I bike pretty much everywhere in the city these days. But I also have a driver’s license and 16 years of driving experience. And occasionally I still drive. Like the other day I ended up driving across town to run an errand. Now, if you live anywhere near a city, you know that the driving experience is not exactly as advertised:
It’s a little bit more like this:
Which is not a good advertisement for cars. But this is exactly what I found myself driving in.
After my errand, I decided I wanted to stay out. I was hungry and there are great restaurants downtown. And some shops too. (I know, because I discovered them all by bike.) But in a car, I realized that I couldn’tcasually go to any of them. I was trapped…
…and had to pass them by. It was like I was carrying the weight of the car rather than it carrying me. And I was tired. So I went straight home instead. Cars are useful, but driving in a city is kind of like trying to thread a needle while wearing a boxing glove.
Are cyclists killing themselves on the roads, or is it time for the Hong Kong Government and the police to realise that the majority of cyclists killed each year are cycling on the roads, and are killed by vehicles.
The Hong Kong Police are about to start one of their biannual safe cycling campaigns, giving the police a chance to tell cyclists how to behave whilst letting drivers of vehicles who are the real dangers on the roads for cyclists, continue to put cyclists lives at risk.
Does anyone really believe that cyclists need telling how to behave around drivers?
Anyone who cycles on the roads here already knows the rules and how to ride safely without needing the police to tell them how to do it. The best way to bring down the numbers of cyclists killed in Hong Kong each year is to start proper driver education, showing drivers how to behave around cyclists.
Police will hold a citywide safe cycling campaign from September 19 to 25, taking stringent enforcement action on cyclists disobeying road rules.
Between January and August, there were 1,639 traffic accidents involving bicycles, resulting in 1,540 cyclist casualties. The figures are up 11% and 10% on last year. Six cyclists died in traffic accidents in the first eight months of this year, a decrease of four when compared with the same period last year.
Common cycling offences include carrying another person, carrying an animal or article which obstructs the cyclist’s view, riding a bicycle on the footpath, and riding without illuminated lights.
Every day, one-third of the people of Copenhagen ride their bikes to work or school. Collectively, they cycle more than 750,000 miles daily, enough to make it to the moon and back. And city officials want even more people to commute, and over longer distances.
So a network of 26 new bike routes, dubbed “the cycling superhighway,” is being built to link the surrounding suburbs to Copenhagen.
Lars Gaardhoj, an official with the Copenhagen capital region, says the routes will be straight and direct.
“It will be very fast for people who use their bike,” he says. “This is new because traditionally cycle paths have been placed where there is space for them and the cars didn’t run. So now the bike is going to challenge the car.”
The first highway, to the busy suburb of Albertslund some 10 miles outside the city, was completed in April.
To test it, I got a rental bike and went out for a ride.
No Place For Slowpokes
One of the first things you learn about these bike lanes is that you have to move in fast. This is not leisurely biking — this is serious stuff in Copenhagen.
It’s a parallel world of transportation: You’ve got the cars on the roads and the people on their bikes. There are thousands and thousands of people on their bikes here in this city.
EnlargeCourtesy of Eleanor Beardsley for NPRNPR reporter Eleanor Beardsley rides in one of the new bike lanes in Copenhagen. The city is building more than two dozen lanes from the suburbs into the city. They cater to cyclists by including such things as rails and footrests at stoplights.
As commuters pour into Copenhaghen on the new highway, I stop biker Cona Endelgo at a red light. Endelgo says he used to drive his car to work, but biking is better.
“It gives you more exercise and motion, and it’s more free, and it’s quicker. When I pass the harbor, I wave to the cars,” he says.
Each mile of bike highway will cost about $1 million. The project is to be financed by the city of Copenhagen and 21 local governments. And in a country where both right- and left-leaning politicians regularly ride bikes to work, it has bilateral support.
Addressing The Needs Of Bikers
Several innovations are being tested, like “green wave” technology, which times traffic lights to suit bikers. If you maintain a certain pace, you can ride all the way through into the city without stopping. There are also footrests with bars to lean on at traffic lights, and a bike pump every mile in case you have a flat.
