossible or more unpleasant than they already are? Can't you trust that I am not looking to "other" people who can't cycle, or need their cars, or otherwise are not good candidates for the particular journey to mindfulness I was describing? Don't you know me that well by now?

And could we please stop assuming that the assholes are representative of any population? When I'm on my bike, I'm no more representative of the person that ran Constance down than I am representative of any driver who's crashed into a cyclist when I'm behind the wheel of my car. Comments like "bicyclists [...] all ride to combat pedestrians and conquer the sidewalks" feel like "Clinton did it too" to me, to Patrick, and to anyone who wants to talk about the experience of urban cycling. It's a derail, and a slap in the face. It's productive of heat, but not much light.

More productive would be to go straight to asking "where are the delivery trucks and vans supposed to park?"‡ and discussing the impact of rerouted traffic on neighborhoods. Because then we're into conversations that may lead to solutions, rather than just yelling at each other like road users at a traffic light.

Or, of course, we could have discussed other avenues to mindfulness, or how the people love cities, or any number of delightful things. That would have been an interesting thread.

‡ Where should delivery trucks and vans park? For me, the question starts with how many, and how long? Are all the vehicles parked at the curb really making deliveries right this minute, and if so, do all of them have to do it during rush hour? For instance, many cities restrict delivery times to low-traffic parts of the day, when it's safer for a cyclist to go around a delivery van because all the lanes aren't clogged with traffic†. Some cities create loading zones to the right of bike lanes, so that delivery drivers don't even cross paths with cyclists.
† that does require the police not to ticket people who ride outside of the bike lane.

#67 ::: a chris ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 07:07 AM:

#25 Jeremy: Parking lots are amazing, aren't they? Near where I live there's an (upmarket) supermarket with a relatively small lot and at least several stripey pedestrian crossings. This is pretty good but is indicative of the nature of the place. People live within walking distance and there are paths from the sidewalk (which exists) at the main road. Across the ocean where my mom lives, there's a Costco with a humongous lot and it's a familiar feeling from growing up, watching for cars and getting out of their way while walking long distances with a shopping cart. Putting up with that is bred into a lot of us (North Americans). Maybe 30 years ago the lots were generally smaller and we just kept stretching our tolerance for the situation as they got bigger and their fundamental design didn't change.

As for the "us vs them" tendency, this is the only place I can think of that it would have been remotely possible to avoid discussing cycling without it. I remember foolishly spending ages composing a response on some forum, somewhere, trying to point out that we're all people, and that the A-hole on a bike isn't an A-hole because (s)he's a cyclist; it's because (s)he's a person whose personality allows him/her to act like that. Same with drivers. Same with pedestrians, which is perhaps more transparent because if you look at them you see just that: a person. The facilities do put us in conflict with each other, in practical terms, so if we don't try to see each other's point of view we will likely lump too many people into the category of irredeemable A-holes.

What I'm guilty of, where I should know better, is assuming that people will know that if I say cycling is great, I don't mean driving has to be eliminated. If I want safer facilities for cyclists, I'm aware that some of the people stuck in that 20-minute, one-mile stretch of traffic jam might reach the confidence threshold they need to escape it and have a leisurely ride instead.

Another thought, touching on lycra and helmets: helmets were mandatory in BC where I started riding regularly for transportation. I got comfortable wearing one. I also got comfortable wearing non-chafing, quick-drying clothes and changing into fresh ones at work. I now regularly ride a Dutch box bike with my daughter as a passenger -- with a helmet and lycra, which keep my head dry-ish and warm-ish and shield my eyes from the sun (not the lycra), and keep me from wearing out the butt of my trousers (not the helmet). I'm sure I look ridiculous, but I'm old enough not to care anymore. What does bother me is the possibility that by wearing a helmet (not designed for collisions with motor vehicles) I may be encouraging drivers to pass me closer than they otherwise would (

#68 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 07:10 AM:

Abi, one of the issues we're missing here is that cities aren't terribly flexible; bad design decisions get fossilized, embedded in concrete and tied down by buried utilities. Bad zoning laws are even worse. In the UK, the housing stock is on average 75 years old -- this says something interesting about the type of neighbourhood people live in, but more importantly, it suggests that building a more human-oriented town or city is going to be a very slow process. In the USA, houses are a lot younger ... but even so, I reckon a mean age of 30-40 years means that decisions made 50 years ago (such as the idea of moving everybody out to suburbia where everyone would of course own a car) take a very long time to reverse.

So what can we do in the short term?

The germ of a solution that occurs to me is that: we have much better communications technology than were available in the 1950s and 1960s; it ought to be possible to use it to coordinate our street-level transportation networks better. For example, to schedule delivery trucks so that they don't all hit the same stretch of street simultaneously, and to notify cyclists' mobile phones that a given route will be obstructed (and to suggest a suitable diversion).

Oh, and we need self-driving automobiles, and we need them now. Human error is the root cause of around 90-95% of road traffic accidents: in the US alone, deaths from RTAs match the death toll of 9/11 every six weeks. Robots don't suffer from road rage, and don't lose attentiveness. It seems to me that the sooner we take adrenalin-addicted or wool-gathering monkeys out of the control loop on the morning rush hour commute, the better for everyone -- drivers who can enjoy their metal cocoon without having to worry about whether they're sober, and pedestrians and cyclists who can stop worrying whether the driver has seen them (or has a grudge against the other cyclist they imagine scraped their paintwork two years ago).

#69 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 07:59 AM:

Catching up:

Constance #31: What do you do with a woman who screams at you to get out of HER way as she cycles with one kid sitting on the fender and another pulled along in a cart behind the bicycle?

At that point, you call the police to report child endangerment. The folks who are riding "in a line for fun" (I assume you mean abreast) are a maybe on that, anyone who makes threats is a possible. I'm not a fan of bringing in the police to deal with minor conflicts, but if you can't (or don't dare) call them in for public menaces, your city has worse problems than transit issues.

janetl #60: ...great mass transit, and being friendly to bikes. That is true of some areas -- and not of others. The part of the city that was built up before WWII (before common car ownership) has a topography that works for mass transit. The suburbs that came later don't.

Excellent point, and on consideration, there's a lot of that here in Charlottesville as well. Current construction projects are putting in bike lanes, but there's a lot of roads built in that interregnum (between cars and modern humanistic design).

Abi #66: Also, the fragility of our travel "solutions" is frequently underlined by "routine problems" such as construction or repairs, storm damage, and so forth. There's also a link here to other "humanist issues": employment practices and worker protection, or lack of same. That is, if you're liable to get fired for being late "too often", with no slack for ordinary problems, that's going to make you even more defensive and paranoid.

Charlie Stross #68: Abi, one of the issues we're missing here is that cities aren't terribly flexible; bad design decisions get fossilized, embedded in concrete

Another excellent point. A lot of the offending roads here are so continuously busy that any retrofit attempts are guaranteed to make trouble for a lot of people. And yeah, trying to update zoning laws, brings out the developers to defend their "rights" (that is, the giveaways granted them by prior lawmakers). Not to mention the ones who consider public-safety requirements to be a burden on their profits....

#70 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 08:27 AM:

Speaking of retrofitting: even if I was otherwise prepared to bike to work (at minimum, I'd want some practice on less crowded streets first), this would require my office to install showers, so I could avoid being unpleasantly sweaty through the workday. (I realize not everyone gets that sweaty when exercising. The guy who sits at the next cubicle from mine seems not to. But neither is it that anomalous.)

#71 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 09:35 AM:

Vicki #70: Yes, and climate/weather matters too. I'm still getting used to the summers down here -- even at the north edge of the American South, midsummer can get up to levels that nearly enforce hiding indoors with the air-conditioning. Even before that, spring is rainy.

#72 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 09:40 AM:

Me--helmet, each time I get on. I forget whether it is a legal requirement here or not, but figured I'd best be on the safe side.
Nice work on the nuance-age of the situation[s], many of you. Not having ridden since I was a kid, I've had to to work on manners as well as staying alive, but I'd like to think I'm making progress.

#73 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 11:20 AM:

Charlie@68: I believe Google has some sort of street-view car which is driving itself around the place without hitting much, presumably fairly sedately, but having something which can go through towns at currently permitted speeds and see and make allowances for pedestrians and other road users not on its mesh network still sounds like an awful lot of AI to me.

#74 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 11:45 AM:

I swear, if ONE MORE PERSON posts an upset comment that assumes that ANYONE has said that:

Everyone is either a cyclist or a motorist.

Cyclist/motorist/pedestrian is something that you are, rather than something that you do.

Bicycling is the only appropriate way to travel in a city.

The conditions under which one commenter finds it pleasant and/or advantageous to ride a bicycle necessarily prevail in all other commenters' areas of residence.

There's something inherently bad or wrong about someone using a car.

You are a lesser human being if you can't ride a bicycle.

No one is really unable to commute via bicycle, and those who say that are just making excuses.

All bicyclists are pleasant, thoughtful, law-abiding people.

Scofflaw speed-demon cyclists who do 25 m.p.h. on sidewalks in crowded urban environments are our friends and brothers.

Bicycles are incapable of causing harm.

The use of bicycles is, by itself, sufficient to bring about the New Jerusalem.


And another thing: Abi and Patrick are nearly in despair over this thread. I don't know how many of you have tracked on this, but we've seen this same pattern of responses to earlier posts about bicycling. They both find it very unpleasant and disheartening.

I'm not as upset as they are, but I'm convinced that there are unrecognized issues in play here, and that for some reason the topic of bicycling stirs them up without bringing them into the open.

Charlie, is there any other topic where you'd look at a discussion of the technologies people use when interacting with their environment and each other, and declare that it's entirely about the people, and not at all about the technology?

And Constance, you really need to calm down. We are allowed to talk about how bicycling works where we live. Doing so does not invalidate your experience.

By the way, I don't think you have a problem with bicycles. I think you have problems with urban congestion, inadequate public attention to the problems of shared public space, and inadequate law enforcement.

Everyone else, wake up. This is getting weird.

#75 ::: LMM ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 11:57 AM:

The answer to these issues is not to slam the competing interest groups, but to work for a compromise that meets everyone's needs. That takes a lot more effort than picking one group and demoting the others to second-class citizens -- but that's just more reason to put the pressure on the politicos, not your neighbors.

I think that part of the problem here is that, at least in the United States, city design (with limited exceptions) is *so* car-centric that *any* attempt to favor another method of transportation requires that drivers sacrifice some of the privileges they've been unconsciously handed. And when -- as now -- virtually everyone is suffering financially, the idea of sacrificing anything strikes people as offensive.

The irony, of course, is that there's a good argument to be made that a decent part of the current recession is due to the increased and fluctuating cost of oil -- and so making our society less car-dependent would help to resolve the current situation we find ourselves in.

There's another point to be made here, which is that when people are marginalized, they often cling to whatever they can get. Bicycles may or may not be morally superior to alternative methods of transportation, but when your life is more difficult than that of a driver's, it's often comforting to think that what you are doing has some intrinsic value.

#76 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 11:57 AM:

I should watch again the Monty Python skit where Terry Jones is bicycling around the British countryside and one fall too many has him believe he's Trotsky.

#77 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 12:01 PM:

Teresa@74: I'm not as upset as they are, but I'm convinced that there are unrecognized issues in play here, and that for some reason the topic of bicycling stirs them up without bringing them into the open.

Privilege, possibly. Can, worms, etc.

#78 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 12:07 PM:

Teresa, I like your #74. But I want to point out that it was you who wrote this in #5:

When you're bicycling, you're in an environment. When you're in a car, you're in no-space, and they're projecting footage of that environment onto the window-shaped screens of your compartment.

To pass through an area on a bicycle acknowledges its value. To pass through an area in a car turns it into a mere travel path or right of way, devaluing it in relation to the car's destination.

And that's what had me most feeling fake, given the realities of my limits. Most particularly, "they're projecting" and "devaluing it". These are deeply contrary to my experience, but there are times I don't have much confidence in the significance of my experience.

#79 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 12:09 PM:

Paula Helm Murray@57, Kansas City is car-centric. Sigh - when my mother grew up there, it was streetcar-centric - it might not get you out to Shawnee Mission or wherever, but you could get around most of town pretty well. Her father never saw well enough to drive, so living somewhere that he could take transit or walk to work was a necessity; her mother drove, once they could afford a car, but where she taught was two miles away, so I don't know if she drove or took the streetcar to work.

#80 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 12:22 PM:

Bruce Baugh @78:

If there is anyone on this site who could find the kind of mindful awareness of his environs from a car that I need a bike to achieve, it would be you. I am firmly of the belief that I could lock you in the trunk of a car, blindfolded and wrapped in a duvet, and have you emerge with some useful insight from the experience.*

* Possibly "don't go near Abi again", but that is certainly useful in context.

#81 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 12:26 PM:

Charlie, is there any other topic where you'd look at a discussion of the technologies people use when interacting with their environment and each other, and declare that it's entirely about the people, and not at all about the technology?

Bad behaviour is a people problem. There's a lot of it about, but I notice it's commonest where people using different modes of transport mix. I think it's largely induced by the design of our environments, rather than being purely a side-effect of one or other transport technology. And it seems to happen most often at interfaces where types of transportation are exposed to each other.

For example, consider the relatively civilized interactions between vehicles and cycles in Amsterdam: the road layout is physically different from what it is in, say, New York. For example, bike lanes are frequently a section of road bed separated from the powered vehicle traffic by a line of kerb stones. The car/bike lane problems Patrick and others describe, where cars park in bike lanes forcing bikes into traffic, are a whole lot rarer when the cars are physically excluded from the bike lanes by a barrier.

But there's more to it than that, and you're right that the car/bicycle thing brings out weird and unpleasant attitudes. Adrian suggests unexamined privilege is in play: I'd also suggest that some of the roughly $500 in advertising spend per motor vehicle sale is responsible for inculcating some very odd personal space issues, especially in North Americans (but also here in the UK). Cars are not sold as utilitarian mobility tools, because the market is thoroughly saturated: to differentiate them from the competitors, brands of automobile are marketed as statements about the individual's social status, as luxurious environments, and as ego trips. Not to mention on the basis of their performance on open roads -- a trait that's actually almost entirely useless in the real world of the workday commute.

If your marketing campaign depends on telling insecure middle-aged guys with a family and a heavy mortgage to support that they can prove they're a big swinging dick by driving a Hummer H3, then you're setting them up to see obstacles in their path as threats to their manhood. And it only gets worse from there.

#82 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 12:31 PM:

Bruce Baugh @78, I loved my Honda Civic. We had adventures together. Right now I'm fighting my way back from being effectively crippled. I rode my bicycle this morning for the first time in a year and a half.

There can be mindfulness in cars. It's just not the overall tendency.

#83 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 12:52 PM:

I admit that one of the reasons I largely keep quiet on these threads is because, technically, if I were a The Right Sort Of Person (1) I could, in theory, be a bicycle commuter. I choose not to, for a variety of reasons none of which individually are sufficient to justify my decision but all of which in aggregate are sufficient for me. But past experience drags along a LOT of social and emotional baggage - in a pattern that I have not found uncommon in the broader liberal-leaning communities on pretty much any subject of controversy or variance of opinion - that because I personally am not doing Every Possible Thing Right Every Time, then the failure of human utopia is somehow my personal fault.

I don't actually believe this, but fending off the guilt monster takes energy I could be spending on something useful, productive, or interesting.

(1) The right sort of person in this context being someone who's either already fit enough, or willing to suffer long enough to get fit enough, to physically handle the terrain here. For me, a lot of the imposed guilt (whether it's being deliberately thrown or percolating itself out of the cultural ether - and in the context of this conversation it is the latter) is about fitness/health equating to personal merit.(2)

(2) Call it lifestyle Calvinism perhaps: I'm fat and sedentary, and I'm shamelessly and wantonly living my life as it please me instead of subsisting on lettuce and water and exercising twelve hours a day in the hope of making myself worthy of acknowledgement as a human being. Sorry, I've got more interesting things to do. (3)

(3) Not to suggest that anyone here has aimed that at me - rather the opposite !!! - but the pervasive "if you're not suffering for the solution you are the problem" attitude that regularly is aimed at those of us living while imperfect has really got my shorts in a bunch lately.

#84 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 12:55 PM:

abi @ 66: "But there's a bigger piece of it, too: a sense of fragility around our transportation, particularly in the US."

Heiliger Prekarius, Saint Precarious, San Precario-
From the whole world,we pilgrimage to you to call upon thee…

Saint Precarious, answer our prayers

We are the precarized people in this globalized world
We are the superfluous and desperate, distressed and without any rights

Saint Precarious, answer our prayers

Our lives depend on failing infrastructure--but who will pay for its maintenance in a time of budget cuts and austerity?
Our cities are designed for people who are not us--but how can we build anything better if the powerful oppose us?
Our livelihoods depend on fast, fluid transport--but how can we get where we need to be without harming those around us?
Our lives insulate us from the consequences of our actions--how can we be mindful in a world of screens and walls?
Our interests are pitted one against the other--how will we learn friendship and solidarity?

Saint Precarious - redeem us

We plead you: Help all of them whose lives depend on the great works of the past;
Let our cities transform into a shape that in turn shapes us well;
Let us move fluidly and benevolently through our human landscape;
Let us be mindful of the things we touch;
Let us strive for love and united action in the midst of our precarious lives!

Saint Precarious - redeem us

Give us the power to build a new world without war and exploitation!

Your doings are as well our doings. Be it!
Now as on the beginning of our lives and for eternity!

Omnia sunt communia - Everything's for all

#85 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 12:57 PM:

Gold star to Thena @83 for identifying another piece of the jigsaw puzzle: lifestyle Calvinism and the social policing of pleasure.

(Set it in opposition to cars as luxury environments and see where it takes you ...)

#86 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 12:57 PM:

John D. Macdonald, Pale Gray for Guilt (a Travis McGee novel), pp. 17-18:

"Janine had nailed it. People hate their cars. Daddy doesn't come proudly home with a new one any more, and the family doesn't come racing out, yelling WOW, and the neighbors don't come over to admire it. They all look alike, for one thing. So you have to wedge a piece of bright trash atop the aerial to find your own. They may be named after predators, or primitive emotions, or astronomical objects, but in essence they are a big shiny sink down which the money swirls -- in insurance, car payments, tags, tolls, tires, repairs. They give you a chance to sit in helpless rage, beating on the steering wheel in a blare of horns while, a mile away, your flight leaves the airport. They give you a good chance of dying quick, and a better chance of months of agony of torn flesh, smashed guts, and splintered bones. Take it to your kindly dealer, and the service people look right through you till you grab one by the arm, and then he says: come back a week from Tuesday. Make an appointment. Their billions of tons of excreted pollutants wither the leaves on the trees and sicken the livestock. We hate our cars, Detroit. Those of us who can possibly get along without them do so very happily. For those who can't, if there were an alternate choice, they'd grab it in a minute. We buy them reluctantly and try to make them last, and they are not friendly machines any more. They are expensive, murderous junk, and they manage to look glassily contemptuous of the people who own them. A car is something that makes you whomp your youngest kid too hard and then feel ashamed of yourself."
For most people in the U.S., cars are something you don't own because you want to, but because you have to. I suspect that many of them feel trapped in a deflating and unsatisfactory pattern of suburban developments and overlong commutes that drain them of time and money. "Traffic" has been redefined as automobile traffic, and the vast majority of attempts to address "traffic problems" turn out to be freeways that make an all-car lifestyle even more unavoidable.

As Janetl @60 observed, the older suburbs that were built in the days when cars were optional are still suited to mass transit and bicycling. Unfortunately, not every city has neighborhoods like that, and not everyone can live in them.

I'm wondering whether (some of) the strange negative energy that collects around discussions of bicycling is actually generated by dissatisfaction with a system that forces so many of us to drive cars.

#87 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 12:59 PM:

Heresiarch @84, yes!

#88 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 01:03 PM:

Teresa, I'm not feeling depressed about mindfulness or lack thereof. If it were as simple as "it's easy to disengage, or engage only very shallowly, while driving through a place, and easier to engage in more ways while biking through it" - what I took from most of Abi's post - I'd agree in a flash.

I don't feel like "they're projecting" and "turning it", or some of the other whacks that led me to my comment, are about that.

I take self-delusion seriously. The last few years have given me several occasions to realize "oh, heck, I've been fooling myself about the safety/innocuousness/neutrality/relevance of this thing I've been thinking or doing". Often enough, in fact, that I tend to expect more. The message "yup, this is another", delivered with confident vigor by people whose experience of life and the world is so much wider-ranging than mine, whose cluefulness and values I have more than a little confidence in, is not something I can easily shake off.

It's not like this a bolt from the blue. It's something that's come up in a variety of contexts lately, and something that I've never been able to form a very good judgment about.

It's also not the same concern or objection that anyone else is bringing up, as nearly as I can tell, and I'm sorry that it's tangled with the rest.

#89 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 01:07 PM:

Charlie Stross @ 81: "I think it's largely induced by the design of our environments, rather than being purely a side-effect of one or other transport technology. And it seems to happen most often at interfaces where types of transportation are exposed to each other."

It occurs to me that "how humans integrate with their environment" isn't a terribly bad definition for "technology." Which points at something I think needs more emphasis in any discussion on technology and society: technology isn't widgets, things with knobs and switches and flashing lights. It's tools, and whether they're held, ridden or ridden over doesn't matter all that much: a line of kerb stones between bike lanes and vehicle lanes is technology. As, for that matter, is society: "drive on the left" and "yield to pedestrians" are technologies too.

#90 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 01:20 PM:

Thena @83:

One thing we are seeing here in the Netherlands is a steady increase in the number of affordable electric bikes on the market. They can run under human power or rechargeable batteries, charge off of household mains and go a little faster under power than most unpowered ones, but are pretty much able to blend in with the existing cycling herd.

One of my colleagues at my former place got one to allow her to cycle to work. She was just a little too far away to make the commute under her own steam (a) in a reasonable amount of time, and (b) at her level of fitness. She adored it.

I am hopeful that over the next five or ten years, electric bikes will become more widely available, so that people who want to cycle but find geography, fitness, or energy lacking can do so.

#91 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 01:26 PM:

Electric bikes sound awesome! And sound like something that would work very well in the specific neighborhood I live in, at that.

#92 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 01:42 PM:

I read this book awhile ago, and loved it — Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us). One of the insights for me was how how making drivers feel less safe makes them more alert, and better drivers. On wide, carefully divided, car-only streets, a driver naturally zones out a bit more, and therefore reacts more slowly when the unexpected happens. Portland's downtown and inner east side have become the opposite of smooth driving. We don't have an Amsterdam level of cyclists, but it's pretty common that there's always at least one bike within sight. The bikes can be pretty unexpected, too — tall bikes, and unicycles aren't uncommon. It's also legal to use skateboards on the streets. In the downtown area, pedestrians do not yield to cars*. I can't find the article now, but I recall reading one a year or so ago which said that the number of accidents in Portland had declined over time, and it was being attributed to the more complex environment keeping drivers alert. Irritated at times, no doubt, but alert!

*My Portland walking habits made me nearly get pasted walking down a sidewalk along a mall in Texas a few months ago. Silly me, I assumed that if I had the walk light, the car turning right would stop for me. I'm sure the driver never expected anyone to actually be walking on the sidewalk (I was the only pedestrian I saw), and had their eyes focused only for on-coming cars from their left.

#93 ::: Joyce Reynolds-Ward ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 02:14 PM:

I think Charlie has some good points about design and structure. I would happily bike in Amsterdam. I'd happily bike in Eugene. I am highly annoyed that biking discussions in Portland seem to be all about bike lanes on busy streets when, as janetl points out, moving one street over is safer and done by cyclists like the sort I am becoming.

However. I have to cross those streets that aren't the safe streets, and getting across them often involves climbing off my bike, then climbing back on. Politically, it seems that most of the political bike discussion locally focuses on those who are aggressive, competitive, and much more athletic than upon those of us who want a more safe and sedate experience.

That annoys me.

I also get annoyed by those who demonize driving, though, because I am one of those who likes driving to wild places and driving through wild places, including rugged roads and places you just can't get to by means other than cars unless you have a hella lot more time and fitness than I do. That becomes an issue of fitness privilege, then, and it's a sore issue with me.

Meanwhile, I'm off to walk or bike to a new yoga class, close by. For me, biking makes most sense close to my house.

#94 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 02:52 PM:

Joyce @93:

I also get annoyed by those who demonize driving, though, because I *am* one of those who likes driving to wild places and driving through wild places, including rugged roads and places you just can't get to by means other than cars unless you have a hella lot more time and fitness than I do.

For fuck's bleeding sake. Please reread TNH @74. I thought we were through with this subthread.

Really. Goddamn seriously. Can we please quit talking about how [unstated] people are demonizing us for our pleasures and our choices? Please? It sours the hell out of the conversation, makes a bunch of people feel accused, and makes me, personally, never want to blog on this subject again.

Honestly. I was kind of proud of this post when I went to bed last night. Reading what it turned into this morning, coming back to it in morbid fascination, has drained an inordinate amount of the joy from my day.

I had useful things to say about janetl @92, but I really do not have the heart.

#95 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 02:55 PM:

Abi, are we still allowed to demonize people who demonize people? (Recursively, if necessary? Or failing that, using a mirror?)

#96 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 03:01 PM:

I have been passionately longing for an electric bike for some time now.

There's an entire bestiary of small motorized vehicles. It can be hard to spot because the market for them is divided between toys for tweens and teens (Razor electric scooters), beefier ATV scooters, third-party add-on electric bicycle motors, purpose-built electric bikes (some of which are fabulously outre), mobility aids for the impaired (electric scooters, the Stand n Ride), a bewildering variety of products made in China, and extreme-ride motorized skateboards.

That second skateboard link is the fun one.

#97 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 03:03 PM:

Bruce @89, it's hard to ignore a signal that appears to be coming in from several directions at once. I have a theory about that ...

#98 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 03:05 PM:

Charlie @95:

are we still allowed to demonize people who demonize people?

No. Enough with the demonizing. End. Finito. </demonize>

#99 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 03:14 PM:

I wish I had space for an electric bike.

Alas, they seem to weigh around 20-25 Kg and I have no kerbside storage space or room at the bottom of the (shared) stairwell. And I am not up to routinely carrying a 20 kilo electric bike up four flights of stairs.

That, and the traffic on my street is a bit special. (It's very steep, and a bus route, with frequent deliveries and folks randomly stopping to park. And it's short of pedestrian crossings and there is no bike lane. And there's a roundabout at the bottom and a roundabout from hell at the top that acts as a mixer for three major arteries feeding into the city centre and frequently jams solid. It's frightening enough going up or down it in a Volvo, never mind on two wheels!)

Another thing we need: more Segways. Alas, they're not legal to use on the road in the UK.

#100 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 03:16 PM:


#101 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 03:25 PM:

OK, enough of the ill temper.

janetl @92:
making drivers feel less safe makes them more alert, and better drivers. On wide, carefully divided, car-only streets, a driver naturally zones out a bit more, and therefore reacts more slowly when the unexpected happens.

Here in the Netherlands, we have something called a woonerf, literally dwelling-courtyard. There are a few in my village. They're shared-space, cul-de-sacs or closed loops. There are no vehicular control markings whatsoever: no lanes, no curbs, no sidewalks. The houses' gardens open onto a flat surface that's used by cars, pedestrians and cyclists alike. In theory, that lack of markings should make drivers uncertain and thus slow them down. It seems to work.

In a woonerf, pedestrians and cyclists have priority over cars. Drivers should expect children playing in the places they want to drive. Since the roads don't lead anywhere, there's no through traffic; everyone going into a woonerf wants to be there in particular and should be treating the people there as real humans.

They work really well, from what I hear. We don't live on one; we have ordinary roads front and back. It's much noisier and less safe.

#102 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 03:32 PM:

Alas, Segways have become punchlines.

(On the other hand, the Wolfman at Clark's Trading Post now rides a Segway.)

(Also, when the Postal Service tested Segways for letter carriers (in Concord, New Hampshire) they discovered that it took longer to deliver mail by Segway than on foot.)

#103 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 03:34 PM:

abi @ 101: The book traffic specifically mentioned those Dutch mixed use areas. They sound cool!

BTW, I have proof that only 1 in 3 cyclists is sufficiently virtuous to be raptured.

The two shocked mourners just happened to go by while I was taking the photo. I asked them if they'd like to be in a rapture photo, and they joined in enthusiastically. Portlandia is a documentary.

#104 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 03:37 PM:

Charlie @99:

I used to work at the corner of Albany Street and Broughton Street, back when that was Price Waterhouse's office in Edinburgh. I agree that that area is one of the worst for cycling or owning a bike that I have ever seen. I didn't even like walking along it.

Part of making cities livable is figuring out how to make areas like that work. A secure, enclosed place half a block away to park your electric bike would help. Also, fewer cars on the roads would help. Which is kind of where all this footering about with making cycling more possible and pleasant should lead, since everyone on a bike is not, at that moment, in a car.

(One thing I would like about fewer cars on the roads would be that people who had to drive could then have more space to do so.)

#105 ::: IreneD ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 03:37 PM:

Erm. I was thinking about posting something innocuous and hopefully humorous about my experience as a pedestrian in Paris (a city where *nobody* behaves well, be they pedestrians, cyclists or motorists, where public transportation is terrific in some areas and awful in others, and where the current administration nevertheless manage to devote parts of the streets to busses, cycles and pedestrians, thanks to strong political commitment)... But when the moderators themselves tear up their hair, threaten wholesale banning in CAPSLOCK and "give up" in response to counter-arguments (as if the goal was to convert somebody instead of presenting insight)... Well, I'm frightened.

#106 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 03:39 PM:

I was looking at a website for an RV resort on the coast west of Santa Barbara. Among other things they offer are Segway rentals. (You might be able to go somewhere, but they're not useful, I would say, outside their paved area. This place is on the uphill side of the freeway from the beach. And the beach is not that close.)

#107 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 03:44 PM:

The problem with bicycles -- from a technology point of view, I hasten to add -- is that they require the operator to have (a) a good sense of balance, (b) four fully-functional limbs, (c) no joint trouble, and (d) their full complement of senses.

You can get around the need for (a) if you add an extra wheel or two (trike or quad-cart), but (b) and (c) are relatively inflexible: you need good legs with no joint damage to pedal, and at least one good arm with no joint damage for steering and/or balance. Even an electric bicycle, as I understand it, doesn't get around that -- the motors are an assist, not a complete power train that'll accelerate uphill from stationary.

That's why, in principle, I like the Segway. The balance requirement is reduced to barely more than that required to stand upright, and you don't need good joints. Meanwhile, with saddlebags, it should have about the same cargo capacity as a bicycle. Which means it's useable by older or less healthy folks who nevertheless want to get out/go shopping/do short-range commutes.

(Yes, electric wheelchairs or mobility scooters can do that too. But they're generally slower and have a lower seat position, meaning worse visibility.)

What else ... powered exoskeletons?

#108 ::: sarak ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 03:47 PM:

Yesterday was my first corporate bike to work. I started a bus/bike commute routine 7 weeks ago. I bus/bike 3 days a week. I live in suburbia with few to no sidewalks. I bus to work with the bike on the bike rack and ride home 16 miles. The route is mostly bike paths. The straight road to my school from home is 12 miles of steep hills and no shoulders; as a driver I know how fast the traffic is on that road. Once I started thinking about biking, I realized there are 7 big hills between here and work; in the car it feels pretty flat.

I always wear a helmet, go with the traffic, stay towards the shoulder where possible (State law) and own the lane when I ride there (again laws). I stop for red lights, stop signs, and stopped school buses. There is one place on the route where I ride on the sidewalk: up a steep hill with very fast traffic. I have seen less than pedestrians on that sidewalk in all this time. I give them the right of way.

I thought I would listen to music during the 90 minutes it takes me to ride home but I don't. I like the music of the community and landscape.

I feel good. I feel very good. I'm saving LOTS of gas money and not spending much for the bus. I used to think that I would go for a bike ride when I got home but then I would be distracted or too tired.

I have to leave home earlier and there is no bike rack at school so I lock my bike to a fence behind the building but for me it is worth it.

#109 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 03:58 PM:

When we define "traffic" as "automobiles", we exclude cyclists, pedestrians, and related species from the category, even though they're clearly part of the passing traffic.

Excluding cyclists from the "vehicular traffic" category implicitly denies their right to share the road. Granted. It's an obvious point.

However, what it also does is exclude them from the oversight of vehicular law enforcement. See Patrick's comment @38, about NYC police writing tickets for nonexistent cycling offenses. The officers literally don't know what is and isn't legal for cyclists.

The other thing this leads to: dangerous scofflaw bicyclists. If they're outside the law, there's no systematic way to deal with bad bicycling behavior, or the relatively small number of malefactors who engage in it.

The existence of dangerous bicyclists is not an argument against bicycling. It's a strong argument for recognizing that cyclists are a legitimate part of traffic, and incorporating them into the normal web of rights, laws, and customs that make up the social contract.

#110 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 04:00 PM:

IreneD @105:

Please read the whole thread, particularly TNH @74.

If you think it's "counter-arguments" that are the problem, if you think it's a problem with conversion vs presenting insights, you've clearly missed the point.

I'd restate it, again, but I was rather hoping we could move on to more constructive conversation.

(And I do apologize if the moderators here are not providing the friendly and cheerful service that you expect. Please feel free to withhold my tip in retaliation.)

#111 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 04:06 PM:

sarahk @108:
I thought I would listen to music during the 90 minutes it takes me to ride home but I don't. I like the music of the community and landscape.

Yes, this. Exactly.

And it varies, day by day. Each journey is its own adventure through the changing landscape, with a different combination of the familiar and the new. It's like variations on a theme, or the slow progression of a symphony through its movements.

#112 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 04:17 PM:

Charlie Stross @ 107: "What else ... powered exoskeletons?"

Rocket boots?

#113 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 04:19 PM:

TNH @109

We are not always so good at that whole social contract thing, especially when external circumstances create a real or perceived threat. See also "Me and my brother against my cousin, me and my cousin against a neighbor, me and my neighbor against a stranger," and similar behavior patterns.

Also Charlie @107 re: electric mobility devices

I'm still trying to figure out how to write the letter to the editor that's been in my head for the last few years ever since a non-accident that shouldn't have come that close to happening.

The gist of things is thus: Maine is not as polar as Scotland but it gets dark early enough in the winter that people are out and about in it. We also of course get snow. Local government has the same budget problems as everyone else and one of the things that gets cut back on is snow removal (or at least rearrangement) - due to driver privilege, the arterial roads get cleared first and the sidewalks (where they exist) get cleared last. We also have hills and extremely limited public transit.

So every now and then, usually in the evening after a snowstorm, I'll be driving back from the store or the gym or work or someplace, and one of the shadows in the road will turn out to be a person riding a mobility device with no lights or reflectors, well under the posted speed limit, in the middle of the traffic lane, because the sidewalk is unnavigable and they've got no better way to get about their business. I haven't hit anyone yet but it's always quite a shock to find them there.

There's got to be a better way to handle this. Lights and reflectors would be a good start - responsible drivers really prefer not to hit living beings, especially people, but it's hard to yield to a pedestrian you can't see.

#114 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 04:23 PM:

janetl, #103: Oh, that's fabulous!

Houston has two very distinct classes of cyclist: the recreational riders, some of whom do the whole special-clothes-and-fancy-bikes thing and some of whom don't bother; and the people who ride for transportation, many of whom are poor enough that owning a car is prohibitively expensive. We also have a number of dedicated bike routes, which is more than many cities have. The problem is that those dedicated bike routes are for the most part optimized for the recreational rider; there are a lot of places where a simple and obvious connecting path to the surface streets, which would be of great use for people riding for transportation, has never been built. There's been some improvement to that of late, in particular around the Heights (where people do sometimes use bikes for errand-running rather than get the car out) -- the bike path there has been extended to the shopping center where the Target is, and on a nice day you see a LOT of people, both on foot and on bikes, using it. But we need more of that, and a more extensive dedicated bike network; if people only had to use the surface streets for a little bit at the start and end of the ride, I'm sure more people would start thinking of bikes as vehicles instead of toys.

Another thing you see a lot more of around the Heights are scooters. They're closer to being a motorcycle than a bike, and they're not allowed on the dedicated bike paths, but they're still useful for local errand-running -- I wish we could afford one. And IMO a higher concentration of scooters serves some of the same purposes as a higher concentration of bikes, in that it makes automobile drivers more aware of alternate-vehicle transportation.

What it all boils down to is this: as long as it's difficult and dangerous for people to use other forms of transportation, most people will continue to use cars. In order to change that in any meaningful way, we have to make it less inconvenient for people not to use cars. Because as long as it's inconvenient, only the few dedicated souls who think it's worth the effort will do it.

#115 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 04:29 PM:

Not good balance on the part of the cyclist, so much - a lot of that work is actually done by the bike, which is remarkably stable.
I've seen hand-cranked bikes and chairs - even people without functioning legs can go out that way. It's still a lot of work, and you'd need good upper-body strength, but it's better than not going out at all. (Some of them drive electric chairs, instead.)

#116 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 04:34 PM:

PJE @115 -- I learned to ride a bike when I was 20. It took me a damn sight more work to learn to balance on one than learning the basics of skiing. (And I've never been able to stand on a skateboard for more than 2 seconds.) I'll grant you that the bike is indeed doing some of the work -- but some of us find it rather hard to hold our centre of gravity over a 2cm-wide patch of ground!

(It's a good thing I live in a country where the cops do alcohol drink-driving tests via breathalyzer rather than making you walk along a line. I'd invariably fail even though I don't drive within 12 hours of drinking.)

#117 ::: Mike McHugh ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 05:08 PM:

dcb@30: I can vouch for that: my commute is 19 mins by bike, 22 minutes by car, and 45 minutes by bus. However, the new best commute for me takes about 30 minutes and is bus and bike. The DublinBikes scheme is up there with sliced bread on the Good Ideas scale. It's confounded all dire predictions about deaths, damages and destroyed bikes, and has just reached the 2 million journeys mark. Instead, it's made cycling a lot less inconvenient for people to do, in an otherwise congested area. Just about the only downside is the requirement for a credit card to use it. (It's Bixi, but cheaper, I think.)

#118 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 05:29 PM:

Thena, #113: I think you've stated the gist of the problem very well right here. Your letter should have this structure: (1) it is not unusual for the sidewalks to be blocked at various times during the winter; (2) when the sidewalks are blocked, people using mobility devices have no choice but to move into the street; (3) because of these two things, mobility devices should be required to have lights and reflectors as a matter of safety.

Charlie, #116: I learned to ride a bike when I was 6 years old, and rode regularly until my family moved to a location that wasn't bike-friendly. Then I spent 35 years not riding at all. When I got back on a bike again, I had some problems, but balancing wasn't one of them -- it was automatic. There's a reason that "it's like riding a bike" is the standard comparison for something that, once learned, is never forgotten.

You got started late, which may make a difference. But I suspect that a lot of people who now have mobility issues were like me and learned to ride young. For them, balance isn't likely to be much of a concern unless they have inner-ear problems as well.

#119 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 05:45 PM:

TNH @100, so we're not allowed to talk about the decisions Andy Pryor might be making in order to people Who?

abi @101, I'm pretty sure we've got those in the suburban areas of the US as well, though I don't think we call 'em the same thing. My sister's house shares a cul-de-sac with two other houses, and I watched over her kids as they bicycled around on it a couple weekends back.

Come to think of it, the gigantical NYC housing complex where I grew up with was built with lots of cul-de-sacs, and roads going around it so that nobody would bother driving into it who wasn't actually going to someplace inside it. Also, lots of interior paved pathways that were for bikes and pedestrians, not cars. And a big, grassy meadow in the middle. It's got big communal parking garages, too, instead of having individual garages attached to the houses. This means that, for most residents, you're going to have to walk a block or three to get to your car anyway, so if you're just going a short distance, you might as well walk. If only it had better subway access....

#121 ::: Rob Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 06:32 PM:

I live in East London, and use the pathways of the old canal network on those occasions when I cycle into work. What with incorporating this, back streets, alleyways, and parls into my journey I've refined it over the years to the point that I only need to cycle a 100 yard stretch of major road in the whole seven-plus miles. A few years ago, I posted a sequence of photos of my cycle journey that can be viewed here under 'To work' and 'from work' for those interested:

My current infirmities didn't have me walking with a crutch, which means I haven't been able to take advantage of the glorious weather we've had in the past couple of months to cycle, and I really miss it.

#122 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 07:08 PM:

I feel one generalizable point behind the emergence and (hopefully) spread of woonerf and other mixed use street design is that the classic gridded street pattern is just absolutely worthless. There's no reason for every street be a thoroughfare in either design or function; let the through-traffic (high speed, car dominated) cluster on streets designed for that, and let the local use (low speed, mixed traffic) develop on streets designed with that in mind. Traffic networks should resemble tree branches or arteries, not grids.

#123 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 07:12 PM:

abi #90: I currently feel very uncomfortable about the electric bicycles, because they are very, very silent, and they go quite fast -- part of what I use to evaluate the speed of a bicyclist is their motion in relationship to their own bike, and there is a large disconnect on that on electric bikes. A person might seem to cycle very leisurely at about 10 kph yet actually go more than twice that speed (or four times that speed, if the driver happens to have a motorbiking license and is willing to shell out 1000 Euro more for a KTM or similar). It's disconcerting. I guess it will take some years until people on electric bicycles are out of that mis-estimation risk.

(I have run into a similar effect when riding a 130 hp motorbike which from the front looked a lot like a scooter. No one expected me to be even half as fast as I was...)

#124 ::: sebastian ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 07:22 PM:

heresiarch @ 122:

While I agree with your points on traffic flow and mixed use, I will say this for the gridiron: It makes finding your way to a given address much, much easier. Much of Edmonton is gridded and numbered streets (101Av/100St at the rough center of downtown and going out from there); you can do the coordinate math to figure out what part of the city any address is in. Around the edges the city has succumbed to the intestinal bends and crescents of the residential subdivision. Finding 1221 Wallflower Shore (synthetic example) involves turning left off 111St onto Wallflower Gate, and thence through Wallflower Terrace, Wallflower Bower, and Wallflower Wynd before a quick left onto Wallflower Shore and go almost all the way around. This I don't like nearly as much as the easy simplicity of 9869 62 Avenue.

#125 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 07:24 PM:

Bruce Baugh: Are you thinking of being a passenger, or a driver? I find them very different modes of transportation. My meditation on my various mindfulness (and I left some out, because I didn't find them relevant to the idea of regular travel, so a Humvee in Iraq, or a hike up the San Gabriels, the Smokies, through Central Park, isn't in the same category, though all have some).

#126 ::: Joyce Reynolds-Ward ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 07:26 PM:

Charlie @ 107--

One of my friends jokingly proposed ultralight aircraft across the Willamette River. Um, probably not workable, but entertaining for a moment's visualization. One option that would work well here, but just hasn't caught on, is water taxis. Unfortunately there's not enough developed public dockage up and down the river to pull that off. Still, I've known people to commute up and down the Willamette River from houseboats either on the Columbia or at the mouth of the Willamette on private boats.

I'm not a fan of lots of car space in an urban setting, honestly I'm not. But getting to a well-designed transportation interface that doesn't involve a massive reliance on automobiles is something that takes time, planning, and the willingness to supply public funding to the process. It is not an overnight development, and that includes mindsets not just amongst drivers and cyclists and pedestrians but amongst law enforcement officials and planners as well. For example, it's taken twenty full years to see something like a full light rail system to be created here in PDX; we're still in process on the last few pieces of it.

I think that's something we tend to forget when we want a solution now. This sort of design change ends up having to be a generational sort of deal, I suspect.

And re the discussion about cycling and cylists and all that--I, like Charlie, didn't learn biking early. It has never come that easy to me, and considering I can balance on a horse's back and on skis, I should be able to do cycling much more easily. It's never been something I've done as pleasure; rather, it's been a case of transport or conditioning (for the record, I can't balance well on ice/roller skates or skateboards either. Afraid to try a snowboard). I'm riding the bicycle more now because my foot hurts if I walk too far on concrete; otherwise, I'd walk more around the neighborhood on my errands instead.

Biking for me is transport, not pleasure. For many others here it's clear that biking is as much about enjoyment as it is transport. I suspect that's as much a factor in the divide between people here as anything else.

Different strokes for different folks. I enjoy reading the accounts from people who enjoy their bicycles. But I'm still unlikely to go for a pleasure ride. Just not my preference.

#127 ::: Joris M ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 07:44 PM:

I think the important point of the discussion is not necessarily the bike bit, it is the human size part. It is about the freedom of safely moving through your local environment.

I am probably biased by growing up in (sub)urban Netherlands, but I am used to have at least a supermarket at a walking distance from where I live. And there where always ways to easily walk there safely. And similarly schools, dentists, local doctors, hairdressers were all close. Being able to use a bike makes these things easier to go to (and probably more viable because more people are willing) but it is the human-sized distances that count.

You can have all the bikelanes you could ever want, but if the distances are too large that will not matter.

What the original article seems say is that riding a bike makes seeing the important connections in a living environment more visible. You go fast enough to quickly notice all the small things that make an urban environment nice to live in, and slow enough to be able to take it all in. It reminds me of experiencing Berlin. The city as whole is to large to easily explore by walking, but riding a bike you can easily see both the things that make a neighbourhood nice to live in as the interconnections that keep the city as a whole alive.

#128 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 08:08 PM:

Ken @ #23 - it depends which Bixi payment option you choose, the annual Bixi key is $78, which is less in Ottawa than one month's transit. At $5 a day, it would be overpriced.

Note that in either Montreal or Ottawa, the operating year is April to November or so. For me, the Ottawa Bixi system is regrettably far from where I either live or work, so I'm an occasional user. But if you consider Bixi an alternative to taxis - Ottawa has very expensive taxis!

I recall seeing precisely this in Montreal. A nattily dressed gentleman with a portfolio came out of an office building, unlocked a Bixi bike and pedalled away. I doubt it was either his regular office or that he'd take the bike all the way home, likely changing to public transport somewhere convenient.

In Ottawa, we also have bike racks on buses for cross-city routes. I've timed it - bike on bus in rush hour is not typically faster than me on a bike, but it is less tiring, so extends the range considerably.

#129 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 08:24 PM:

My problem is that I have a rather lousy sense of balance, worsened by having been seriously ill last year. As a result,I've never ridden a bicycle that didn't have training wheels. A Segway would be a wonderful vehicle, except I'd probably tip it over instantly. Recently, I've seen police officers using vehicles similar to Segways except they have four wheels. What are they called? They seem almost ideal, from my point of view, as medium-distance mobility vehicles.

#130 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 08:37 PM:

Mike @ #117 - the dublinbikes look (and the scheme looks) a lot like Bixi. The pricing's quite different, as the Bixi system is optimized for short trips, and dublinbikes talks about three-day rentals.

Interesting. I'd be hard-pressed to say which was cheaper without some worked scenarios.

#131 ::: sarak ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 08:42 PM:

dcb@30 My drive averages 25 minutes, I've got the bike trip down to 1hr 37min, the bus + walk up the hill with the bike takes 1hr 15 min.

I would otherwise use commuting time to surf the web, sleep, drink some coffee, and wake up the teens. For me, it's worth it.

Google map bikes said the route would take 90 minutes and I'm working toward that; the first day if took 2.5 hours.

#132 ::: sarak ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 08:47 PM:

mike@117 In DC they have BikeShare

#133 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 08:57 PM:

The thing that makes people here who use Bixi use it wouldn't work at all with a three day rental. It's not having to worry about the bike being stolen. It isn't your bike, it's your use of their bike, with designated places to leave it. A bike you own or rent has to come with the apparatus of anti-theft -- locks and chains, almost as awkward as a car when you want to switch to feet. Bixis don't. You don't have to go back to the same one, you take another from where you have walked to.

This only works when they are everywhere you want one, which actually Montreal seems to do pretty well.

However, the Bixi system here has just had to be bailed out by the city for quite a bit of money.

#134 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 08:59 PM:

Teresa: the electric bicycle I'm most interested in is this one, which was a failed product by Aerovironment--the link is to a store that bought the last production run and is still selling them. Unfortunately, it's among the ugliest bicycles ever made: if I get one I swear I'm going to look into someone to knit a cozy for the thing just to cover the ugly.

Charlie Stross, and by extension Fragano: That's why, in principle, I like the Segway. The balance requirement is reduced to barely more than that required to stand upright, and you don't need good joints. Meanwhile, with saddlebags, it should have about the same cargo capacity as a bicycle. Which means it's useable by older or less healthy folks who nevertheless want to get out/go shopping/do short-range commutes.

That's the reason that DEKA never tried to get it approved as a medical device after their experiences with the iBot: according to an article (in The New York Times?) they decided it would be best to "let the street discover" how it could help those with impaired balance to get around then to ad 40K to the street price by getting it approved.

Interestingly, the reason Segways are street legal in Washington State is that one of the head Republicans in the state Senate (who were in power at the time) was solicited by DEKA to try out a Segway so he'd ideally play with it and push for it to be made street legal. (San Francisco had just banned them.) He told them "deliver two to" and gave the address of a large nursing home in his district. They did, and he came out and spent a couple of hours seeing folks that had been limited to walkers or double canes ride around delightedly. He then rammed legislation through to make sure others in the same situation would be able to use a Segway. I was never that much of a fan of his, but *that* one I give him kudos for...

#135 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 09:10 PM:

The Land of the lightly irradiated Rising Sun is mostly pretty bike-friendly - most of the cities are fairly flat - and they seem to manage to treat bikes as high-speed pedestrians (though you can now in theory be fined for misdemeanors like checking your text messages, carrying an umbrella or listening to music) - they use the sidewalks without causing too much havoc among those on foot, and the curbs are lowered at corners for them. It probably helps that most of the bikes are single-speed "mama-chari", and although you do see a fair amount of selfish/oblivious behavior the level of aggro is surprisingly low. But I suspect it gets considerably hairier up in Osaka, let alone Tokyo.

#136 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 09:20 PM:

On the subject of why talking about bikes repeatedly makes people react badly -- I think it's because it feels like claiming the moral high ground, especially in this kind of context. It's like vegetarians -- somebody can make a perfectly neutral comment about making vegetarian carrot soup and everybody will immediately start defending their position on free-range meat.

Or it's like not having a TV -- absolutely every time I say I do not have a TV I hear from everyone around that they never watch TV except for the occasional special on the History Channel. And they bristle as they defend themselves against an accusation I have not made. Because they think that my statement that I do not have a TV is a claim to be morally superior, even if it absolutely isn't.

It's weird that we feel guilty about doing stuff that is in fact the default norm for society -- eating meat, watching TV, driving a car -- but there it is. It may be that we have prior experience with strident cyclists, vegetarians and TV-haters and we're retreating to prepared trenches. But it does seem to be one of those subjects where some of us will hear an attempt to claim moral high ground and react reflexively.

(And I don't think Abi's post divided everyone into motorists=bad and cyclists=good, with an excluded middle of me and Bruce, but I do think the post she was linking to did.)

#137 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 09:20 PM:

(Your link has an extra 'h' on http:)
It's not as ugly as all that. Odd looking, maybe, but better than bikes that have little gasoline engines mounted on them (or the little gas-powered Razor-scooters).

#138 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 10:00 PM:

Jo@136: somebody can make a perfectly neutral comment about making vegetarian carrot soup and everybody will immediately start defending their position on free-range meat.

"Carrot soup" is neutral, and if the ingredients happen not to include any animal products, well and good. But with the addition of "vegetarian" we're into lifestyle choice territory, I fear.

#139 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 10:12 PM:

ObSF: I'm being irresistibly reminded of a scene from Piers Anthony's Incarnations series: I forget which book, but in this scene, Gaea's door-filter consists of a triple path where the visitor must travel it in a vehicle, on a device, and under his own power... in each case running afoul of himself, twice. It's a lesson on perspective....

#140 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 11:03 PM:

Jo @136, we don't think bicyclists are morally superior. We just want to talk about some cycling experiences. It gets exhausting. Why does anyone care what bicyclists think of themselves? Can we never talk about cycling-related experiences until everyone who writes about he subject demonstrates due humility?

You know how hard it is for me to walk. On a bicycle, I can travel further and faster, with less pain and fatigue. That's all relative. I'm not a speed demon, and I don't have a lot of endurance. But for a while, I can move more freely; and while I do, it's wonderful.

This morning, I rode one whole mile.

I can't imagine what I'd say to someone who took that for an assertion of moral superiority.

#141 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 11:39 PM:

IreneD, #105: "But when the moderators themselves tear up their hair, threaten wholesale banning in CAPSLOCK and 'give up' in response to counter-arguments (as if the goal was to convert somebody instead of presenting insight)... Well, I'm frightened."

You certainly should be frightened, since when Teresa said in #100 that "I WILL SHOOT THE NEXT COMMENTER WHO TYPES 'PEOPLE WHO' WITHOUT CHECKING TO SEE WHETHER ANY OF THE PEOPLE THEY HAVE IN MIND ARE BEING DISCUSSED OR ARE PARTICIPATING IN THIS DISCUSSION", she had already positioned members of Making Light's crack sharpshooter team right outside your front door.

Your attempt to present "counter-arguments" to the tyrannical orthodoxy of Making Light is brave but doomed. Soon you will succumb to the inexorable coercive force of our intermittent exasperation. It's just like how fascism took over Europe, when you think about it.

#142 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2011, 11:59 PM:

Jo, #133: "the Bixi system here has just had to be bailed out by the city for quite a bit of money"

As you know, I've used Montreal's bike-share system and enjoyed it quite a bit, but I have no idea how well or badly it's been managed.

But I will point out, absent other data, that we rarely talk about having to "bail out" automobile-related infrastructure. Decisions were made, decades ago, that the built urban environment would include pathways optimized for automobiles, and that the vast majority of them would be paid for out of public funds and usable by any automobile at no charge.

When we need to fix the roads, we don't usually talk about having to "bail them out." We just spend the money. Roads are a cost center. Everyone accepts that.

Meanwhile, Amtrak is a failure because it isn't as profitable as Microsoft. The idea that perhaps we should subsidize decent passenger rail 5% as much as we subsidize free nationwide expressways for automobile fans (and the trucking industry) is evidently socialistic crazytalk.

#143 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 12:14 AM:

Especially the trucking industry. The road damage caused by a big truck can apparently be 3-4 orders of magnitude that caused by a car.

#144 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 12:30 AM:

But wait. Look. The cyclists in this conversation--me, Abi, TNH, a few others--we aren't trying to say "Everyone must be a cyclist."

We're not trying to say "Every city must be like Amsterdam."

We're not trying to say "Everyone must give up their cars."

We're trying to say that the modern American and Northern European city is the residue, not of mysterious supernatural forces inaccessible to human beings, but of particular decisions by particular human beings. In particular contexts, in the midst of contention between particular interests, at particular moments in time.

We're trying to say that other decisions could have been made--and that other decisions could now be made. That there are many aspects of the modern city that don't actually make most people very happy. That we could reconsider them, and make better decisions.

We're trying to get across the old socialist cri de coeur, the old anarchist article of faith: ANOTHER WORLD IS POSSIBLE.

Do you know those charming, dense-pack urban neighborhoods everyone seems to want to live in? Brooklyn's Park Slope, Manhattan's West Village, Montreal's Plateau, New Orleans's French Quarter? Toronto's Annex. Minneapolis's Uptown, Seattle's Capitol Hill, Boston's Back Bay. Los Angeles's Silver Lake (or Studio City). Pretty much the entirety of the city of San Francisco. Georgetown, DC. Neighborhoods so white-hot desirable that I can no longer afford to live in them, and probably neither can you. Do you know something about these neighborhoods? In most of the cities in which those neighborhoods exist, it's illegal to build new neighborhoods like them. Because of zoning regulations that, for instance, require the construction of vast amounts of parking space for every so many new residential units. Yes, even in places like New York City where the rate of car ownership is hugely lower than the national average.

This is not because cars-are-with-us-always-and-we-can't-expect-everyone-to-cycle. It's because someone wrote stupid laws with absurd second-order effects and we haven't managed to get our fingers out of our behinds enough to fix them. ANOTHER WORLD IS POSSIBLE.

#145 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 12:43 AM:

By the way. I wrote "Do you know those charming, dense-pack urban neighborhoods everyone seems to want to live in? Brooklyn's Park Slope" -- etc.

Someone out there is right now thinking about writing a comment about how they don't want to live in those neighborhoods. And that's okay! Post away.

But it remains that those kinds of neighborhoods are where real estate values, even in the housing crash, keep rising. Someone--"everyone" to one order of approximation--finds them desirable.

Like Chip Delany on defining science fiction, I'm tired of arguing about edge cases while neglecting the center.

#146 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 01:38 AM:

I have an electric scooter, not a mobility-assist kind, but a regular two-wheeled scooter. Its top speed is limited by a governor to about 35km on a flat, so that it is classed as a bicycle. Thus one doesn't need insurance or license, and can go on ferries for same price as bikes. I think it is a fine way to get around. I like the relative quiet, and the limited speed part doesn't worry me as I'm not all that keen on going fast anyway, most of the time.

Just today, though, what with this whole stupid not-smoking thing I've been doing, my partner took me across to the city to buy a new bike, selected along principles Abi discussed when she wrote about her Emily bike. It is much more of a sit upright bike, with upsweeping handlebars and a more plausible seat than usual. And a very nice detachable go-to-market basket! And it has seven gears instead of thirty-some, which means I have perhaps thirty less chances of setting the wrong gear and staying with it in the despair of my heart.

All that's to say that I'm looking forward to getting around more by bike, and seeing how much of a difference it makes in my perception of my surrounds.

#147 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 02:42 AM:

Adrian Smith @ 138: "But with the addition of "vegetarian" we're into lifestyle choice territory, I fear."

You know, I don't have that reaction at all. To me, in that context, vegetarian is just a descriptor, like beef stew or potato salad.

#148 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 02:54 AM:

P J Evans: Thanks for the heads-up--it looks as if one of the folks doing moderation has fixed it.

It's not as ugly as all that. Odd looking, maybe, but better than bikes that have little gasoline engines mounted on them (or the little gas-powered Razor-scooters).

A friend who just moved here from S.F. and who is looking for an electric bike has stressed in posts how fugly it was after I called it to her attention (since it was half the price of what she'd been looking at), so I may have acquired a bias about the looks because of that. Then again, I'm still amazed at the price the new Whizzers are, which seems to be based solely on the value of an original model...

#149 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 03:33 AM:

Jo @136:

I think you're on to something there. I knew it when I had the impulse to discuss my TV-watching as I read your comment.

Although, as TNH @140 says, they're not meant as an assertion of moral superiority, I think this thread is evidence that our discussions of cycling are being taken as one, on an almost entirely unconscious level. And I am generally of the opinion that standing athwart the unconscious trend of conversation, using only surface appeals, is a fool's errand for a moderator.

So, given that the reward for a task well done is generally another task, can you suggest any ways to better approach the topic? I've considered opening a rant thread at the same time as my next biking thread. Or I could include a disclaimer, if we could think of a form of words that would make people who don't cycle understand that they are valued (and people who have been vexed by cyclists understand that we do not represent their assailants). I try to write mindfully, but I can of course try harder on that as well.

I don't think, on balance, that this will defuse all of the tension in such threads. As we discussed above, there are other factors at play in these discussions as well. But if we could reduce the emotional pain of one section of the community, it might also reduce the way these things pile one upon another, like oily rags in a spontaneous combustion PSA.

#150 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 03:50 AM:

heresiarch @ 147:

or like 'carnivorous beef stew'?

#151 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 04:24 AM:

heresiarch@147: Well, the frontier between implication and inference is everfluid. But for me, what with the carrot being a vegetable and stuff, the need to emphasise the fact that you left out the chicken stock (despite the extra richness it would have provided) *could* be an indication that you were making a judgment about those who didn't. Context would be key, of course. And perhaps some people are oversensitive.

#152 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 05:47 AM:

I know Jo @136 has it right for at least one person reading this thread, and I've reason to think she's right for others, since I recognise one or two names from threads elsewhere.

I have seen a lot of online conversation (and meatspace, though less often), where there is an overt statement of moral superiority by cyclists, and in the same conversation said cyclists state that it is perfectly reasonable for them to behave to pedestrians in the same way that they complain about motorists behaving towards them because the difference in weight/ momentum on cyclist/pedestrian crashes is less than in car/cyclist crashes. Or that it is perfectly reasonable for cyclists to buzz through pedestrian crossings at high speed when the light is against them, because they would lose momentum and the pedestrians can wait until they've gone past. I have also been told in such conversations that I have never had a cyclist nearly run into me because they were too busy talking on their mobile phone -- which is Not True.

When I read that statement in the OP about mindfulness and framing, you bet it reads to me like the start of another of Those Conversations about the moral superiority of bikes and their riders, possibly also involving the sort of cyclist who insists that cars should be restricted to a speed limit that will allow her to ride on an unlit road at night without any reflectors or lights on her person or bike.

It's not that conversation, because it's Making Light. But I am having to actively remind myself of that every few posts, because I'm bringing baggage to this conversation from conversations past.

a chris @20 has an excellent point: environments where cycling is hazardous create a cycling population self-selected to be predominantly the type I describe as lycra-clad dicks of both genders. I learnt to ride a bike at the age of 34, when I was on temporary secondment to the Netherlands. It was the ideal environment to learn to ride, not just because of the bike lanes on separate carriageways etc, but because the cycling population was pretty much everyone, and so the other cyclists were tolerant of a very wobbly learner adult. Then I moved to Silicon Valley, which across large areas has *usable* bike lanes, and posted bike routes that go down quiet, safe roads with cut-throughs between cul-de-sacs for pedestrians and pedal bikes, and bike trails designed to be usable by people like me -- not sports cyclists, but people who just preferred to potter about on a bicycle to get a bit of light exercise while getting from A to B. And thus there were a lot of people in the bike lanes who used bikes as convenient short distance transport, and most of the cyclists behaved in a civil fashion to other users of the route, whether no wheels, two wheels, four wheels or more.

Where I live now, my route to work has one of the cycle lanes that doesn't actually do much to improve the lot of the cyclist. It's better than nothing, but we are talking here about a road that is claimed to be the busiest bus route in Europe. I'm too scared to ride on it. I'm not just scared of the motorised traffic. I'm scared of the cyclists who do use it, because they are predominantly the sort of people who think that everyone else should get out of their way.

I know it doesn't have to be that way. I know, because I've lived a better way and I miss it. But when I read a post about mindfulness and framing, I can't help but think about the cyclists who are demonstrably *less* mindful of my pedestrian self than the car drivers who did stop for the red light. Even when there is a parenthetical acknowledgement in the OP that there are unmindful cyclists -- baggage. Lots of baggage. And I think that for many people whose main or only experience of cyclists in the wild is the lycra-clad dick population, there has to be a much more explicit acknowledgement of the lycra-clad dick problem to be able to get past the baggage to the conversation about how do we make transport better for everyone.

#153 ::: Mike McHugh ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 05:50 AM:

Henry@130, Jo@133: slight miscommunication here, I think. The three-day pass is for access to the scheme for 3 days: the rental of the bikes themselves is still optimised for short periods. Some info on the funding of the scheme can be gleaned here: the expansion mentioned has (mostly*) taken place. The next big plan will probably mean a change in approach, though, as they couldn't sell enough advertising to cope.

*: this is what they mean when they say cities grow organically: one station couldn't be built because of a "previously unidentified trunk water mains" - that is, a key piece of infrastructure that still works, it's just no-one knew where it was. I have it on good authority that the same is true of the telecoms cabling. Contemporary archaeology is a booming trade!

#154 ::: individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 06:43 AM:

You know what would really make for better cities and more mindfulness: planning around walking pace non-ambulatory use. Kids in buggies (and suddenly your city is usable by their parents and carers, and you're much less likely to get a whole bunch of young women practically trapped in their homes). Wheelchair users (and suddenly your city is usable by people who are friends with wheelchair users, and fewer people have to drive inconvenient short distances and there's less need for fighting over parking spaces next to buildings). Mobility scooters (yes, lots of people who rely on them are old and fat and so-called "Progressive" rhetoric uses them as a synecdoche for everything that's hateful about the Tea Party, but hey). People who can't manage stairs (and suddenly your city is usable by people who are footsore or carrying heavy packages or wearing formal shoes that are painful for any kind of walking).

Making slow-paced wheeling easier would make things better for faster wheeled, non-car vehicles like bicycles. It would make things better for pedestrians. And even better, you don't have to be young and fit and healthy and dedicated and smug and superior to benefit, so hopefully it would help with discussions about urban planning not descending into horrible flamewars.

#155 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 07:51 AM:

Patrick: The idea that perhaps we should subsidize decent passenger rail 5% as much as we subsidize free nationwide expressways for automobile fans (and the trucking industry) is evidently socialistic crazytalk.

This. I have a lot of patients who are either unable to drive for (mainly temporary) medical reasons, or who are on the very edge of being able to afford their old, unreliable cars. The lack of affordable public transportation was identified by our local poverty-fighting initiative as one of the major factors keeping poor people poor. IF we had frequent, affordable buses (passenger rail is not even a pipe-dream), a LOT of cars would be off the road (especially with gas at $4 per gallon).

I myself have a 9-mile commute to an adjacent small town; the roads are too dangerous for biking and there is no bus service there.

#156 ::: m.k. ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 09:27 AM:

Speaking of addressing the overarching system rather than targeting individuals, the enforcement of existing laws could address some of the topics raised here.

I spent 4 months working in American Samoa last year. On the main island, the speed limit is 25 mph on the main roads, and it is enforced (police officers routinely checking speeds). Driving through a village, the unofficial speed limit is lower (5 - 10 mph; if the dogs are barking, you are going too fast), and it is also enforced (primarily by village elders, who will give you serious ear-blisters if you drive too fast). Combined with the local etiquette, this generally means driving at a more bicycle-like pace through the more populated areas alongside pedestrians and cyclists, windows rolled down to facilitate verbal and non-verbal friendly greetings.

My hometown has a 25 mph speed limit, flagrantly broken by almost all drivers, including public transportation. I think it would be highly unlikely that people would agree to observe the limit, although it would address some of the common concerns I hear expressed, including pedestrian safety and fatal automobile accidents. It improves mileage; with gas over $4/gallon it could save drivers a lot of money. But, you know, then it would take too long to get anywhere. *sigh*

#157 ::: m.k. ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 09:32 AM:

Modification to my post at #156: make that "I think it would be highly unlikely that the majority of drivers would embrace enforcement without complaint" instead of "people would agree to observe the limit."

#158 ::: Joyce Reynolds-Ward ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 10:02 AM:


yes. Absolutely.

And Julia at 152 is completely right about the lycra-clad dicks of both genders. They aren't just that way toward drivers, either. You want to really see the lycra-clad dicks froth up quite prettily, just bring up horses using the same trail as bikers (especially mountain bikers). All efforts to point out to the LCDBG that maybe it's not such a smart idea to sneak up on 1000 lbs of horse at full-out speed without exercising a bit of caution, mindfulness, and common sense gets all sorts of retorts about horse crap, training and the lack thereof.

Even the best-trained horse will spook when startled, and the wisest approach from any bicyclist when approaching a horse is to slow down and say something or make a noise so that the horse knows a human is associated with the bike. My horse knows bikes and doesn't usually startle. But we get racers training on the road, and sometimes their bikes make an unusual noise, and come up on us very quickly. Then she startles.

I've seen other horses nearly shed their riders after a cyclist whips by--and these are beasts I've seen in action before, they're normally safe to be out on the road. But they got startled. And the LCDBG just whipped by without pausing to check that he (he, in most cases) didn't cause a problem.

Additionally, the LCDBGs doing the training runs near the barn tend to drive to our quiet country spaces. I've seen them load up their bikes, then drive off, just as aggressively as they ride. We also have bike-promoting license plates. My suspicion is that many of the LCDBGs driving cars are just as much jerks behind the wheel as they are on the bike.

Abi, I don't know what to do about defusing the immediate reactivity to the cycling posts. I do get that cyclists love what they do--I, after all, love skiing and horses, and those are not universal pursuits (though they generally lack that reaction). I think it is reflective of a syndrome that Julia points out--far too many of the online cycling community tends to be nasty, aggressive, and superior, which provokes a defensive reaction in others. I know in part my defensiveness comes from years of having mountain bikers troll the horse groups on Usenet, slamming equestrian use of any and all trails, and visiting the cycling newsgroups to be utterly appalled by the tone there.

Maybe there needs to be some sort of Manifesto of the Tolerant and Mellow aimed at the LCDBG.

(and I'm on the sidelines watching a mountain biking furor erupt up on Mt. Hood. That's going to get ugly--already is, and it's due to the LCDBG contingent).

#159 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 11:00 AM:

abi @ 150

I'm less sure about this comment than I was when I initially composed it, but as a member of Jo Walton's 'excluded middle', I'd like to try saying more about Jo Walton's point (or at least the general theme of what makes conversations about this subject go the way that they do.) Because although I think she's right I think there's something else going on as well.

It's clear from what you (and others) say that being able to cycle on a daily basis brings you a lot of joy. And it's also clear that there are some people who are moved by what you have to say about it, but who feel utterly excluded from that potential source of joy, whether because of fitness, or the way they live, or what seems to them an utterly unsuitable urban environment.

I think there's something viscerally rage-inducing about being told, in evocative detail about a source of joy from which one is excluded by things one has little control over. (isn't there a theological view somewhere that the damnation of hell simply is the knowledge of one's exclusion from heaven?) And when it's added to this that the inaccesible source of joy is a way to SAVE THE PLANET TM; - or, less ambitiously, the Western urban landscape - and also one's soul - well, it doesn't much surprise me that the state that that leave people in is one that is not especially conducive to careful
reading or thoughtful discussion.

I don't have too many ideas about how to solve that and in any case, am too busy taking evasive action from Teresa's bicycling sharpshooters at my front door to be especially creative.)But maybe it's worth articulating the thought at at least that length.

#160 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 11:38 AM:

Those LCDBG on the trails probably wouldn't get out of the way of horses even if the LCDBG were on foot. It's their mental self-image as being superior to everyone else, I think.

#161 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 11:39 AM:

Adrian, #138: Not lifestyle-choice territory at all. Carrot soup is NOT vegetarian by default; the non-vegetarian kind is what happens when it's made with chicken or beef stock instead of vegetable stock. That's why Campbell's Soup has both "Vegetable" and "Vegetarian Vegetable" in their product list.

...and @151: With this comment, you appear to be getting into moral-superiority territory ("despite the extra richness", "some people are over-sensitive"). Have you considered that it might be the simple politeness of recognizing that some people are vegetarians, and wanting to label this dish as okay for them to eat or make?

Patrick, #145: Another thing I've noticed is that in many cases, the people who vociferously do not want to live in those neighborhoods mention, at some point, that it's difficult to keep a car there -- either there's not as high a ratio of parking spaces to residents as in most places (a problem for the 3-car American family with only 1 assigned space), or that the streets are narrow and frequently blocked by trucks, bikes, and pedestrians, or both. This would, of course, be less of an issue if we had better public transport.

#162 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 11:46 AM:

Adrian Smith #151: Or, and these days more likely, it could be a sign of recognition that some listeners/readers do care whether there's chicken stock in the carrot soup. I myself regularly make bean-and-lentil stews, and describe them as such -- but when I'm offering some to someone, you'd better believe I mention that there's homemade chicken stock in there. I also mention that there's a whole lot of different vegetables in there, some of them non-obvious, because they might not have though to mention that they're allergic to, say, peppers. And if someone can't eat my default recipe and I still want to give them soup, I have no problem with making a variant batch (or an entirely different kind of soup) for them.

Acceptance (or even "toleration") of other people isn't just "as long as I don't have to step out of my way". Being an accepting person means thinking ahead about how other people's situation, constraints, and even agenda, might be different from yours, and being courteous enough to leave room for those differences. That's why the Golden Rule is not enough, because it's way too easy to screw people over by assuming they don't (or "shouldn't") want anything you wouldn't want.

#163 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 12:01 PM:

praisegod barebones @ 150: "or like 'carnivorous beef stew'?"

As in, containing nothing but meat? Is there such a thing?

#164 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 12:14 PM:

Carnivorous beef stew: "In Soviet Russia, beef stew eats YOU!"

#165 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 12:50 PM:

Praisegod Barebones@159: I think there's something viscerally rage-inducing about being told, in evocative detail about a source of joy from which one is excluded by things one has little control over. Or not so much rage-inducing but deeply depressing in a weary fatiguing kind of way. Particularly when it comes with linking commentary about how the related experience the limited one can have is necessarily not just lesser but fundamentally, qualitatively, less real in some really basic way.

#166 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 12:53 PM:

Joyce #158: Horses and bicycles on the same lane? Sounds scary. Unless all cyclists go slower than the horse (which is unlikely with daily commuters), or the lane is very wide, that would be one of the things that would make me consider taking the bus. IYE, what is needed to make it save?

Abi, talk about driving style and speed has made me wonder, how fast or not so is cycling speed in the NL, IYE? In Germany I find that people who do their daily commuting on bicycles tend to go very fast (and not very mindful), because every minute gained on the commute is one minute more sleep, or time spent with the kids. When it comes to making bicycling more attractive, the possibility to save time on the commute is not irrelevant, I suspect.

#167 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 01:01 PM:

Patrick Nielsen Hayden @ 142: "Decisions were made, decades ago, that the built urban environment would include pathways optimized for automobiles, and that the vast majority of them would be paid for out of public funds and usable by any automobile at no charge."

Yes. This conversation cannot really be had without a clear understanding of the strange and powerful centrality of cars to the traffic system. They push everything else to the margins. If you're anyone who isn't able or willing to live a car-centric life, it means you're left scrambling for scraps. When you're marginal, struggling for any scrap at all, it's very easy to see your fellow scrap-hunters as the enemy. They should not be: they should be your allies. This isn't a struggle between people who like cars and people who like bikes and people who like buses and people who like walking: this is between those who believe that all of those should be options and an environment designed to favor only one.

Another consequence of this unacknowledged but omnipresent assumption of cars is that every advantage of automobiles is multiplied a thousand-fold, and so is every disadvantage. Cars don't necessitate unmindfulness (nor is unmindfulness a pure sin), but if vast numbers of people spend vast amounts of time in cars, even a small tendency is magnified to corrosive levels. I don't oppose the existence or use of cars: there are any number of uses for which they are quite evidently the correct approach. Default urban people mover just isn't one of them. I do not wish to pay for any attempt to make it so.

@ 144: "We're trying to get across the old socialist cri de coeur, the old anarchist article of faith: ANOTHER WORLD IS POSSIBLE."

Yes, but you are advocating for a particular other world and a particular path for getting us there, and cycling occupies a privileged place in both. Your cause is less universal than you here make it sound.

P.S. Oh, and abi, have I ever mentioned my deep and enduring interest in the process of buying kaftans in the Netherlands? I mean, it would just be *so helpful* if someone, you know, somewhere, would write a blog post (or something) about how it works. Just this profound curiosity. Since I was a child, even. ;-)

#168 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 01:11 PM:

Inge @166:
how fast or not so is cycling speed in the NL, IYE? In Germany I find that people who do their daily commuting on bicycles tend to go very fast (and not very mindful), because every minute gained on the commute is one minute more sleep, or time spent with the kids.

Well, I cycle past a couple of those detector road signs that give you your speed and a smily face if you're within the (automotive) speed limit. So I know that I consistently cycle at 18 - 21 kph, depending on energy levels and wind. This puts me about in the middle of adult cycling speeds (teenage boys can and do go somewhat faster).

Part of it is that our bikes are heavy, mostly 1- or 3-speeds, with a relatively upright position. They're simply not built for speed. And part of it is, I don't know...custom? habit? When everyone rides at the same rate, everyone gets the feeling that's the "natural speed". It's kind of self-reinforcing.

(There are also some complex, inarticulate customs of movement, of overtaking and integrating into a mob of cyclists. And this flocking behavior varies from city to city, apparently, so that someone from Utrecht will struggle a little to blend into a mob of Amsterdam cyclists. It's like we all cycle with an accent.)

It's worth noting that the Netherlands is not a nation of mindful cyclists, not a paradise of Zen masters on two wheels. Here, cycling is ordinary, and most people doing it are thinking about work, or what was on the TV last night, or whatever other narratives go on in their heads. I think that the pace and intimacy do still cause them to be aware, in a deep way, of the strengths and weaknesses of the urban architecture they travel through, but it's not a state of constant, enlightening consciousness.

#169 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 01:26 PM:

praisegod, Bruce:

I acknowledge and understand the feelings of exclusion that these posts can give rise to. I get those feelings when people discuss TV series on Hulu (unavailable here), cons they go to (travel costs and childcare make North American congoing prohibitively difficult), and delicious food they're cooking and eating six time zones away. I am often quite vividly homesick for details of American life as discussed in this community.

And yet none of that causes me to comment in that edgy, aching way that discussions of cycling brings out in the threads.

Must I therefore shut up about this thing that matters so much to me? Is there no way that Patrick and I can talk about one of our passions and delights without making our readers feel so bitterly left out?

#170 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 01:39 PM:

Abi @ 169... I don't feel excluded. I'd bicycle to work if I could, and I should because it's downhill all 12 miles from here to there. Problem is that it's uphill all 12 miles back. :-)

#171 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 02:20 PM:

I find that the decision several years ago to shift to cycling and walking whenever possible has definitely increased both my mindfullness and my integration into my local community. I do have to admit to wearing lycra and spandex, but only because I've discovered that it allows me to arrive at my destinations dry and comfortable instead of soaked with sweat.

I had resisted the impulse until late last summer when I picked up a specialized bike jersey on clearance. I tend to be significantly more sweaty than the average human and had been told repeatedly by people who were much more into biking for exercise than I that it would help. It turned out that they were right and that the investment in the specialized gear turned out have a very real and tangible benefit that justifies the expense in my case. I do try very hard not to fall into the mode of the LCDBGs, or as my wife and I call them, bicycle commandos, and feel that so far I have resisted the effects of lycra poisoning, but I do find myself with some concern on that front as their does seem to be a strong correlational relationship between the two. I also find that if I just keep a pair of normal shorts in my bike bag, I can pull them on over my spandex and tuck in my shirt when I arrive and largely blend in with the crowd.

#172 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 02:36 PM:

(posting quickly - I have another post in preview).

Abi@161: If that were the result of my having articulated the thought, I'd regret having done so. Please take it as having been offered in a spirit of diagnosis (of why these conversations get weird) and not criticism of you or Patrick. Because I'd like them to carry on; but in a way that doesn't leave people like Constance and maybe Bruce as casualties.

Purely in that spirit then - I'm not sure your analogies capture what I'm trying to describe here. It's not just the exclusion: it's the combination of exclusion together with the the suggestion that being excluded doesn't just mean missing out on fun but having a life that is in some way less worthwhile. I can think of things that are analogous, but the comparison seems over the top, so I'm hesitant about putting them into the conversation

But I think that some of the reaction that you're getting here has a similar kind of shape - while obviously being much less important intense and life-shaping - to the ones you might find when talking of the joys of parenthood to someone who can't have children. Or about the joy of belonging to a religious community to someone who has lost their faith (and still experiences that as a loss). And there, I think you'd find a fair bit of edginess and ache. Of course that doesn't mean people shouldn't ever talk about these things. But it does affect the way some conversations are likely to go.

(And hearkening back to a earlier comment: I too would have liked to have a conversation about different ways of loving cities. Especially cities which - like the one I now live in - sometimes seem rather difficult to love.)

#173 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 02:38 PM:

Actually, it must be admitted that I wear Spandex when I cycle. But it's not because I am secretly one of the LCDBG's.

Basically, I like to wear skirts. But this is a windy country, and I never know when a gust of wind will cause me to do a Monroe*.

So I wear plain, basic unpadded bike shorts under my skirts. Call it another way of doing a Monroe†.

* Marilyn
† James, in that I assert my control over the things south of my equator.

#174 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 02:41 PM:

and I realise, now I've pressed 'Post' that, in my haste not to leave Abi's 161 unanswered, I've said some things that risk turning this thread into a veritable tour of inflammable topics. Please folks - whatever you're going to say or do - don't do that.

#175 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 02:44 PM:

Abi @ 173... it must be admitted that I wear Spandex

Wolverine: "You actually go outside in these things?"
Cyclops: "Well, what would you prefer? Yellow spandex?"

#176 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 02:44 PM:

praisegod barebones @174:

Ah, come now; it's not a tour of inflammable topics if you haven't mentioned the Matter of Britain, the control of gnus, and the serial comma.

#177 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 02:57 PM:

Abi, of course you and Patrick and Teresa and Avram and am I forgetting anyone should post as you wish. I'm simply saying that the framing part of your post left me unusually discouraged, and that Teresa's #5 really dealt me a serious and unexpected blow.

Maybe it's not possible to talk about the merits of cycling without affirming that, yes, in fact, some of us really are stuck leading basically fake lives when it comes to experiencing much of the surrounding world. I mean, reality isn't obliged to be desirable to me personally. But I am not exaggerating when I say that this thread has had me feeling significantly less motivated to make the necessary struggle for some summer outings with friends than I'd felt earlier in the week.

Like I said originally: when people I respect and trust are that confident in agreeing about the undesirability of something I've relied on, I can't easily shake it off, and I feel no real confidence that you and Teresa (and Pirsig) aren't precisely right.

#178 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 03:00 PM:

On further consideration, I'm just going to take a break. This is not a good rut to be in, and since I'm getting nowhere trying either to reason or intuit my way out of it, I'm going to try shelving it for a bit and see if I can recharge my depleted soul with some other focus.

#179 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 03:27 PM:

Is anyone familiar with Curitiba, Brazil?

#180 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 05:50 PM:

Adrian @135: I know our hosts are trying to discourage any traces of "us vs. them", but on my visits to Japan -- primarily as a pedestrian through necessity -- I was not impressed by the situational awareness of the black-clad riders on black bicycles with no lights or reflectors at night weaving along the sidewalks while clutching black umbrellas and texting.

I also noticed chunks of Tokyo that had "no bicycle" zones of sidewalk, to protect the pedestrians.

However, the general culture in Japan -- much less the transport usage -- is so radically different to the USA or Europe as to make any comparison spurious. (It's the nearest thing to an alien world I've visited.)

#181 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 06:08 PM:

Lee/David@161/162: I was attempting to imagine myself into the shoes of someone who would be offended by the mention of vegetarian carrot soup (and who could thus be considered oversensitive), clearly a little too convincingly. I don't actually feel that way, but I will save your advice for when I meet someone who does.

#182 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 06:13 PM:

Serge, #175: Have you seen the trailer for X-Men: First Class yet? The yellow spandex is back! (Which makes sense, since it's a prequel.)

I'd like to do more bicycling than I do, especially for running short-distance errands. The things that discourage me from it: (1) the heat index during much of the year; (2) lack of fitness; (3) poorly-maintained streets; (4) for the past several years I've been having a series of annoying, inexplicable leg-and-ankle problems that make me wary of putting extra stress on my legs -- one will clear up, and then another one starts. That's one of the reasons I'd like to get a scooter; it provides many of the same economic and environmental benefits as a bike, without pushing me into a mode of travel that feels like risking my health.

#183 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 06:27 PM:

Charlie @180: Certainly, obliviousness is a default state among many here, don't get me started. But the pedestrians largely adapt to it. And cycling is really a mass activity, maybe almost as much as in Holland. As for the alienness, I'm sort of used to it after six years. Some of it I like. There are loads of people who could do with a slap, sure, but that's true everywhere. Probably I could do with one myself, and I expect someone will be along shortly.

#184 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 07:13 PM:

Lee @ 182... As far as I can tell, the outfits are black leather, except for the front's yellow - basically an homage to the early comics outfit, but more practical and protective.

#185 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 07:55 PM:

Certainly, anyone looking for a similar experience to the one abi and Patrick are talking about, but without the pedalling and gasping and sweating parts, might want to look into electric scooters. You don't have to pedal them unless you really want to, at least, not modern ones.

The world really does look different at different speeds. Creatures in the world treat you differently when they have a chance to figure out what you are. Being looked at with contempt by a flock of turkeys is not an experience to be had at over 20 kph.

#186 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 08:18 PM:

Charlie, the black-clad bikers on black bikes in the dark are obviously either ninjas or else in training for the Darwin awards.

The beef stew shouldn't be carnivorous (because of mad cow issues), and you want the vegetarian carrot soup because the carnivorous carrots are really too dangerous to mess with.

I'm gonna go drag out whatever lycra-like biking clothes I can find and get the bike out of the garage for what might be the first time in this abnormally-rainy spring.

#187 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 09:17 PM:

#74 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden

"And Constance, you really need to calm down. We are allowed to talk about how bicycling works where we live. Doing so does not invalidate your experience.

By the way, I don't think you have a problem with bicycles. I think you have problems with urban congestion, inadequate public attention to the problems of shared public space, and inadequate law enforcement".

The last time I got body slammed by a mommy on a bicycle she screamed at me, me, lying on the sidewalk, to catch her pedigreed dog that she was also taking along on this bike ride. I could not get up. I was not able to walk for days. I have a damaged spinal column, and bicyclists hit me over and over again on the sidewalk where they are not supposed to be.

We live in one of the most self-centric fu places that has ever existed in our human history. Cell phones, sidewalk cafes -- most of which are also illegal -- smokers, and yes, bicyclists, are such a percentage of fus that the rest of us are significantly endangered. Instead it's you are a sorehead because you aren't doing the same thing.

We don't plan. We just shove. This is healthy, this is cool, but we don't think what it really means.

#188 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 09:32 PM:

Before I read James Kunstler's The Geography of Nowhere, I knew there were places that I liked to be in, and ones that I didn't, but I did not have any clear way to articulate the differences. I moved from one part of town to another, saying that "I don't want to drive so much." A few years later, I read his book and kept having aha! moments as I recognized patterns about my old neighborhood, and my new one, and what they meant to my daily life. He also explains the zoning laws and mortgage restrictions that have driven change from the neighborhood I love &mdash built in 1910 &mdash and the one I left &mdash built in the 1970s.

In my old neighborhood, I was gardening in the front yard on a spring day, and got to talking to a neighbor. She mentioned that she hadn't seen me in months, and had actually wondered if there had been a divorce. My husband parked in the driveway. I drove directly into the garage using an automatic door opener, so she was only seeing him. In my new neighborhood, I see my neighbors all the time. We walk to and from the bus every day. I walk to the closest grocery store at least once a week. People often walk to the little park at the end of the street, or to one of the many restaurants that start a few blocks away.

The mix of commercial and residential is a critical part of what makes the neighborhood human-scale. If you can walk 7 blocks comfortably, you can drink in a dive bar, eat at a diner, eat at a fancy restaurant, hit the laundromat, visit the chiropractor, buy hand-dipped chocolates, buy groceries, get a haircut, take in a yoga class at an ashram, attend services at one of 4 different Christian denominations, and get a piercing.

This isn't a high-rise city environment. It's mostly single-family homes, with a smattering of small apartment buildings (the one next door to me is single-story, with 4 units). The house lots are small. The businesses are along the arterial streets, and the houses along the quiet cross streets. The residential streets stay quiet because they were built narrow back around 1910. If there are cars parked at the curb on both sides of the street, there is just enough room for one car to pass between them. Therefore, you drive gently, prepared to pull over to let another car through. This isn't a nuisance, since you can just drive a few blocks over to an arterial, and move faster there.

Walking is pleasant because there are sidewalks everywhere. On commercial streets, there are parked cars between you and the traffic. On the residential streets, there are parking strips (8 foot wide band of grass or shrubs) between the curb and the sidewalk. Most are planted with tall trees that shade you in hot weather.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden @ 145 mentioned that neighborhoods like this are more expensive, because people want to live here. When we moved from the suburbs to here, we paid about 30% more for this house. That's obviously not something that everyone can do, but you also don't have to buy a house to live here. I suspect this neighborhood has a broader difference in incomes than my old one. The suburban one was made up of all similar houses. This one mixes modest houses and nicer ones with duplexes and apartments. One of my neighbors works at the grocery store, and another is a waiter at the nearest pub.

You cannot build this neighborhood today. I suspect the city wouldn't let you make roads that narrow. The square road grid is critical to making short walks and bus routes work, and builders would want winding roads and cul de sacs instead of a simple grid, because people worry about cross traffic on their street. Builders wouldn't put up houses in an area zoned to allow apartments and nearby businesses. I wonder if the churches could be built without parking lots?

#189 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2011, 10:31 PM:

In case that post wasn't quite long enough, I'll add an addendum in case any reader might think I'm prescribing for everyone. I'm not! A friend of mine used to live in a neighborhood just like this one. She moved to the country a decade ago. She now has a barn with 2 horses, dogs, chickens, and worries about getting in the hay. She (obviously) drives everywhere, and loves where she lives.

#190 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2011, 10:45 AM:

Patrick Nielsen Hayden @38: NYPD misconduct wrt cyclists

Any chance there's enough of a groundswell of discontent to fuel an effective class action suit?

#191 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2011, 11:00 AM:

SamChevre @41: "Which-all results in an average anual transportation expenditure of one or two hundred dollars." May I just say I'm envious? Just bus tickets to get to work cost me $20 a week.

::shudder:: During '07, I was doing temp work while looking for a full-time job. As a consequence, I was doing a lot of bus-travel without an Eco-pass. Le $ouch.

Ironically, I was in much better physical condition back before the Eco-pass came into being, because I didn't want to spend the money on the bus. Nowadays, it's a real challenge to get enough exercise. (Because, when you get right down to it, I am really lazy.)

#192 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2011, 11:26 AM:

And on the gripping hand, despite being an enthusiastic bicycle user and advocate, I personally feel considerable disdain for that class of cyclist (most often the ones in the fancy racing spandex, but not always) who seem to feel that traffic laws don't apply to them. About two weeks ago, I watched a guy (mid-twenties, clearly still harboring delusions of invincibility) wander a Brownian path through the intersection, around the cars. He was travelling against the light.

It's people like that that make all of us look bad.

#193 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2011, 11:54 AM:

heresiarch @58: And "driver's ed" should be changed to "commuting etiquette" and have sections on driving, cycling, and walking--what's allowed, and what to expect from others.

This is brilliant. And not even expensive or impractical! Hm.

And a pony.

Heh. But then you just add another transportation class to accomodate. And clean up after.


Tangentially related: I recall fondly seeing a pack of twenty or so folks riding horses through town back when Sombrero Ranch did the Mesa Trail Loop Ride. They were all in swords and armor and gowns and tall caps. It was only years later I realized the group must have been SCA.

#194 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2011, 02:25 PM:

Charlie Stross @107: The problem with bicycles -- from a technology point of view, I hasten to add -- is that they require the operator to have ... four fully-functional limbs

Not true. Neighbor of mine had his right leg off at the hip. Only slowed him down a little on his bike.

#195 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2011, 02:36 PM:

abi @173: Indeed, not all lycra/Spandex wearing cyclists behave badly, and there are plenty of badly behaved cyclists who don't go about in skin-tight neon colours. There's just a rather obvious correlation (which mildly annoyed at least one of my meatspace friends who wore Spandex but was devoted to the Highway Code). I presume it's because there's s significant investment of money in having the gear, and as a result there's a noticeable bias towards those with an investment of ego in being a cyclist.

#196 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2011, 02:51 PM:

Lee @114: Houston

Wow, that is good news! Last time I had occasion to deal with Houston, biking or walking simply wasn't an option, most places. Least, that's the impression I was given.

There's still the summers to contend with, but even so....

P J Evans @115: You reminded me of a time I was passed on a bike path by a guy in one of those fancy racing wheelchairs. Going uphill. It was embarrassing, given that I figure I had something like twice the muscle mass to bring to bear that he did.

Wind resistance, yeah that's it. He had a smaller cross-section. Yeah, that's what I'll tell myself.

#197 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2011, 03:09 PM:

inge: They are called multi-use trails, and the order is, bicycles yield to everyone (walkers and riders) and everyone yields to horses.

Because a spooked horse is a dangerous thing. It's a mixed bag. In places where the use of the trail by riders is frequent, most cyclists are fairly polite. In places where horses are less frequent it has often been only the speed at which they shot past, and away, which made me not run them down and knock them into the dirt.

I've also been less than happy with some riders who decided they had the right to, "play through" because they were in the mood for a gallop, and I was merely gaiting along.

pericat (at 185) The world really does look different at different speeds. Creatures in the world treat you differently when they have a chance to figure out what you are. Being looked at with contempt by a flock of turkeys is not an experience to be had at over 20 kph.

This is true, and having a sharp-shinned hawk pace you is something I've only had at about 40 mph. One of the things I took from this was that "mindfulness" is to be found, where we make it.

Constance: I think (me personally) that the problem you are describing is primarily a function of that congestion Teresa is speaking of. I also think (though it's cold bloody comfort) the yelling at you was out of guilt she refused to admit. Different story, same sort of thing.

I ride motorcycles. I was making a right (from a T-intersection). I had the right of way, but I am more leery of asserting it on a motorcycle than I am on foot (a whole lot more energy, a whole lot less maneuverability). There was a car looking to make a left. I had my signal on. She started to move out. I slowed some more. She stopped, I entered my turn. She pulled out. I made the right, "wrong" call, and touched my brakes. I was leaned over. The bike stopped. It was a 600 lb BMW, and I was too close to the ground to get my foot down.

So here I am, trying to pick my bike back up, when she comes back; having made a U-turn, to yell at me that she, of course, wouldn't have hit me, and I ought to have kept going.

She didn't have to do that. She chose to? Why? Because (I think) she knew she was wrong, and by abusing me she could convince herself she wasn't.

It's not that I've not encountered rude people in NYC. My first morning in New York I had a woman try to "run me over". I was in front of Madison Sq. Garden (by The Eagles) standing, out of the stream of traffic, when this woman tried to plough through me. I saw her lean in, to knock me aside, and set my body. She bounced.

And she got offended.

But all in all, I've not had much problem with walking about in NYC. I admit, I've only done about forty hours of wandering about NYC, but the people, in general, seem to be not too bad. No worse (in my limited experience) than anyplace else.

#198 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2011, 04:11 PM:

Patrick Nielsen Hayden @141: Soon you will succumb to the inexorable coercive force of our intermittent exasperation.

Contemplating the challenge of being simultaneously intermittent and inexorable....

#199 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2011, 04:13 PM:


Your description seems very similar to me to much of what has happened as a result of ADA requirements mandating ramps, elevators, and automatic doors. The target group that was supposed to benefit seems to have benefited, but there were also large unanticipated benefits for everyone pushing a stroller or pulling a wheeled suitcase or computer case, and often even for people carrying a big, heavy box. (It's nice to remember that the Law of Unintended Consequences works in both directions!)

And I agree that the places I've lived in the last ten years have been abysmal in terms of pedestrian friendliness. It's absolutely routine to have busy roads with no sidewalks anywhere nearby, or a residential areas across a busy street from a bunch of stores, with no safe way to cross that street. And this causes a lot of problems all around. (I lived in one of those residential areas, and very rarely would walk to the shopping area nearby, dodging across heavy traffic trying to guess the near-future state of traffic lights I couldn't see. Doing it in a wheelchair would be suicidal.)

One thing I've noticed is that moving from a small town to a medium sized town to one of the outer-ring suburbs of DC, my relationship with my car and the experience of driving has also changed radically. I used to enjoy driving a lot of the time, particularly getting out on a sparsely-traveled blacktop road surrounded by farms and woods. Around here, I have to drive out of the sprawl to find driving relaxing.

#200 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2011, 04:23 PM:

janetl @189 said: In case that post wasn't quite long enough, I'll add an addendum in case any reader might think I'm prescribing for everyone. I'm not! A friend of mine used to live in a neighborhood just like this one. She moved to the country a decade ago [and is happy].

I prefer neighborhoods like yours. Strongly. I get extremely creeped out in very residential, wide-lawns, no-traffic, no-sidewalks suburban neighborhoods, because to me they look like crime magnets -- no social network of people always on or watching the street life, lots of hedgery or whatever for malefactors to hide in, nobody around to get help if you scream.

I am sometimes told the neighborhood I grew up in was dangerous and crime-ridden. I would counter that nobody that lived there would prey on anyone ELSE who lived there -- the interpersonal crimes were to do with dominance rituals and ongoing inter-social-group interactions (and did not involve anyone who wasn't already a consenting participant of the groups), and property crime was almost nonexistent when we first moved in; the burglars were all 'commuters' from other neighborhoods, and would decide on places to hit by looking to see who'd thrown out packaging for expensive items (which is why all our expensive-item boxes got driven to be thrown out in richer neighborhoods). Then the neighborhood started 'gentrifying', and yuppies moved in who (a) flaunted their relative wealth and (b) dealt with their terror of their neighbors by cutting themselves off and refusing to connect themselves into the social fabric. So they got burglarized a lot until they installed infrastructural security. (North and Clybourn in Chicago, ca. 1980, for those interested).

I was talking about our family's househunting criteria for neighborhoods at a big fannish gathering, and amidst trying to be descriptive of places we couldn't live, I said of another friend who was present, "Like his neighborhood. It creeps the hell out of me that there is not a single mature tree within eight blocks of his house, just seas of mown lawn and Lego houses dropped down on them." He turned from a nearby conversation and said, "Yes, and a good thing too. If there'd been a big tree on the property when I bought it I'd've cut it down right away."

There was mutual becrogglement. I still don't understand his objection; he doesn't understand my deep need for a strong ecosystem web in my surroundings (and don't tell me cities don't have ecosystem -- we've got peregrine falcons going overhead of the abandoned factory at the end of my block regularly, hunting mourning doves, sparrows, rats, and scaring off the seagulls).

I'm kind of glad there are both kinds of places available for people to live, because he would be miserable where I love to be and vice versa. What I dislike is when some group comes to power, decides that their One True Favorite Environment is the only moral/respectable/decent choice, and starts setting up legislation to outlaw all the other ones.

Which is kind of where this conversation started, I think. :->

#201 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2011, 04:44 PM:

Patrick Nielsen Hayden @144: particular decisions by particular human beings.

This, in a nutshell, is why I made the decision in 1970 that I did. I don't know that I would have had words for it back then.

But I'm not an activist, and I'm not a revolutionary. But I knew that the world I wanted to live in looked different than the world of the time. I figured one little teenager, living her life as if this was a reasonable way to be would maybe add that >< much weight to the trend.

And lo and behold, so it was!

#202 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2011, 04:53 PM:

Elliott, #200: The only reason I can think of for not wanting a large tree on the property in suburbia is that you're afraid of a tornado knocking it over on your house. That's a legitimate worry in the Midwest -- and here too, with hurricanes; we've still got 2 large oaks that need to come down before we get one thru the roof again. But once we can afford to have them removed, we'll be replacing them with something less massive, most likely maples, because the shade is financially helpful in the summer.

People with near-surface sewer lines and/or septic tanks have legitimate reason to be concerned about willows, cottonwoods, and other trees whose root systems will seek out and clog plumbing. But that's more of a rural problem.

Around here we mostly have owls, but also a few hawks. Occasionally we see the results of them dining out on our lawn. :-)

#203 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2011, 05:52 PM:

Refering all the way back to the Hemingway quote - in years of visiting in and working in London I never realised that Trafalgar Square slopes quite steeply north to south until I cycled it.

One thing not mentioned yet I think. Bikesallow teenagers too young or too poor to drive to get around on their own. Especially when combined with trains. Car dependency changed the balance of power in the family and made kids dependent on their parents just to move around.

When my parents were kids in the 1930s and 40s the combination of cheap trams and bicycles gave them more freedom of movement than many adults have now.

#204 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2011, 06:04 PM:

OK, not your fault, but for a moment there I took 'Bikesallow teenagers' to be an adjective-noun pair (rather than the typoed noun-verb-noun triple that it is), and I couldn't figure out why biking would make teenagers sallow!

I laugh at me, not you, for this.

#205 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2011, 06:31 PM:

Ken, #203: Emphatic, violent agreement. Growing up on the outskirts of Detroit, I could ride my bike to any number of interesting places -- stores, friends' houses, the park/pool, etc. When we moved to Nashville, that came to an abrupt end; the subdivision we lived in was too new and small to have stores, a park, or even a library nearby, and the only roads connecting it to any of those were both too busy and too hilly for regular riding. And the bus only ran during business-commuting hours, and not at all on weekends. Suddenly I was completely physically isolated -- because also, I was attending a private school, and all my classmates lived 10 miles or more away. I had never really thought about how much that changed things for me until just now.

#206 ::: Andy Brazil ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2011, 07:40 PM:

On the fragility of transport infrastructure.

I recall last year seeing articles asking if the suburbs would become the new slums. I gather that zoning laws in the US force housing and employment to be situated quite large distances from each other. Many posters have pointed out the lack of alternatives to the car in many areas.

Given that peak oil is either imminant or already past, it seems logical that gas prices will continue to rise. It would be an interesting exercise to work out, using average milage and minimum wage, the radius of affordable commuting distance at gas prices of $5, $10 and $20 a gallon. There must be a price point at which it costs so much to get to work by car that it is no longer possible to live on what's left over. At the point that a property is further than this distance from any possible employment, it must be effectively valueless, in that no-one able to raise a loan to buy the house could afford to live there. It seems to me that there is going to be a tipping point at which those areas which have agressively pursued the "car first and only" policy will spiral into decline, as the collapse of property values drains away the tax revenue to make the changes necessary. In short, there may be only a small window of perhaps 20 years in which to re-engineer urban and sub-urban infrastructure and transport before it becomes impossible.

#207 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2011, 08:06 PM:

This conversation cannot really be had without a clear understanding of the strange and powerful centrality of cars to the traffic system. They push everything else to the margins. If you're anyone who isn't able or willing to live a car-centric life, it means you're left scrambling for scraps. When you're marginal, struggling for any scrap at all, it's very easy to see your fellow scrap-hunters as the enemy. They should not be: they should be your allies.

Hey, pedestrian! Don't look now, but I think that bicyclist wants a piece of your cookie!

#208 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2011, 09:17 PM:

In places where mass transit is available, companies are more willing to subsidize fares for their employees, and discourage them from driving if it isn't necessary.
(The building I work in has parking in the basement, but it's limited enough that most people either use mass transit or park in a lot about three blocks away - and those are long blocks! Also, that parking structure is, IMO, so poorly ventilated that I can't stand being in it.)

Train fares in the Los Angeles area are set to slightly less than the cost of driving-plus-parking. Most people actually prefer taking the train, after trying it once.

#209 ::: Persephone ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2011, 10:19 PM:

I have fond childhood memories of a particular campground in the Blue Ridge mountains that had a little camp/general store within biking distance. I spent a lot of time on a bike as a kid, in general (until I hit puberty and outgrew the bike/got tired of catcalls from passing cars), but never lived in an area where one could bike to things.

#210 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2011, 10:34 PM:

Canadian TV series "The Murdoch Mysteries", set in 1895's Toronto, features a police detective who uses cutting-edge technology. That'd explain why his favored mode of transportation is a bicycle.

#211 ::: individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2011, 05:14 AM:

albatross @199: ding-ding-ding! Yes, exactly that, just scaled up to the level of urban planning rather than adding ramps and lifts to individual buildings. It frustrates me that it's not a social issue that's cool to hipsters or a problem that's cool to geeks and hackers. Both left- and right-leaning people frame it as generously giving handouts to those poor unfortunate disabled people over there. And the underlying resentments and tribal divisions that result from that framing mean that, well, pointing out you physically can't ride a bike results in everything from threats of shooting to heartfelt pleas not to spoil someone's source of joy. Now everybody is unhappy, and nobody's brilliant, creative mind is being applied to a really interesting and productive question.

#212 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2011, 07:58 AM:

individ-ewe-al @211:
pointing out you physically can't ride a bike results in everything from threats of shooting to heartfelt pleas not to spoil someone's source of joy.

That's not a very fair or helpful characterization of the conversation.

The problem was not that people pointed out that they couldn't ride bikes. Note that we had some interesting subthreads springing from comments by people who can't cycle (Charlie Stross, Jo Walton, and Thena come to mind). The painful parts, from my perspective, were the points where people assumed that because I like cycling, I hold people who use other forms of transport in contempt. It seems to be an incommunicable fact that I enjoy cycling, like walking, and am fond of driving—that I respect people who make other transport decisions than I do.

I don't want to jump back into that particular hole, but I also don't want people to think that it was anyone's inability—or even lack of inclination—to cycle that caused me such distress.

Both left- and right-leaning people frame it as generously giving handouts to those poor unfortunate disabled people over there.

Another reason I favor the term "temporarily able" in conversations about access. (I still vividly remember my mobility limitations during my second pregnancy. I know that my ease of movement now is not universal or permanent.)

#213 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2011, 09:10 AM:

I commute daily (barring thunderstorms) to and from work on my bike. I always ride the right way in bike lanes. I never ride on the sidewalk. I always stop at red lights and wait the entire time it takes for the light to turn green. (I have been personally and sincerely and repeatedly thanked by pedestrians for that last one.) Both my bikes are tricked out with all the safety equipment required by NYS and NYC law.

Every time I get on my bike, I whisper to myself three times: "Duty of care", which is by far the most important safety measure I could ever undertake.

I wish bikers, walkers, drivers would remind themselves every time they set out to go somewhere of the simple duty we all have to take care for the safety not only of ourselves but of everyone else.

"Duty of care. Duty of care. Duty of care." It's a mantra, an incantation against the black magic of inattentiveness that every human being is liable to every moment of their (allegedly) waking lives.

#214 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2011, 10:13 AM:

Andy @206 - I think its already happening that increased transport costs and commuting times are encouraging middle-class people back into inner cities.

Also city-dwellers have on average a smaller environmental footprint for their income level than outer-suburban-dwellers do - they take up less space, use less fuel, less water, less electricity, and less of all sorts of resources.

I suspect that it is very likely that many large cities will become much larger over the next few decades, and that suburbs will urbanise, increasing in population density (this has always been going on of course - look at any really big city that was already big in the 19th century - there will be places that now have an "inner city" feel that were leafy suburbs 120 or 150 years ago) As you say, cities that plan for that are likely to have a better time over the transition than ones that don't.

Maybe some billionaire philanthropist should send a few copies of Jane Jacobs "Death and Life of Great American Cities" to every city official in China and Indonesia and India and Brazil with a covering note saying "we screwed up - I hope you can do better"

#215 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2011, 12:18 PM:

Ken Brown @214: Unfortunately, the lure of greenfield economics is so strong (namely, it's always going to be cheaper to push off the costs on someone else and never have to clean up your mess -- until the rules of the game are changed) that even as a bunch of inner-ring 50-year-old suburbs are turning into ghost towns, more and more arable farmland is still being built into tract homes that nobody has the money for ... this is being billed as a sign of 'recovery,' and 'new housing starts' is still lauded as a very important harbinger of economic health.

The way suburbs are currently being built does not make a community, on the whole, that thrives for more than 30-50 years, because at that point the sunk costs and problems catch up with it, and the disadvantages of un-customizable buildings laid out in a car-needing, resource-hungry way become unavoidable. Unfortunately, what developers are doing is moving further out and building more of the same (which will be very popular for a few years), instead of reengineering HOW they build, in order to become more sustainable, and to create communities that can be continuously inhabited for centuries.

There are people thinking differently, but most of them have no pull with the enormous companies whose entire business model is built around platting out farm fields for wide-lawned, under-infrastructured subdivisions, which they then sell and run away from, doing it all over again elsewhere.

#216 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2011, 12:32 PM:

Everything I have to say seems obvious, and I feel like I skimmed this thread because I spent so much time flinching.

People generally respond to hot-button topics not because of the statement but because of a tree of implications that come off it, which generally hit a sensitive nerve eventually. "I don't own a TV" -> "I don't consider watching TV worth my time and money" -> "people who watch TV are wasting their time" -> "... and are lazy" or "... and are doing something stupid" or "... are being judged by the typical content of TV at a random point in time."

The response isn't a response to "I don't own a TV", it's a response to "TV is a waste of time" or "TV at a random point in time is showing 88 channels of crap" or "You're lazy and you're wasting your potential".

Thus "Oh, I only watch Dr. Who and documentaries on statistical mechanics."

Specifically, when people say "I ride a bicycle" other people respond "I'm not lazy" or "I pay attention."

#217 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2011, 12:42 PM:

Elliott @215: that's a very specifically American (and possibly Australian) issue. The UK avoids it by two legislative mechanisms that you might find interesting.

Firstly, green belt laws prevent suburban sprawl by effectively zoning large chunks of countryside surrounding cities as wilderness that can't be built on.

And secondly, local government (council) revenues are split -- about 30-50% (depending on area) raised through local property taxes, and the rest disbursed by central government from national level tax revenue. While this has drawbacks (central government meddling in local affairs) it has a huge advantage insofar as it ensures that failing towns or cities don't lose their revenue base if unemployment spikes or the middle classes try to flee: thus, they avoid the death spiral that seems to affect US cities that go into decline (smaller contributing taxpayer base get hit for rising taxes to carry the rest, so they up and leave, resulting in shrinkage of the tax base). As a result, it's possible to regenerate even quite depressed towns or cities.

Putting these two features together, it's more cost effective to redevelop failing suburbs or towns than to pursue green field development. (And as the UK has very limited land area to expand into compared to the USA -- the overall population density of these islands is higher than Greater LA -- this is a desirable goal.)

#218 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2011, 02:00 PM:

I think of Greater LA as very lightly populated indeed. In fact, I've been known to express the opinion that LA doesn't really seem like a city to me.

But then I live in New Jersey, the most densely populated state, and in Hoboken, the most densely populated city in New Jersey (11636.5 persons per km²).

#219 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2011, 02:03 PM:

Xopher, Greater LA is indeed lightly populated ... but to switch to a different metaphor: if the whole of the continental USA was populated to the same density as the UK, it would hold about the current entire planetary population. (If populated to the density of Hoboken, it'd have 94 billion residents.)

#220 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2011, 02:24 PM:

OK, Charlie, you've made me gosh-wow. And my coworker's eyes get very very big.

I have to buy some more of your books from my meager budget. There just isn't enough Charlie Stross in my brain yet.

#221 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2011, 02:43 PM:

Uh...I hope that didn't come off as sarcastic. It's completely sincere. I'm convinced that reading Charlie (here or in a book) makes me smarter.

#222 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2011, 02:55 PM:

It all depends on scale of course. If you look at a scale which catches where people actually live, as opposed to the places they mostly don't, UK and US population densities are sometimes not as different as often suggested. I think they clump differently within those areas, but the densities aren't so different at city- or county- scales. Which are the scales most people commute over.

LA County (a lot smaller than greater LA of course) has a population density roughly comparable to the industrial north-west of England - if you add traditional Lancashire (including Greater Manchester and Merseyside - which of course take in bits of what was once Cheshire) to West Yorkshire you get going on 8 million people in rather more than 7,000 square kilometres, so a population density of a little over 1,000/km2 - and that includes moorland and lots of farms and even the odd small mountain. LA County is rather larger - about 10 million people in just under 10,000 km2 - but they are comparable. It includes some really rather big mountains and even a bit of desert.

LA *city* has much less than half the population of the county, but only a small part of the area - in fact its slightly smaller than Greater Manchester in England but has more people in it so the density is higher - comparable to that of Glasgow in Scotland, not quite as high as London.

OK the whole LA region is much less densly populated - but it has an area equivalent to half of England! And in fact a roughly comparable number of people to half of England (if you choose the right half). And its more densely populated than many conurbations in the eastern US.

#223 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2011, 03:28 PM:

Ken, note that probably half of the UK is very sparsely populated!

For example, Scotland accounts for just under 79,000 km^2 out of Great Britain's 230,000 km^2, or around 34% of the land area. It contains 10% of the population, so it's around a third the population density of GB's average ... but around 70% of the population lives in a belt 60km long by about 15km wide (from Glasgow to Edinburgh), or around 1000 km^2. Much of the rest of Scotland is empty -- there are around 8 people/km^2 people in the highlands, and if the whole of the contiguous USA was populated to that density there'd be around 64M people there.

Again, the Peak District and the Pennines, not to mention various Welsh mountains, are scantily populated compared to the rest of GB. I don't have figures to hand, but my rule of thumb is that 90% of the population occupy less than half the area, and of that, maybe 50% occupies 10-20% of the land area.

It has implications all round, for transport policy and housing and how people live together.

#224 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2011, 04:07 PM:

@Charlie - That's sort of what I was trying to get over. Its the clumpiness of the thing that matters! (I'd say "fractal clumpiness" except it sounds pseud and I'd probably use the word wrong)

If your clumps are clumply enough you can have lots of open space between them. Easy pedestrian access to things like primary schools and and churches and pubs is - or until recently was - available in quite small communities like English villages, with populations in the hundreds. All you need is enough people living closely together enough to create market demand for them (or political demand for things government manages, or sufficient numbers of volunteers for local community action)

Slightly larger isolated clumps of quite densely populated land would allow people to walk to things like secondary schools and local libraries and general stores and a small cinema; and provide local services such as builders and plumbers and taxi drivers and doctors and fire-fighters and a policie office and a little courthouse - as you found in small towns with populations in the thousands to low tens of thousands, on both sides of the Atlantic, before cars allowed the better-off to take their trade away and cut the market away from local businesses. But you could still - as in parts of Lancashire now, or in parts of the north-eastern USA not so long ago - have open countryside within sight and within walking distance of even the centre of small densely populated towns. (They aren't really towns, but its notable that many college campuses and military bases are on this sort of scale - and they are often pedestrian-friendly once you are inside them, and provide amenities within easy reach of the residents, and in their different ways have a sense of community many city-dwellers lack)

Bigger towns, small cities, with populations in the high tens or low hundreds of thousands can, if they are dense enough, place almost everyone within walking or cycling distance of colleges and large supermarkets and small theatres and brothels and museums and hospitals and law courts and drug-dealers and nightclubs and pleasure piers and weird specialist shops that sell strange things like science fiction or knitting supplies. Such places really exist - Brighton is one of them. (Though *of* *course* I think Brighton is the right size for a city - its my hometown) Maybe central Edinburgh is. The urbanist myth - I do not know how true it is - is that much of the urban fabric of, say, Italy or southern France is on this kind of scale, giving people the advantages of town and country living. Though nowadays we surround them with a penumbra of low-density outer suburbia which cuts the town-dwellers off from the county.

I guess I've been obsessing with this sort of stuff on and off for about forty years now since reading Paolo Soleri and Jane Jacobs and Reyner Banham.

And unfortunately huge Soleri-style arcologies don't work :-( Yet another personal jet pack we'll never get to see. The benefits of extreme local high density - which are real - can be achieved with traditional building styles. Even low rise ones. And the extra costs of building higher than about 25 stories and the extra inflexibility of those beautiful big shiny THINGS Soleri imagined are just too expensive. Also imagine trying to dump the heat out of 3d city with the population of Washington DC and the footprint of the Pentagon... maybe if we ever live on Mars we can build like that to warm ourselves up by our own body heat. But not in the subtropical parts of Earth where most people actually live. (So anyone wanting to write a realistic SF story about a huge arcology probably ought to set it in Greenland or the Russian Arctic...)

#225 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2011, 04:19 PM:

Elliot #215:

Reading the Greenfield Economics post kept making me think about Coase. Older land comes encumbers with a network of existing agreements (written and unwritten), and it costs a lot to negotiate your way around them so you can do something new there. Let the transaction cost get high enough, and it's cheaper to just move 30 miles out of town, buy some farmland, run roads and power and build all new houses and shops and such.

It would be nice to find a way to get around this problem. On the other hand, I didn't grow up where I live now, an outer-ring suburb of DC. I didn't participate in the underfunding of pensions, the mismanagement of schools and poverty programs, the lack of maintenance of infrastructure, etc., that the builders of this suburb may have been fleeing. Unsurprisingly, I don't feel a whole lot of obligation to take on the costs of a bunch of other peoples' decisions, with no input from me or anyone anywhere close to me, several decades ago. I think this is really common here.

#226 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2011, 09:30 PM:

I have this vision of John Brunner turning his masterwork in and being immediately asked to rewrite it to reflect the proposed new title. Apparently it was felt that "Stand on Zanzibar" would be more appealing than "Stand on Scotland".

#227 ::: Ouranosaurus ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2011, 09:41 PM:

As was mentioned up thread, those wheelchair ramps at intersections are nice for a lot of people. That's also why, if you happen to be someone who uses a wheelchair and also drives, traditional post-war suburbia is probably the best place in the world to live. Dense, older cities, the kind of places that are walkable and have grown organically, also tend to have steps up to every third store or restaurant, or bathrooms designed by M.C. Escher, not exactly easy to fit a wheelchair into.

My wife uses a wheelchair, my father was a bus driver, I love my bike, and I report on the local municipal council and its many adventures with zoning. The more I bring those threads together in my mind, the more I think we should take every local politician and planner, and set them an obstacle course:

1 Travel from A to B to C using a wheelchair, through at least two intersections
2 Travel from C to D using public transit - including at least one transfer
3 Travel from D to E on a bike, during rush hour
4 Walk from E back to A. In the rain.

My local council actually did #1 every few years, to give the councillors an idea of what it took to get through an intersection. It didn't hurt.

#228 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2011, 10:01 PM:

I did some looking things up (and there is a bit of a conversation in my Lj right now about sense of locality) and the City of Los Angles is actually only about 15-20 percent larger than the City of New York. Which would seem (given the population difference) to mean it's a lot less populated.

And it is, if Manhattan is your benchmark. But a lot of LA is as densely populated as Queens. So there is more to it than that, mostly, I think, with the flatness of the skyline, and the more spread out nature of the neighborhoods.

People commute to places like West LA, to spend the evening on foot. Same for Old Town Pasadena, Universal Citywalk, etc. This makes it seem there isn't any local culture. But there is.

#229 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2011, 10:10 PM:

People commute to places like West LA, to spend the evening on foot. Same for Old Town Pasadena, Universal Citywalk, etc. This makes it seem there isn't any local culture. But there is.

Can you unpack that a bit, please? I lived for four years in Pasadena, and there certainly didn't seem to be any local culture in Old Town. (Other parts of town, maybe. But Old Town's just chain stores.) I'd say that the local culture in the LA metro area is in West Hollywood, or East LA, or Koreatown, or farther out in the San Gabriel Valley in the Chinese suburbs. But certainly not in Old Town, which makes me think I must be misunderstanding your point.

#230 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2011, 12:36 AM:

lorax: In the last decade or so (though it started in the early ninties,when Old Town was being rebuilt) the theaters, and shops and restaurants are a draw to people, and with it has comes a street culture of buskers.

I recall waltzing my date around the street while a middle-aged black man was playing, "The Blue Danube" on steel drums.

So it's not, perhaps, what people would think of as, "culture" but I know a lot of people who say, "I'm bored, lets go to Old Town"

In the past 10 years they've tried even more to make it a local community, with a Gelson's (upscale supermarket) and condos, back of the shops a bit west of Los Robles. Lucky Baldwin's has a pair of Belgian Beer Festivals (Februrary and August), and I am sure there are other little things going on in the area.

#231 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2011, 12:41 AM:

Lee: People with near-surface sewer lines and/or septic tanks have legitimate reason to be concerned about willows, cottonwoods, and other trees whose root systems will seek out and clog plumbing. But that's more of a rural problem.

It's problem in the cities too. Ash trees are popular, and they have very intrusive roots. My folks place had to have the drains power-snaked about every three years.

In Arcadia I had to replace a 4" main, because the roots of a "cottonfloss" tree (speaking of water hogs) had swollen to the point of breaking the joint.

Maia's parents had a sycamore that managed to break into the sewer line (about a 1/4 mile from the aforementioned cottonfloss).

#232 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2011, 12:56 AM:

Ken Brown @ 224: And unfortunately huge Soleri-style arcologies don't work

But his urban laboratory/"fragment of a dream" is a wonderful place in its own right (although I'm biased, because I go there to do a fun thing most years).

#233 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2011, 04:46 AM:

It does look like an interesting place, though the site's graphics leave something to be desired on the resolution front.

#234 ::: Russ ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2011, 07:34 AM:

Yay! A bicycling thread! Although I seem to have come to it a little late, so forgive me if my comments are beyond tangential.

Since the last cycling thread I recall, I've moved from the suburbs of London to a village in Cheshire (with a new suburban London friend's place for the middle of the week). The Cheshire-London commute is just under 2hrs by train (down on Tuesday, back on Thursday). This has involved several changes that seem germane to the thread:

Country/city life - we deliberately picked somewhere with a village centre in walking distance. It would have been very easy not to: housing is spacious and affordable either on outlying estates or remote farmhouses, but we've just moved from the city and we don't want to feel isolated. I do not understand how we can design and build housing estates for thousands of people without any provision for amenities in walking distance: A village is a church, pub & post-office with optional housing, not the other way around.

Driving - my wife has commented on how pleasant it is to be able to get in the car and drive for 20 minutes to a country destination without worrying about getting trapped in traffic. This was unthinkable in London - a couple of miles is a long way in the city. As stated, though, we specifically do not want to have to use the car to go buy a pint of milk.

Cycling - I am not a cyclist; I am a commuter who happens to do my commute by bike when possible. I am not involved in the secret City bicycle race and you may go past me at any time you like.

My London commute is now 5miles from North London twice a week (instead of 8 from East five days a week). I've lost the industrial zone (good!) and the park (bad!), but generally the streets are wide through Islington, the traffic is slow, and there's plenty to see. Mindfulness can be a double-edged sword in this case; I've nearly come a cropper a couple of times being more mindful of the pretty people than the moving hunks of metal, which I don't imagine is very zen.

I've also switched to a single speed bike, ironically* at the same time as I put a sizeable hill between home and work**. It's *much* lighter than the mountain bike and a lot of fun, but I'd be lying if I said I don't occasionally miss the gears.

LCDBG - the folks I see on my ride seem to have changed slightly; possible because I now come from closer in and don't really pass through the city. The dense pack at the end of my ride has vanished and now I'm usually a member of a quite spread out line of cyclists of all stripes. It's rare that there aren't at least a couple of other cyclists in view. So far, cycling in spring has been amazing and I've mostly been able to get away with work clothes; in winter I had "custom" gear (for warmth, waterproofing and to change out of muddy clothes); as the summer heats up I may need to change again for something light I can change out of when I arrive, and may end up with the dreaded lycra. I faithfully promise, however, that any lycra shorts will be respectably over-dressed.

Jo Walton@136 and later:

I think you've hit the nail on the head, particularly with regard to challenging the norm.

One reason cycling advocates can be a little shrill (I am not trying to imply that of anyone in this thread) is that the assumption that we should build our infrastructure around driving is the default, and highlighting unexamined privelege is messy. Sometimes even having pedestrian, mass transit and cycling usage of infrastructure *on the table* seems like a fight.

Apologies for the ramble. Abi, how's Emily?

#235 ::: Russ ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2011, 07:41 AM:

* The Alanis Morissette definition

** Crouch end hill if you know it (and if you do: Look, it seems sizeable to me, ok?)

#236 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2011, 08:31 AM:

@Russ, this fat arthritic middle-aged bloke would want gears to go up Crouch End hill, or Highbury Hill!

And I have occasionally done it cos my brother lives just off Hornsey Rise - though I am safely in sunny South-East London. Which is actually the hilly part of what is mostly a very flat city.

#237 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2011, 09:04 AM:

Ouranosaurus: The bookstore I work in has three floors joined by stairs. The stairs up are fairly wide, but the stairs downward are narrow, and begin with a right-angle turn made of triangular steps.

Well, a few years ago, the owner contracted MS, and is now confined to a powered wheelchair... he's utterly dependent on employees/volunteers and passing friends to stock books or otherwise deal with the top floor and basement. There is an entrance ramp to the store -- I don't actually know if it predates Sandy's illness, but from its appearance, I suspect it does.

Russ #234: An assortment of minorities have long found that any concerted attempt to challenge majority privilege, tends to get them labeled-and-dismissed as "shrill". Recognizing and countering this is one of the most difficult parts of building a tolerant environment.

#238 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2011, 09:33 AM:

Russ@234: highlighting unexamined privelege is messy

You're basically telling folks they're spoilt (and thus less worthy of respect, by implication). It really is a bad thing to spring on someone too early in a conversation, unless you're happy for them to exercise their privilege to bugger off and find something closer to the centre of their comfort zone to get involved in.

#239 ::: Samatha C. ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2011, 12:06 PM:

After a stroke last December then the requisite physical therapy for what was surprisingly minor damage (three fingers of my left hand, and the front half or so of my left foot went 'dead' and had to be re-programmed at length), I tried to get back onto my bicycle and ride four months later.

My left hand grip was insufficient for safety, and somehow my balance was an issue. I wobbled about like a small child who is just learning how to ride for about 3-4 attempts. I then decided it was unsafe to attempt a 3-mile commute at that lack of control/skill-balance level.

Plus, my Puch, while a great bike of the chrom-moly era of 1980's, had suffered some degree of chain rust from being stored outside. I live on the third floor and was having trouble getting MYSELF up and down the stairs. I judged trying to carry a bike too risky.

So, to the bike store with my tax return monies I went. There I found a folding Dahon, which I then had an internal gear installed on, and a modified fork that could accomodate my exceedingly short reach much better than the Puch ever did. Plus I can ride sitting up, rather than bent over so far, which is both safer and more comfortable on a short commute in heavy traffic. I found the smaller wheels much more sharply responsive, but also much easier to control for balance - no more wobbling from one side of the sidewalk to the other!

I truly cannot recommend biking to work for everyone, but I find the stay-alive and don't-get-hit challenge far more bracing than a Starbucks in the morning. I also dearly appreciate being ABLE to ride again, the effect on my asthma difficulties and insomnia, and the reduction of stress from getting a bit of exercise in between sitting at a desk all day.

Now, if I could only get the traffic on the feeder to the major 8-lane highway I have to cross on the way home to actually YIELD when I'm walking across in the crosswalk, with a signal, and doing everything as properly as possible. After waiting three minutes for my turn in the rain, why is it most drivers find it so hard to give me 5 seconds to finish crossing the street before they turn right heading home?

#240 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2011, 12:18 PM:

Russ @234:

That was not a ramble; that was an interesting slice of life and perspective. I particularly like this comment:

I am not a cyclist; I am a commuter who happens to do my commute by bike when possible. I am not involved in the secret City bicycle race and you may go past me at any time you like.

Emily is good, in the unexciting, undramatic manner that one wants out of an everyday vehicle. After the Back Brake Incident, we haven't had any mechanical trouble at all. I've given her permanent saddlebags (red, rather floppy), and am planning on adding a front shelf to increase her load-bearing capability further. (I have the shelf, but want to paint it to match the bike. And I need to get a new headlamp as part of the process.)

Strictly speaking, I don't need the extra capacity, particularly since we have a wicker basket we can hang off of handlebars whenever it seems useful. But what do you want to bet I'll find it indispensable once I have it?

I had to stop cycling to work for a week or two in midwinter when the hard frosts hit. I don't have the experience to bike safely on icy roads, and after one or two too many moments where my back wheel slid out from under me, I took the bus* till the temperatures rose again.

The big excitement around the bike shed right now is the delivery, in a fortnight or so, of a bike with 24" wheels and 3 gears. This will extend the 7 year old's effective range enough to allow her to cycle on her own when we all go to Amsterdam, instead of sitting on a folded towel on a parent's back rack. She is beside herself with anticipation, and I am scarcely more controlled. I will, however, miss having her behind me, her arms around me, with attention to spare to talk rather than having to focus on her bike and the world around her.

Now we have to get rid of her two previous bikes, which are currently cluttering up the shed. Her current one, which was her brother's before her, is in lamentable mechanical condition; her previous one is OK, but simply outgrown.

* I am hugely lucky in my current commute, because I have options. The bus is a little longer and—clearly—costlier than the bike, but it's there if I need it. My previous job, not so much, and I had to work from home a couple of times when a minor injury made me unable to bike.

#241 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2011, 02:59 PM:

Ouranosaurus @227:

take every local politician and planner, and set them an obstacle course:

1 Travel from A to B to C using a wheelchair, through at least two intersections
2 Travel from C to D using public transit - including at least one transfer
3 Travel from D to E on a bike, during rush hour
4 Walk from E back to A. In the rain.

Not to gloat,* but Boulder actually passes these tests with reasonably good scores. (You can even have apply two constraints at a time, and still do okay. Well, maybe not wheelchair and bicycle.) (A number of my neighbors are mobility impaired; I see them out motoring around the neighborhood on a fairly regular basis.)

Interestingly, I seem to recall hearing that the accessibility movement (or some portion of it) actually started in Denver. I vaguely recall hearing about a protest wherein a bunch of wheelchair-bound residents basically planted themselves on the tarmac around the busses and refused to move until Something Was Done. The mayor of the time decreed that the police should, on no account, arrest any of the protesters. "Yay! Time for riots, looting, and pillage!" one of the protest leaders joked.

We now have "kneeling busses" and busses with ramps. Takes an extra minute or two to board a wheelchair user, but (IMnsHO) on balance this capability is a blessing. I just wish they'd turn down the volume on the warning beeps.

And, yes. Anything that makes things easier for wheelchairs makes things easier for bicycles, which is where my self-interest lies.

Walking through Manhattan, I remember being struck at what a nightmare it would be for the mobility-impaired. Even "flat" sidewalks aren't, often.

And in interestingly parallel news; we're (still) revamping our county website, and a topic that keeps coming up is how to make things like charts and graphs adequately accessible.


* Or maybe only a little

#242 ::: Ouranosaurus ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2011, 03:35 PM:

@ 241 - By all means, gloat if you can. Highlighting what has already been done, and is therefore possible, is one of the best ways to talk about this.

I'm reminded of an annecdote Canadian journalist Jan Wong wrote about. She was interviewing a young Chinese university student, a refugee who had landed in Toronto after the Tiananmen Square protests. He was suffering severe culture shock, and one of the things that kept bugging him was why there were these little ramps at every crosswalk in the city. It bugged him for weeks, until he finally saw a guy in a wheelchair scoot through an intersection. And his brain just about exploded. Because he realized that damn near every crosswalk had been built with 0.1 per cent of the population in mind.

Let that settle in, that now-invisible urban planning item. Think about what it means to those 0.1 per cent of people.

That's the kind of thing that should be screamed from the mountains. We can do better. We know because we have already done great things, simply because it was the right thing to do.

#243 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2011, 03:50 PM:

Accessibility doesn't mean anything if you can't stop the blasted drivers from attempting to mow down anyone who happens to be between them and their "God given right" to a right turn on red.

Sooner or later we're going to lose a visiting pedestrian crossing legally in a marked crosswalk to one of these fools. Every direction has a sign posted that says "Turning Traffic Yield to Pedestrians."

And if they're not turning, they're waiting to turn sitting athwart the crosswalk while the "Walk" light is on. They don't seem to know what a "hold short" line means. The only bicyclist I had to chastise for pulling this stunt at least had the grace to apologize and back up.

The area I work in is called the Arena District -- we have a baseball stadium, Nationwide Arena, the Convention Center, and the North Market all within easy walking distance of one another, and it is supposed to be a pedestrian friendly zone.

There are office buildings, condos and appartments in every direction, and there are handicapped individuals who work, live or come to the venues here -- it's difficult to get a wheelchair through a crosswalk if there's a car in the middle of it.

I have even seen drivers stop in the middle of a left turn to let their passengers out in the crosswalk...(sigh)

#244 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2011, 04:49 PM:

Lori Coulson #243: Accessibility doesn't mean anything if you can't stop the blasted drivers from attempting to mow down

That's where traffic laws, enforcement thereof and associated court biases about responsibility, come in. Back when I visited California, I once crossed a street between the crosswalks. This had two effects: 1) cars skidded to a stop, well down the road from me, and 2) a cop appeared at my elbow to give me holy hell for jaywalking. (I did get off without a ticket, after explaining I was from out-of-state.)

#245 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2011, 04:54 PM:

PS: If it wasn't obvious, I thought and think they were Doing it Right.

#246 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2011, 11:56 PM:

David Harmon: Calif. has one of the most sensible jaywalking laws I know of.

1: Pedestrians always have the right of way.

2: If both corners are controlled (i.e. have a signal light) one may not cross between them.

3: If a control has a pedestrian element, violating it jaywalking (i.e. on cannot cross on a "don't walk" indicator, though completion is allowed).

4: If there is an uncontrolled intersection (alleyways count, parking lot exits do not), one may cross at any point; so long as one does not disturb the flow of traffic.

I once saw a guy crossing a street... he was jaywalking, in that a car had to stop for him. Another car shot past the stopped car, and got pulled over. The jaywalker went over to watch, and the cop told him to wait, and then wrote him up for jaywalking when he got done citing the other idiot for failing to yield to a pedestrian.

There are times this law gets abused. Glendale has demand crosswalks. They never go "walk" unless one pushes the button. If I am on the N side, crossing, and you are on the S, you have to push the button too. Technically failing to do is jaywalking. They have signs with the CVC referring to it posted.

Arcadia had a motorcycle cop perch across from the high school. Both intersections are controlled. They are also a half mile apart. When he started writing the first tickets, as school was letting out for the day, the predictable stream of curious students went to see what was going on.

He made quota. Because they were all minors, about 40 parents showed up to the courthouse... the judge gave everyone a talking too, and voided the tickets. As a revenue generator, it failed (I know all this because Maia's sister was one of the people who crossed the street, illegally, to see why the cop had so many people lined up).

#247 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2011, 06:27 AM:

Ah, so "crosswalk" is American for what I'd call a "pedestrian crossing"? I never knew that!

While its a nice idea that the ramps are primarily for wheelchair users, surely the largest group of people who benefit from them are those with babies in prams and pushchairs? Also in city centres lots of workers move things around all the time - just yesterday afternoon I was walking past a line of men pushing trolleys full of office furniture along the road, presumably from a van to a building that had no parking directly outside it. Round where I live the post is delivered in little trolleys or handcarts. They all benefit from ramps and level access.

The idea of a jaywalking law seems ludicrous here in London & I suspect if there was one it would be in effect unenforceable. Also yesterday afternoon I was trying to cross a road at Russell Square and there was a group of young women in front of me who stopped at the crossing and didn't cross even though there was no traffic coming. By their accents I guessed they might be Americans. Maybe visiting students. There are barriers or fences at that point blocking my access to the road, so I couldn't cross. I, and others near me got visibly frustrated very quickly - a second or two. I didn't say anything but I think I must have grimaced, and started thinking Bad Thoughts about tourists who don't know how to move around in big cities. I felt a bit embarrrassed at having got so angry so quickly. And that was a sunny afternoon in leafy Russell Square. If they'd tried the same thing in wet morning rush hour a few hundred metres down the road at Holborn tube I expect they would have heard some language that nice people ought not to use in front of guests in our country.

#248 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2011, 06:40 AM:

And following on from that here's a mini-rant I wrote couple of years ago that contains the Rules for Using Public Transport In London

(That is if this attempt to include a link works. For some reason the last couple of times I tried a URL in a post here it failed & attracted the wrath of the moderators. Even though it seemed to work in preview. I have no idea why)

#249 ::: Russ ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2011, 09:45 AM:

RE: LCDBGs - Bike Snob links to a video of a cyclist getting himself into an entirely unnecessary accident (don't worry - he was fine, though it could have been awful). The incident has a particular resonance for me as that's City Road, just near Whitecross Street, which was in the last 5 minutes of my old commute. That particular Dick probably used to burn past me regularly.

David Harmon@237
Coincidentally, I just came across this image here, which seems a pithy representation of the whole unconscious privilege thing.

Adrian Smith@238
Fair point. The scales have only recently fallen from my eyes regarding the chosen implicit car-centrism of our urban planning decisions*, so I may be a little over eager to share the revelation.

Abi@240: That was not a ramble

Thank you :D

Re: Having options on the commute - this is incredibly important; if I have a mechanical failure or just don't want to ride home (bad weather, bad health, carrying a load or any other reason) I can get a train, tube or even bus. As a last resort I could pop the bike into a London taxi at pretty much any point on my route. This removed a couple of barriers at least to my getting on the bike in the first place - the fear of getting stuck, and the need to prepare for some eventualities. I was able, originally, to just get on the bike I had and give it a try - buying a gear (and a custom commute bike) came later.

* Mysteriously, this happened around the same time I started to regularly read cycling blogs

#250 ::: Russ ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2011, 10:01 AM:

"Incredibly important" should be "incredibly helpful" - I'm lucky to have these options to make a cycling commute fit easily into my normal life. Plenty of people manage anyway.

#251 ::: Russ ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2011, 10:20 AM:

Dammit. My original comment got eaten when a tab crashed, and I had to reconstruct it. Which is why I forgot to post a link to the video that was the whole point of the comment in the first place.

Sorry about the multiple posts.

#252 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2011, 11:27 AM:

Russ @249: a cyclist getting himself into an entirely unnecessary accident

Heh. Back in '07, I was blazing home from work in too much of a hurry, with too many things on my mind, during one of the most stressful periods of my life.

At that last corner turning in to my condo complex, I got lazy (because i was in too much of a hurry) and didn't look behind me as I turned left.


"Oh crap. Here we go—"


Thank all the ghods are and ever were for:

a) my little bit of martial arts training,
b) my bike helmet, and
c) my aversion to toe-clips.

I went limp as I rolled back over the hood, then forward again, and then FWUMP onto the pavement.

My bike went skidding off down the road on its side.

I did an internal check, then climbed to my feet (mortified) and started apologizing about the same time the driver (a young woman) burst out "ARE YOU ALL RIGHT!?"

"Yes," wiggle this, wobble that, "I think so."

We debated for several minutes whether or not to call the cops. My instinct is always to do the Official Thing, not least because, if there are insurance consequences later on, it's good to have the incident on record.

Took the cops a while to get there. Meanwhile, the driver called a friend to hurry (carefully) across town to deliver the driver's wallet (which contained her licence (!?)). While I waited, I dug my pill bottle out of my purse and popped six ibuprophen.

Neighbors appeared to check up on us, and I finally was able to introduce my law student neighbor to my other (just graduated) law student neighbor.

Cops finally arrive, statements duly taken (with all due courtesy and good humor, entirely typical of my experience of the Boulder police), and I got the ticket, for turning without signalling and riding recklessly.

I dropped the check into the mail the next morning. I figured $50 is a small price to pay when the Universe gently taps you on the shoulder and points out that you need to Slow Down and Pay Attention.

#253 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2011, 11:28 AM:

me @252: Heh. Which I now notice loops neatly back to the original topic of the thread.

#254 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2011, 11:32 AM:

See, Jacque, until I read 253 I assumed the loopback/tie-in with the thread topic was entirely intended, designed-in, and beautifully done. The fact that it was serendipitous is even more remarkable, but in a different way.

#255 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2011, 01:52 PM:

Xopher: I'd love to take credit; wish I'd thought of it. But I am a bear of very little brain this month, and thinking that far ahead (or back) is beyond my current capacity. ;-)

#256 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2011, 02:42 PM:

Jacque...your brain came up with an incident that serves as a perfect lesson for about half of everything that's been discussed in this thread. Conscious intentionality wouldn't improve that, and its absence doesn't detract from it.

#257 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2011, 03:09 PM:

Unless you're calling your shots in a pool game, you get credit for the stuff you do, regardless of your intent.

#258 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2011, 08:37 PM:

Chris@67: What does bother me is the possibility that by wearing a helmet (not designed for collisions with motor vehicles) I may be encouraging drivers to pass me closer than they otherwise would (

I remember hearing about this. I've read about safety improvements being consumed as performance improvements (eg driving faster because you've got airbags/better brakes/active suspension/whatnot) but I'd never realised you could actually consume other road users' safety improvements in the same way. I'd say "roll on peak oil" but the malthusian-catastrophe implications are too disturbing.

#259 ::: David Wald ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2011, 09:27 PM:

[This is the thought that first occurred to me reading Abi's post. Having read the rest of the thread I can come up with a half-dozen reasons why this might not be the right place or time to post it—not least because it has almost nothing to do with bicycles—but I'm going to hope it adds something and detracts less.]

I've had the privilege, in a few senses, to walk a couple of versions of the Camino de Santiago. My thought isn't specific to the Camino except in this one respect: most hikes I've known have done their best to avoid towns, let alone cities, whereas the Camino* passes through historic centers of every city, town, hamlet or near-deserted village on its way**. This meant that walking the Camino was the only time I've actually walked into cities from the countryside, and then back out again. The historic centers of the cities we passed through were all at least somewhat intended for pedestrians***, and the rural paths were available for anything narrow enough to travel them, but in between there would be all sorts of transitional areas (which, at walking pace, could last for an hour or two): perhaps a less-populated suburb; or an industrial area; or a motorway with multiple connections to city streets.

When I'm thinking of things that are unnoticed at higher speed, that's one of the first experiences that comes to mind. There were many things on the Camino that I saw differently, moving at walking pace, than I would have at higher speed; but I honestly felt that I had never seen some of those transitional areas before. In fact, I have no memory of them from a later trip through the same area by car, in part because of speed and in part because cars simply can't go on the same routes. (And, to bring this vaguely back to bicycles, I'll just add that many of the routes we traveled, and hence things we saw, weren't accessible to any but the most insane cyclists either.) As my wife said, when you're walking, you really do see where the sidewalk ends.

* I'm thinking here about the Camino Francês, the most-travelled version.

** Historically, that's slightly backward, since many or most of those towns and cities grew up around the Camino. But it's also true that any town near the route would do its best to bend the route through the town center.

*** along with everything else: Spanish cities seem to have a lot of "no cars permitted except for sometimes" areas: many places would be labeled pedestrian-only, but that didn't mean you couldn't expect a car to come up behind you.

**** or begins, of course.

#260 ::: Russ ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 04:13 AM:


Wow. I'm pleased to hear you came through your incident uninjured, except (I imagine) for pride.

Sometimes near misses make excellent warnings. I was in the habit of cycling through a supermarket carpark and cutting between rows of parked cars, before a startled motorist demonstrated why the latter is not a good idea.* Fortunately, s/he stopped in time, but it would have been totally my fault.

* Of course, it should already have been obvious. Failure of imagination.

#261 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 04:48 AM:

David Wald's @259 puts me in mind of my one go at mountain biking. I found the experience significantly less than satisfying. Instead of enjoying the easy freedom of moment I'm used to when biking in town, plus the peace and beauty of the mountain scenery, all of my attention was focused on the ground ahead of me, trying not to hit rocks and trees, or trying not to fall over (and failing) when I did hit them.

I was plenty mindful, all right. Just not of what I wanted to be minding.

Clearly, mountain biking not Zathras skill.

Russ @260: Fortunately, my pride didn't even take any particular damage: the thought had been growing on me for some portion of the week that my needle was pinging too far into the red. This just felt like the Universe gently nodding in agreement.

I had lost my grip on my variation of Michael Weholt @213's mantra: "Healthy, alert, careful, safe."

#262 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 01:47 PM:

While I'm sure Jacque will claim serendipity, I think the phrase 'freedom of moment' is art of the best sort, and I'm going to use it...and seek out what it describes.

#263 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 05:23 PM:

::Jacque falls over:: I give up. :-)

Whoever's typing my comments is clearly better at it than I am.

Quelle fromage!

#264 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 07:16 PM:

Jacque: I'm fond of brie myself... ;-)

#265 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 10:43 PM:

David Harmon @ 162: "Being an accepting person means thinking ahead about how other people's situation, constraints, and even agenda, might be different from yours, and being courteous enough to leave room for those differences. That's why the Golden Rule is not enough, because it's way too easy to screw people over by assuming they don't (or "shouldn't") want anything you wouldn't want."

A narrow and legalistic interpretation is a potential fail state of the Golden Rule, but it isn't, I feel, a fair criticism of it. Any reasonable application of the Golden Rule assumes a certain amount of individual differentiation--it doesn't mean I should call everyone else "heresiarch" and inform them of my passwords, for instance. The question of where one ought to assume similarity and where one should allow for individual preferences is a question the Rule is designed to provoke, I think. The Golden Rule, as I see it, is an exhortation to be mindful of the fact that other people have the same internal lives that we do, and to act accordingly. It's not claiming that everyone's likes and dislikes are the same--it's the claim that everyone has likes and dislikes.

Mindfulness of others is a tricky thing. Something I am becoming more conscious of is that mindfulness is something I have a finite supply of. Some of the things which grab at my attention are easily dismissed (ads), but many are quite sympathetic. Should I, in this moment, be mindfully engaged in this conversation I am having? In the meal I am cooking? In the agroindustrial system that produces that food at no small or obvious cost? In the view out the window? I cannot be mindful of all of these things.

One of the things I appreciate the most about riding the bus, rather than driving or cycling or even walking, is that it is an opportunity to not have to be mindful of my commute. I can be mindful of other things, like the book I'm reading or some idea I'm chewing over. Or I can look around and be mindful of the here and now--if I choose. I value that.

#266 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2011, 01:41 AM:

I am rather saddened that the thread led to some bouts of defensiveness. For me, every form of transport has its strengths and pitfalls. And I do most of them (I've been working on getting my own driver's license, but don't have it yet.)

I leave pretty close to city centre, in 10-minute walk distance of a grocery store, a number of shops, and my church, and within about 3 minute walk of a convenience store if we're just out of milk. But the city does spread out a bit, and isn't fully optimized everywhere for non-drivers. (I can't think of a non-industrial area that lacks sidewalks for pedestrians, though some of those are less useful than they might be). I'm 1/2 hour's walk from central downtown, as well as, in another direction, my current workplace. I don't *want* to move back out to a suburb or semi-suburb. I like the proximity to everything.

I grant you, my mother's house, in a semi-suburb, is still near enough the grocery and not sickeningly far from all other amenities. But I still see a difference in the immediacy.

Walking, for me, is the one where I get to be truly mindful of my neighbourhood, of people, of terrain and accessibility. Of course, it has obvious disadvantages: it does assume one is healthy -- and more than once, a particular health issue has made cycling *easier* than walking.

I just started biking again this year, and have embraced it pretty wholeheartedly. I cannot, however, be mindful of much past the road and traffic yet; one of the few disadvantages of where I've chosen to live is a lack of empty side streets.

The routes also vary as to how bike friendly they are; there are places where the only safe recourse for a relatively slow cyclist to move safely involves ducking onto the sidewalk for a block or a bridge. (Which, done sanely, involves going slower, saying "excuse me" well in advance to pedestrians, and being prepared to break and yield to them.)

My favourite thing about biking so far is that it has strongly increased my mental map of what's a part of my immediate community. Walking, my idea of 'local' ended on this side of the river, and with places I could walk to within 15 minutes or less. To walk downtown or to work meant leaving my neighbourhood; biking changes that.

As far as I can tell, my big disadvantages so far are in that inability to look around as much as I should like.

Whether it's a disadvantage or not is still up for debate, but I have found I cannot listen to music. Even granting that I *normally* make sure I can hear some street noise when I have earphones on. On a bike, I want to be able to hear not just a sudden noise, but the steady and ideally not overly loud sounds of ordinary drivers.

Public transit is a remarkably unmindful way to go through a city. One can snub whole neighbourhoods, never need to consider traffic, nor any aspect of the city.

And that's its strength.

I've used it as a chance to read or write, which lets me take slightly less time curling up alone at home, and slightly more time hanging out with my husband or others. My ideal Long commute, tested at a prior job, is a 20-minute walk and a bus ride for the rest, so I get the best of both.

Driving as a passenger can be fairly mindful. You can't know your surroundings as well as you do at the slower pace of walking, nor, as observed, do changes in the street and geography make much difference. But it's not as isolated as driving, and not just for the company of the driver/other passengers.

(Unless it's a long haul. Those vary between observation and public transit approaches. At least, Colin minds a great deal less if I read or write if we're stuck in the car for the next 5/10/48 hours than if we're crossing town.)

Driving as a driver requires so much focus on the street and signs before one and the traffic around one that it really does close one off strongly from the rest of the world, which zooms past unheeded. I don't like it, and I'd rather be a passenger, pedestrian, or cyclist.

Yet, the reason I want my license is so I can travel, specifically, in the one way car is the strongest transport form other than flying; cross country. And with baggage handling and current TSA, driving is superior in all but expended time -- plus there's art I can't or won't take near an airport. If I'd had my license in time for Worldcon Montreal, for instance, I'd have much more likely *been there*, and I only made World Fantasy in Calgary because Colin was willing to make the drive.

Oh, that was long...

#267 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2011, 05:26 AM:

Lately, I've been thinking about Donald Norman's use of the term affordance, in the sense that what our devices make easy is what we are prone to do.

Specifically: Emily has a step-through frame. That makes it extremely easy for me to move through the stages from "riding" through "walking astraddle" to "walking beside the bike", and vice versa. Emily affords the action of traveling on foot with her. She affords slowing down to pedestrian pace, and presents little feeling that it'll be an effort to go back to biking again.

The contrast to this is high-bar bikes and bikes with cleat pedals (or even toe clips). These traits mean that there's an additional effort to put one's feet down or dismount. And the perceived effort is doubled, because there's more work to get back on and get one's feet correctly seated. This doesn't mean people on these sorts of bikes won't get down when it's required, but I suspect that it affects decisions in marginal circumstances. (Actually, having ridden a high-bar bike with toe clips, I know it does.)

#268 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2011, 08:05 AM:

abi #267: affordance

An excellent point. When Lenora Rose mentioned "ducking onto the sidewalk", I flashed on something from childhood: When I was a kid, being taught (and reading) about bike safety, the rule was that if we had to get onto the sidewalk (say, to cross a busy street at the crosswalk), we had to get off the bike and walk it. It had not occurred to me that modern bikes make that significantly more difficult than what I was riding back then.

heresiarch #265: A narrow and legalistic interpretation is a potential fail state of the Golden Rule, but it isn't, I feel, a fair criticism of it.

The problem is, that fail state is exploitable in the security sense. I originally saw that exploited by evangelical Christians ("well, I would want to be shown the good word of the Lord"). It also seems to me that it's currently being exploited (a little less blatantly, but more mendaciously) by the neocons in their attacks on welfare: "well, I'd want to be independent, so we should eliminate these programs that make people dependent."

In short, "provoking" the question has proved to be insufficient for the modern day. I think it's necessary to emphasize differences in people purposes and needs.

mindfulness is something I have a finite supply of. Some of the things which grab at my attention are easily dismissed (ads), but many are quite sympathetic.

This is where the ability to set and follow priorities becomes both a pragmatic and moral issue. For a small-scale example, immediate hazards (live stove) need to take precedence over pleasurable distractions like cloudscapes, and making the dinner ready takes precedence over making it "fancy". That sort of priority-setting is something I'm much concerned with, and even a bit anal about, precisely because I too have trouble focusing my attention (childhood diagnosis of ADD, even). I also see that my own failures in this regard are each associated with problems in my life -- notably, my difficulty in quitting smoking, or in doing my shoulder exercises, come from my inability to self-enforce my own long-term priorities.

Hofstadter, in G.E.B., has an excellent exposition of why not having a clear ranking of priorities is a dangerous vulnerability: Suppose you're at an ice-cream shop: you like chocolate better than vanilla, vanilla better than strawberry... and strawberry better than chocolate. This time, you bought strawberry... and then somebody comes by and offers to trade you a vanilla cone for ten cents plus your strawberry cone. Then their buddy comes by and offers to trade you a chocolate cone for your vanilla cone... plus ten cents. Then the third guy comes along....

Note that the obvious weakness of that exact example (immediate vs. prospective reward) is almost certainly our natural defense against that attack -- more realistic examples (say, from advertising or politics) would generally involve confusing the issues of immediacy, or just setting long-term against short-term goals. But the basic vulnerability comes from having inconsistent priorities.

#269 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2011, 08:44 AM:

abi @267: that's an excellent point about affordance. One of the reasons I go ballistic about the "but it's too much trouble to stop/walk the bike" excuses for barrelling through a pedestrian area is that I *always* slowed down, stopped, or got off and walked the thing as appropriate to pedestrian density if I took it on the pavement (sidewalk to USians) if it was unsafe or otherwise difficult to ride on the road. But I was riding a bike with a relatively low bar, and I refuse point blank to use clips/cleats because I'm not a good enough rider to feel safe with them and I'm not trying to maximise efficiency. The cost to me for not imposing the cost of my speed on the pedestrians around me is lower than it would be if I was riding for speed rather than for pottering around downtown expecting to stop at every junction.

#270 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2011, 12:17 PM: next bike will be one that when I stop I can keep my feet flat on the ground, rather than tippy-toe. This will make it easier to slow the @#$%^&! down when on pedestrian territory...something I have already learned to do, but still wish I'd gotten the type I have described. Bad knees (arthritis) mke me not so nimble as once I was, though I can still pedal.
I too like the chance to sometimes be unmindful provided by riding the bus. When it's my choice, I can look out and spot interesting things...sometimes a little too interesting; just yesterday we rolled past a convenience-store/gas station and there was an in-progress. A cop had his gun trained on someone. I was then very glad to not be on my bike.

#271 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2011, 02:56 PM:

Lenora Rose @ 266: "My ideal Long commute, tested at a prior job, is a 20-minute walk and a bus ride for the rest, so I get the best of both."

My favorite commute, the only commute that I've actively enjoyed now that I think of it, was when I lived in Japan: a ten-minute walk through the neighborhood to a train station, transfer to a subway into the city center. All told, it was quite a bit longer than my commute now, but it was far more engaging. I remember vividly the morning in late spring I cut through the playground (always empty at that hour) and the fallen cherry petals, so pale they were almost white, were piling in drifts around the play structures like blown snow.

David Harmon @ 268: "In short, "provoking" the question has proved to be insufficient for the modern day. I think it's necessary to emphasize differences in people purposes and needs."

Emphasizing differences between people is no less subject to folly. It simply invites exploitation in the opposite direction: why are you trying to destroy their unique culture of living in the garbage dump and scavenging for valuable trash? Why are you infringing on his personal choice to descend into an oblivion of drug abuse and self-harm? Why do you assume your truth says anything at all to my truth? The challenge of determining where people are similar and where they are different isn't avoided, only reversed.

So fundies and neo-cons employ the Golden Rule selfishly and wickedly. What worthwhile idea has never been enlisted in the service of mendacity? There is no maxim that will substitute for engagement and mindfulness, and if we abandon anything that can be exploited by thoughtless fools, we will be left with nothing at all.

#272 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2011, 05:49 PM:

David Harmon @264: Oh, shoot! A former coworker thought that she and her buddies had invented it. 'Course, mighta been parallel evolution. Or maybe this was long enough ago to have inspired the movie. (Counts on fingers...) Hm. probably not.

#273 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2011, 07:05 PM:

heresiarch #271: In no way am I saying to abandon the Golden Rule, or the goals behind it... but it's only the first step -- a remedial lesson left over from Imperial Rome (if not the Bronze Age). Yes, any rule can be abused, but that abuse needs to be faced down, not dismissed. Consider each of the three strawmen you throw up:

why are you trying to destroy their unique culture of living in the garbage dump and scavenging for valuable trash?

Desperation is not a culture. When people resort to this sort if thing, it generally means that society has utterly failed them already -- "The law in it's infinite majesty, forbids the rich as well as the poor to steal bread and sleep under bridges". The real "solution" is to provide support and resources for the indigent. Note that a very similar argument and answer, apply to the "usual case" for prostitution -- if the response is "she's not allowed to do that", the implication is "we'd rather she and/or her children starved".

Why are you infringing on his personal choice to descend into an oblivion of drug abuse and self-harm?

Again, how is prosecution, imprisonment, etc., supposed to make their situation better? (Let alone the other effects of the So-called War On Drugs.) You can offer therapy, but any shrink will tell you that you can't actually force someone to give up drugs. You need to convince them, and "otherwise I'll put you through hell" lasts only until they escape your grasp.

Why do you assume your truth says anything at all to my truth?

And this one is a universal denial of objective reality. If someone pulls it out for real (and I'm not saying that you're doing so), what it means is that they are "not taking input", and cannot be usefully argued with as they stand. However... you might well get farther by trying to ease whichever fears have them hiding scared in their figurative navel.

#274 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2011, 07:08 PM:

Jacque #272: Probably parallel. It occurs to me that if "which damage?" translates to "what a pity!", perhaps "which cheese?" should translate to "what a ham!" ;-)

#275 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2011, 08:27 PM:

Golden Rule: I've heard the strong form, where the consideration of others' wants is explicitly stated, called the Platinum Rule.

Quel fromage: What a friend we have in cheeses.

Lack of mindfulness on a bus: I once had a strange visionary experience, which at the time I thought was a past-life memory, when riding a bus past a bridge. I wasn't hallucinating, but the image sequence of crashing a small white sportscar into a bridge abutment (if that's the right word), and burning alive in the car because I couldn't get out, flashed vividly through my mind. I was shaking when it was over a few seconds later, and off my stride for days.

I'm very glad that in that case I wasn't riding a bicycle. I shudder to think what might have happened, though probably I would have stopped safely and just breathed hard for a few minutes.

I've always hated white cars. I really HATE them, especially if they're small. Never made any sense to me until I had that experience. (Btw, these days I'm extremely dubious about past-life memories, to say the least, though I find that experience difficult to explain. I was driving the car in that vision, and I've never had a driver's license, nor been at the wheel of a sportscar of any description.)

#276 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2011, 09:04 PM:

Possibly there was a ghost left after that accident, and you picked up on it.

#277 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2011, 09:47 PM:

Could be. I never looked into it.

#278 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2011, 01:44 AM:

heresiarch: That certainly sounds lovelier than any of my commutes (The 20 minute walk is through downtown, which isn't terribly pretty, though sometiems the river is. Right now, of course the river is instead scarily high).

But my current workplace is reached by either a bike ride of a 1/2 hour walk; the walk, in early spring, meant seeing the crocuses pop when all the other plants are still yellowed, and lost of pleasant shade trees and not-unpleasant condominiums and wealthy-sized houses. (On the bike, it's the safest, "straightest" route I can cycle from home, which rather makes up for not being able to watch for the next changes in the flora and fauna and people I pass. it's not as lovely, it doesn't manage the combination of exercise/mindfulness and closed-in writing time, but I'll take it.

Xopher @ 265; That is a deeply creepy experience. And yes, I'd be inclined to wonder about ghosts, though I'm far from convinced of such things.

* Straightest is very relative. The street makes a huge curve around the river, but it's straight in that I have to signal exactly twice; Once leaving my home street, and once going into the parking lot.

#279 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2011, 07:20 AM:

Xopher #265: Did you ever investigate the history of that intersection? An accident of that description would certainly have been noted in the news! (You'd probably need to scan news for a year or so after your vision as well as before.)

#280 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2011, 07:59 AM:

Xopher: if the experience was primarily visual, it may date back to something you saw--either in real life or in a movie--when you were small. I've had similarly vivid out-of-the-blue sorts of things that turned out to be early memories.

#281 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2011, 01:37 PM:

I've thought about this, but never investigated. At the time, I wasn't at all convinced it was the particular place, so much as that it evoked the memory; the idea that it was a ghost did not occur to me.

I'm just as dubious about ghosts as past-life memory, since my doubts are about the persistence of any personality once the body is dead. I still don't know what to make of the incident.

And it wasn't exactly an intersection. I caught a glimpse of the base of the GW bridge out the window of the bus.

#282 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2011, 09:05 PM:

David Harmon @274: "what a ham!"

I find it to be a splendidly meaningless, all-purpose expostulation. Connotative translations might be:

"You've got to be kidding!"

"Whaddya gonna do?"

"Oh, for the love of—"

&c. ;-) indeed.

#283 ::: The Modesto Kid ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 02:45 PM:

Spinning off of Klimes' article, Chuck at has some thoughts on narrating urban life as a means to understanding cities.

#284 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 05:18 PM:

I used to be a 'serious cyclist', but now I'm not, as kids have cut down the time I have to ride.

Back when I was commuting, I could handle a single chainring 39x13-23. I was good to go for whatever. Now, with the first ride of the year under my belt (conviently on the first decent weekend of the year), I'm in sore need of a triple crank. The hills kicked my butt, and even the 39/28 wan't enough to get up one of the hills at a decent crawl. Not that long ago, I managed to tow a child in a trailer up that hill in that gear.

Unfortunately, there's this shiny used Kestrel at the bike shop, a descendant of the bike that I always wanted when I was young, poor, and fast(er), and used to pass guys like the current me accelerating uphill. It's just sitting there, being shiny. Quietly.

#285 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 05:25 PM:

FWIW, the other part of not cycling much comes from living in the boonies, with 'hard' hills both up and down on the three ways from the house. Really sucks to be tired and have a 400' climb to get home.

We've got a 0 score on walkability (according to a website listed here previously), as we're about 5 miles from civilization, and all that civilization shuts down at 5pm. Though, we can walk to a beach, so all's not bad. And on my first short ride of the year, I saw one car on the road. So there's that, too.

#286 ::: Kevin Reid ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 09:24 PM:

I've been failing to getting around to posting this for a while, so the conversation may have moved on, but:

Hypothesis: if one is moving fast/efficiently one is by default annoyed at/disrespectful of anything which disrupts that. Hence car-drivers may be annoyed at bicycle-riders and vice versa, and both may be annoyed at pedestrians; it requires an exercise of thoughtfulness and/or trained attitudes to not feel that way.

I find this hypothesis plausible, and gained additional evidence for it just recently: for my job this summer, I have started commuting by bicycle, and found myself briefly unreasonably annoyed at, and not acting to accommodate, someone with an open car door (which extended into the bike lane I was using) — I felt it was their job to stay out of my way. Which it may or may not have been — I'm not familiar enough with the conventions and laws of the topic and the locale to say. (As a car-user, I was taught to not open the street-side door until there is no traffic anywhere close, but I also had very little experience with bicycles on the road.)

#287 ::: Mike McHugh ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2011, 06:44 AM:

Here's a video that was posted after the main conversation ended, that touches on a lot of points raised in it.

3-way street - it's an (edited) overhead view of Park Avenue and 28th Street in NYC.

#288 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2011, 03:29 PM:

So--about the time this thread was going on, I started riding more. (I'd been walking to catch the bus, then I started riding to do so, then I realized that I could leave when I wanted to instead of waiting for the bus...). It's interesting comparing the experience of driving, riding a bike and bus, and walking and bus to get to work.

I've been very pleased with sharing the road with drivers while on a bike. I haven't yet had any bad experiences, and if I ride home from work I'm on a very busy, 2-1-2[1] road for over a mile.

Walking, I notice people, plants, and posters. On a bike, I notice terrain and infrastructure-I didn't used to notice how smooth the pavement was, now I notice it even when walking. On the bus, I actually get to know people a little bit. Driving, I notice traffic and nothing else. (I've always hated driving.)

1) A center turn lane, and 2 lanes in each direction--designed for speed in an urban environment.

#289 ::: Xopher HalfTongue sees more spam ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2012, 04:17 AM:

Go away, spammers.

Welcome to Making Light's comment section. The moderators are Avram Grumer, Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and Abi Sutherland. Abi is the moderator most frequently onsite. She's also the kindest. Teresa is the theoretician. Are you feeling lucky?

Comments containing more than seven URLs will be held for approval. If you want to comment on a thread that's been closed, please post to the most recent "Open Thread" discussion.

You can subscribe (via RSS) to this particular comment thread. (If this option is baffling, here's a quick introduction.)

Post a comment.
(Real e-mail addresses and URLs only, please.)

HTML Tags:
<strong>Strong</strong> = Strong
<em>Emphasized</em> = Emphasized
<a href="">Linked text</a> = Linked text

Spelling reference:
Tolkien. Minuscule. Gandhi. Millennium. Delany. Embarrassment. Publishers Weekly. Occurrence. Asimov. Weird. Connoisseur. Accommodate. Hierarchy. Deity. Etiquette. Pharaoh. Teresa. Its. Macdonald. Nielsen Hayden. It's. Fluorosphere. Barack. More here.

(You must preview before posting.)

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.