Outside the city, the pace is slower and people talk to each other as they ride. Jacob Messen, 33, is on his way to a water park with his kids. He says support for the project runs deep.
“Bicycles are a very essential element in most people’s lives in Denmark,” he says. “We have them as small infants and all the way up through the ages.”
He’s not kidding. Another rider, 83-year-old Soulva Jensen, is using the highway to visit her daughter in a neighboring town.
“The trains are too much trouble at the moment, so I thought it was easier to take the bike,” she says.
Once the highway network is completed, an estimated 15,000 additional people will switch from driving to biking. And that, say officials, will have a direct impact on the environment, public health and finances. The bike highway alone is expected to save Copenhagen’s health care system some $60 million a year.
A few years ago, the New York Times published a five-sentence brief about a man who “intentionally ran over five people” with an SUV after a fight in North Bellmore, Long Island. The driver, the Times reported, “fled the scene of the accident.” The police later located the vehicle that “they believed was involved in the accident.” One of the victims was in critical condition.
Ho hum. News briefs about the previous day’s car crashes are as routine as box scores and the weather forecast. Yet, in this case, the Times’ (and, presumably, the Nassau County cops’) choice of one particular word stood out: If a man intentionally ran over five people, how could that possibly be considered an accident? If, instead of car keys, the man had picked up a gun and shot five people, would the press and police have called that an “accident” too? No. They’d have called it “attempted homicide.” Yet, for some reason when the weapon is a car, when the violence on our streets is done with a motor vehicle, it’s always just an “accident.”
So, is it any surprise that the NYPD’s “Accident” Investigation Squad so frequently declares “no criminality suspected” after a motor vehicle is used to kill a pedestrian or cyclist on New York City streets? After all, they don’t call themselves the Motor Vehicle Manslaughter Squad. They don’t think of themselves as homicide detectives, or cars as weapons, or drivers as killers. The word “accident” implies no fault. It’s what we call it when a toddler makes a small mess. “Don’t cry over spilled milk,” we say. The assumption is built into the name of the NYPD bureaucracy itself: Death by motor vehicle is an “accident” before the investigators even get to what may very well be the scene of a crime. The Accident Investigation Squad is there to clean up and keep the traffic moving.
Though it may sometimes seem otherwise, New York City drivers don’t wake up in the morning intending to harm pedestrians and cyclists. Most crashes are unintentional and “accident” is not an inaccurate word to describe them. But the fact remains: Driver negligence is the number one cause of crashes, and it’s no big surprise—or accident—when negligent driving hurts and kills people on crowded city streets. In fact, our legal system has a word for this type of unintentional killing: “Manslaughter.” Lots of work needs to be done and lots of things need to change to fix the way the NYPD deals with pedestrians and cyclists who have been injured and killed by negligent drivers. But if it’s true that small changes in language can have a big impact on public policy, then the easiest change is simply this: Stop calling car crashes “accidents.”
Many cyclists already know they are faster than cars, particularly in peak hour traffic. Yet even cyclists may be surprised at how much time bicycles can save in any city when all time costs are considered. Dr. Paul Tranter, who has written a chapter in the upcoming “City Cycling” book, tells us why.
You may already know it, but in most cities throughout the world, cycling is a “faster” mode of transportation than the car. But for those that still aren’t convinced, it’s time to learn about “effective speed”.
“Effective speed is calculated using the standard formula: speed equals distance divided by time. Time here includes not only the time spent moving; it also includes the time devoted to enabling the movement to occur,” explains Dr. Paul Tranter, a geography Professor at the University of New South Wales, and an author from the upcoming City Cycling book.
“For car drivers, a significant (and usually ignored) time cost is the time spent at work to earn the money to pay for all the expenses associated with the mode of transport.”
And he’s right. All too often, car drivers rarely consider the total time devoted to their machines. If you’re not convinced, here’s a little anecdote that Tranter tells to make to change your mind:
Imagine that you live in a village in the 1800s and that your job each day is to collect water from a nearby stream. This task takes you an hour each day. To “save time,” you construct a machine consisting of a system of pulleys, cables, levers, and springs to collect the water for you. With this machine, simply by pulling a lever, you can send your bucket to the stream and have it returned full of water. You appear to have saved yourself an hour each day. However, to get the machine to work, you must spend an hour each day winding up the spring that powers the machine. Should you consider this time in any decision about the effectiveness of the machine?
“Many motorists—and city governments—seem to ignore this time spent earning money to pay for the transportation costs, that is, the time spent winding up the spring,” explains Tranter.
We shouldn’t forget this concept of effective speed is nothing new. Ivan Ilich, in his 1974 book “Energy and Equity” outlined it perfectly:
“The typical American male devotes more than 1,600 hours a year to his car. He sits in it while it goes and while it stands idling. He spends four of his sixteen waking hours on the road or gathering his resources for it. … The model American puts in 1,600 hours to get 7,500 miles: less than five miles per hour.”
How fast is your city?
Tranter, in the upcoming “City Cycling” book, has gone to the trouble to finding just how fast cars really by crunching data on income and travel times. The results almost beggar belief.
Effective speeds for car speeds varied from 18.3 km/h in Canberra, Australia, to a mere 3 km/h in Nairobi. When the external costs are taken into account, the effective speeds for car drivers range from a high of 15.9 km/h (Canberra) to a low of 2.2 km/h (Nairobi).
“We then used these estimates to calculate how slow cyclists could cycle and still be effectively faster than a car. When both direct and indirect costs are considered, cyclists in Canberra would need to average only 18.3 km/h to be faster than a car driver. In New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, and Hamburg, cyclists would not need to travel faster than 13 km/h to be faster than a car,” says Tranter, before adding:
“To be effectively faster than the number-one-selling car in Australia, a cyclist in Canberra would need to cycle at only 12.7 km/h. In all other Australian cities, the cyclists could travel slower than this, and still be faster than the top-selling car.”
So what does this mean for governments?
If city governments wish to invest wisely in transportation, they need to understand that increasing the average trip speeds of private motor vehicles doesn’t actually save time. This argument applies to any city in the world.
“Those cities that invest most effectively in cycling infrastructure will find that their cities become the fastest cities in the world,” says Tranter.
Thankfully, when we’re on a bicycle we don’t always have to rush. Taking it slowly is part of the fun. But we can still feel smug as cars go past knowing who’s really the fasted.
If the Government were to treat the roads in the same way as they treat the cycle paths, what problems would drivers experience that cyclists see?
We don’t have the same number of cycle lanes/paths as in the UK, so in some ways it would be nice to have these problems to deal with, but it does clearly show that cycle lanes and paths need to be well designed to be useful to cyclists.
In a study reviewing pollution and causes of death in the UK, they have found that more people die as a result of pollution than die on the roads:
More than 5,000 people die prematurely from conditions like lung cancer and heart disease because of emissions, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Exhaust from aeroplanes cause a further 2,000 deaths annually while emissions from the energy and industrial sectors and pollution originating from Europe bring the overall total up to 19,000 deaths per year in Britain.
In contrast official figures state that 1,850 people were killed as a result of road accidents in 2010.
After being hit by a taxi, Anthony has been discussing with Transport Department about installing an Advanced Stop box for cyclists on southbound Waterloo Road at the junction with Wylie Road.
Advanced Stop Lines/Boxes are used around the world, giving cyclists a safe and visible place to stop and wait at traffic lights, whilst having a minimal effect on space for cars and other vehicles. ASL’s have made a large impact in London in particular where they are installed in large numbers. It is time for Hong Kong to embrace the bicycle as a feasible mode of transport and enable it with simple measures like these.
The proposed stop box is in the centre of the photo on the left, between the two drains, taking up no existing traffic waiting space whilst enabling cyclists to wait for the traffic lights in safety.
Great thanks go to Matteo for allowing us to use his photo of the delivery cyclist. He writes on his own blog about riding vintage Fuji bikes "There is something special about these vintage fuji bicycles. It is inexplainable, but it is real. They are quality. They are beautiful. They surpass expectation.". See more at Fuji Crazy
Many thanks also to Christopher Dewolf for his photo of cycling at sunset in Ma on Shan. His photos can be found at his Flickr Site, and some of his many writings & photos can be found at Urbanphoto.net
Huge Thanks to Jason Findlay for the photo of the Harbourfront bike Ride 5 near Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter