Monday, December 26, 2011

What the mayor doesn't always tell you about bike modal share - Pure & Real Bike Modal Shares

Part Three of this Series. Please first read Part One - originally published in slightly different form in Cycling Mobility issue no. 4 - which gives an overview and the context for the focus for this entry - click here. For Part Two, focused on cycle training of immigrants to the Netherlands, click here. For Part Four, about how UITP and the ECF are aiming to improve modal share, click here.

 Don't take it out on pedestrians, or blame the cyclists who have to use it. A street in the Moravian town of Uherské Hradiště personifies the "Hey, Get Outta My Way!" Malus. Photo:

Since bike mode share percentages do not tell the whole story about who, how and where people are cycling, I propose the concept of:

Pure Bike Modal Share 

It means that:

1 - All citizens – between the ages of 8 and 80 (inclusive), without regards to gender, gender-preference, national, religious, political, cultural or ethnic self-identification, able to use some form of a human-powered (motor-assist) wheeled vehicle generally understood to be a bicycle or variant thereof, and within the municipal boundaries – cycle at exactly the same a 50% rate of cycling as a primary means of travel is exactly that and impurities are subject to the Who is Not Cycling Malus, and;

2 – All cycling is done within the law and according to custom agreed by 2/3 of municipal subjects and transgressions are subject to the Anti-Solidarity Malus, and;

3 – All cycling is done on infrastructure which was not previously used by pedestrians or not unreasonably taken from exclusive pedestrian use and violations are subject to the "Hey, Get Outta My Way" Malus.

Here is how it works:
+ Measure bike share in the simplest way, i.e. only gross counting, e.g. with bike counters in major cycling corridors. The result is the base bike modal share.
+ As much as possible, record who is cycling (see 1, above), how they are cycling (2) and where they are cycling (3).
- Subtract the second from the first, separately for each three catergories. The results are the bike modal share subtotals.
/ Average the combination of all three. The result is the 

Real Bike Modal Share.

Real bike modal share in its worse form should – to be fair – never be worse than half the official rate.

Here is an example methodology for point no. 2:

Anti-solidarity malus points” (“Douchebag demerits” in American English/for the US environment) are recorded for illegal activities/behaviour going against custom and awarded to the mayor or city council, whichever is more appropriate, and it is with these awards that they must adjust e.g. results of primitive modal share rates recorded nearly blind e.g. only at the district or citywide level.

This anti-solidarity malus can be recorded roughly, for example by counting cyclists at any time of day and then subtracting one from the total based on any observed violation of law and custom. It can also be recorded more precisely, but noting the specific violations – some – e.g. riding without lights at night and scaring pedestrians will receive more malus points than others, e.g. riding on the pavement (sidewalk) on the way from the street to a front door or bike parking for a distance longer than provided by the closest open street-pavement transition point.

Citing or fining these cyclists is the job of law enforcement and is separate from malus counting. The point of the malus counting is to punish the local government and to keep them honest.


In the coming days I will continue the series to further detail my arguments in Part One. Please join, follow or otherwise watch this space.... and have a safe and truly representative holiday!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

What the mayor doesn't always tell you about bike modal share - Immigrant-focused cycle training?

Part Two of this Series. For Part One - which gives an overview and the context for the focus on training people of immigrant-background - click here.  For Part Three - about "Pure and Real" bike modal shares, click here.

Cultural and societal empowerment via bike. "L" is for learner... and laughter: Meryem Mouncif, from Morocco, apparently enjoys a cycle-training course given by the Centrum Buitenlandse Vrouwen (Centre for Foreign Women) in Tilburg, the Netherlands.

“Unfortunately there are not really municipalities or politicians that want to 'go' for this topic. It has not been so in the past, and not now either,” says Angela van der Kloof, a sustainable mobility consultant working at Mobycon in the Netherlands.

The vast majority of training happens informally, like in many other places – well, where parents bother - typically where parents teach their kids. Children receive traffic theory classes in their schools starting from age 6, and many take an on-street test by age 10 or 11.

Angela continues: “Formal cycle training in NL has focused on women who were not born in the Netherlands. In the 1970s, women - mostly from the Mediterranean-area - were able to join their husbands who had emigrated for work. They had instruction in language, sewing, knitting and handicrafts, and then started to ask for cycling instruction. The formal training began in the 1980s, organised at first in a grassroots way by volunteers.”

These days there is cycle training for children and also elders who have cycled their whole life and might need to be advised on things such as the advantage of lowering a seat, or – for men – using a low-step over bike, or a side mirror if they are unable to comfortably turn their head.

“After about 30 years of small scale or grass roots cycle training initiatives, hardly any municipality takes it seriously,”, says Angela. “Sometimes there is a sentence in a cycling policy document, but these years it has become more popular to either ignore specific needs of immigrants or other less powerful target groups, or ridicule them.”

She continues: “There are some exceptions. In my hometown of Tilburg [a city of just over 200,000 persons in the southern Dutch province of Noord Brabant] people who were not born in the Netherlands have been incorporated into the cycleplan as a specific target group. As a member of the Tilburg Fietsforum, which is an NGO that advises the municipality on cycling issues, I contributed to this cycleplan.

“So in Tilburg it has been pretty well arranged for quite a lot of years now. At the same time, last year the city council asked themselves how effective cycletraining and swimming lessons were for the integration and emancipation process of immigrant women. Another consultancy did a study and they found that the courses were very effective. So there was no basis to stop the subsidy. But each time, in every city, the people need to fight for it.

“What I mean is, that local politicians tend to look at the personal benefits for the participants of the courses only. And not look at the societal benefits in the short and long term: more health, less pollution, congestion. They just do not see why the municipality should bother and subsidize this or stimulate it otherwise.”

In 2008 and 2009 Angela was involved in supporting the setting up of a central cycle training point in Amsterdam. The project has since been stopped and the policymakers and politicians decided to focus on cycle training for children in general, not for specific target groups.

The official version for the halt of the programme is that it is hard to reach women with educational programs and it is more easy to reach the children through the schools, said Angela, “The reality is that there are waiting lists for the adult cycle training (some men have also expressed their need for cycle training) and schools are overwhelmed with educational programs and topics. Practical cycle training is often not a priority at schools and it is not easy to organise. It is not a good idea to train children in schools and not train the parents. Cycle training only makes sense if you have the possibility to cycle outside the school and children need their parents or other experienced cyclists to guide them in traffic. It is impossible to organise and finance enough on-road training for children in schools. It is much more efficient, effective and empowering to train the parents to cycle and give them tools to train their children themselves. The basic rules in traffic are being taught at school and of course they should keep on doing this!”

So has the focus on non-Netherlands born people increased their levels of cycling compared to other transport means closer to the Dutch average?

“Well, on a national level we have some information on how much these groups are cycling,” concludes Angela, “but, in regards to a balancing of mode share, very, very little research has been done on the topic and I think all of it is qualitative.”

Angela van der Kloof

Further resources and links:

In the coming days I will continue the series to further detail my arguments in Part One. For Part Three click here. Please join, follow or otherwise watch this space.... and have a safe and truly representative holiday!

Friday, December 16, 2011

What the mayor doesn't always tell you about bike modal share

Part One of this Series. For Part Two - going beyond what was published in Cycling Mobility - focused on cycle training of immigrants to the Netherlands, click here.

Intro: For the fourth (and sadly, final) issue of Cycling Mobility, which has just hit the street, I wrote a long blog-style article which was edited down considerably into an opinion piece. This follows immediately below, though the version in the magazine is somewhat longer. It was originally titled by the editors as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" which I objected to as it had both nothing to do with gays and lesbians serving in the U.S. military -- and as some kind of word play it also did not describe accurately what this whole thing is about...
The whole thing starts with the opinion - part I - and follows with four parts originally intended to be sidebars/boxouts with the original text. In part I have added some clarifications or emphasized certain things [in brackets] based on the original text. - Todd Edelman, Slow Factory.


As I walked in Copenhagen one night in December 2009, I joked with my companions that portraying it as a leading cycling city was so important to the mayor that he would pay cyclists to ride around so there were always bicycles on the streets [or even show a live CCTV video with computer-generated cyclists added]. 

Neither Copenhagen nor Amsterdam need to exaggerate how many people cycle there, or the percentage of cyclists as part of overall traffic. These figures are in hundreds of blogs every month and increasingly in mainstream media.

...or illusion? Frame grabs from "Protektor"(Czech Republic, 2009)

But as more people get on bikes in any given city, is it enough to simply publicise cycling’s share of journeys? I would argue that it isn’t. Instead, it is increasingly important to analyse how these figures are arrived at and what they tell us about cycling. It is more than a simple percentage: publicising cycling’s modal share should reflect design conditions, participants [e.g. ethnicity, ethnic origin, income level, gender...] and cyclist behaviour.

There are great infrastructure designs — the best are usually found in the Netherlands — and there is a lot of rubbish, and that includes high-density areas where cyclists are added to pedestrian space. Such shared use is normally the result of weakness; politicians are reluctant to take space from cars (either travelling or parked) due to pressure from motorists and the motoring lobby. 

I moved to Berlin in 2008, and my own street is a great example of how cyclists and pedestrians have been marginalised. Urbanstaße, in the district of Kreuzberg, was planned in the late 19th century. In its early configuration, a tram ran along the centre of the street and wide outside lanes were shared by horse-drawn vehicles, cyclists and a few motor vehicles. Not many cars were parked on the street.

Until roughly mid-20th century: Facade – garden – footway (sidewalk) – trees/planter – multi-use street lane – double-tracked, centre-running trams [streetcars] – multi-use street lane – trees/planter – footway – garden – facade

Today: Facade – footway – bike path – trees/planter – car storage – motor-vehicle lane – motor-vehicle lane – narrow centre divider – motor-vehicle lane – motor-vehicle lane – car storage – trees/planter- bike path – footway – facade

By the early 1960s the layout had changed, and it is still like this today. Cyclists are now in the former pedestrian space and the pedestrians are in the former garden area. The pedestrian and bike areas are at the same level, so cyclists who need more space (for instance to pass each other) ride in the pedestrian space. In recent years cycling has increased significantly and this has put riders perilously close to facades and doorways. Many riders go the wrong way, and it seems most are unaware they are breaking the law. If challenged, they say that “others do it” as a way of justifying their own actions.

This is the worst of Berlin’s cycling mobility — it is at the expense of pedestrians and other cyclists. The best way to describe it is “cycle-colonisation”. In terms of infrastructure, the current situation is a layout created over time and without much thought towards anything but improving the flow of motor traffic. It encourages and facilitates bad cycling behaviour. Bike trips in such locations are low in quality and dangerous — or often simply annoying for pedestrians. Such car-friendly/people-ignorant street designs have led to an explosion in the number of bike salmon, the term coined by NYC Bike Snob to describe people who ride illegally against traffic. As the cycling renaissance gathers pace, it is important to remember that one-way streets created for cars, such as the main routes in Berlin on either side of wide and fast streets, will suffer from an increasing number of wrong-way cyclists.

Some examples of how authorities see who is actually cycling - From top to bottom: Berlin results strongly hints at ethnic origin and income level (e.g. central districts are wealthier); Bogota chart is nearly explicit about income level (e.g. Zona Chapinero is the Colombian capital's most exclusive district); Netherlands info is quite specific about ethnicity of both parents ("Autochtoten" means both or only parent born in NL). All three ignore gender (though other research from these authorities does not).

So who is cycling and who isn’t?
Cycling accounts for about 15% of journeys in Berlin, but that varies considerably by district, and is often dependent on residents’ income or ethnic or national background.

Let's look at two districts. Broadly speaking, Mitte is gentrified with middle- and upper-class people of European origin. Neukölln is more varied and is home to a high number of people of Turkish descent, among others. It is middle- to working-class, except in the south, outside the S-bahn ring road.

Neukölln has a 12% cycling modal share, but just who is cycling? Is it men, women or children, the better-off, those on average incomes or the poor? In the northern part of this district, there are a high number of bike-happy newcomers from Europe and Canada/USA who probably make up a sizeable proportion of the 12%.

We need to know what lies behind the figures. Is it Neukölln’s terrible cycling infrastructure, or the social status that some residents attach to car ownership? All of this needs to be taken into account when quantifying bike use.

Dr. Jekyll? ...

Who is paying the penalty?
I spent weeks looking for a flat in Berlin before I moved here. It was wonderful and initially liberating to be in a city with a fair number of cyclists. I was generally on a bike myself — but that meant I missed something significant. It was only when I was settled into my new home and brought my old and frail dogs from Prague that I started walking a lot.

Once on two feet rather than two wheels, I began to notice cyclists riding without lights, not using a bell, going too fast or going the wrong way. My impression is that Berlin is worse for this than other north European cities. Even when I was walking the dogs in the right place on the footway, I felt that we were threatened by cyclists. Walking Prague with its low number of bikes felt safer than doing so in cycle-happy Berlin.

We’re probably all familiar with poor behaviour by cyclists, but these people were misbehaving for four reasons, all of which which feed on the other:
  • Bad infrastructure — as described
  • Antisocial behaviour — some cyclists and pedestrians react badly because they are at the bottom of the pile due to poor street design. It is also a reflection of Berlin itself: people here respond in different ways to the freedoms they enjoy when compared with the social disciplines expected elsewhere.
  • Sharp sticks but soft carrots — cyclists who misbehave can be fined, but enforcement is patchy. Most of the time these riders are ignored by the police, and other street users rarely speak out. There is no encouragement to behave better.
  • Lack of training — few Germans over the age of 50 have had any cycle training in school. Likewise, many immigrants have little experience of cycling in cities.
The four points combine to affect other street users, including other cyclists. In my view such poor quality cycling should not be counted or represented in in any publicised figure for cycling’s modal share.

... and Mr. Hyde? Grabs from a promotion video for "Neber der Spur. Das Fahrradhasserbuch" ("Off the Track. The Cycle Hater's Book", published in Germany in early 2011) , which suggests that normal, peaceful people become aggressive when they get on a bike.

So what about your city? Most people will not know how many people ride bikes. It probably only matters to politicians at election time. On a personal level, what counts is that you and your friends can cycle.

Any number for modal share is, therefore, abstract. Not all cities count cyclists in the same way, even if they use the same mechanism. Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Berlin, Waco — they are not on a racetrack in adjoining lanes.

The numbers are bandied about by mayors and city councils and their representatives. They use it for marketing. And experts pass the figures on.

Please don’t get me wrong — Berlin does have a few great examples of cycling infrastructure and education. Any hope of building on that is, however, dashed by the public’s collective reaction to bad cycling, usually expressed in the media. This backlash is too much for politicians to address within a term or even three.

But then why should cyclists expect more? Germany is addicted to the car, though some deny it. Nearly every cyclist stopped by police can point to a nearby driver doing something worse [if just because of physics]. Our politicians need to work with city dwellers to end the domination of the car and car culture. We have to remember that many of today's drivers are tomorrow’s well-behaved cyclists, and work out a way to manage that change. This is not some romantic ideal, but a realistic view forged in the heat of the debate over the energy shortages to come.

We need to be equipped to face the new reality — which will be with us not too many years hence. To prepare for this there needs to be significant investment in infrastructure and education, starting immediately.
Berlin, summer 2011 - Sign reads "Fight the Aggressive Cyclists. Consideration Takes Priority on All Our Paths" Photo by Steffen Zahn.


For Part Two in this series, click here

In the coming days I will upload the intended boxouts/sidebars which further detail my arguments herein. Please join, follow or otherwise watch this space.... and have a safe and truly representative holiday!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

NYC: Haiku Hi-viz! Commissioners' Conflicting Missions?

Old skool messaging...? The well-known(?) signage in Queens, NYC, by NYCDOT, 2007. Photo by Joe Shlabotnik.

Foreword: I lived in NYC from late 1996 until early 2000. 
Since Occupy Wall Street began, I was curious to see if any organizations, publications or blogs etc in NYC or abroad focused on sustainable mobility and better streets, or at least the major ones, would show support or even comment on, amongst other things, the actions of New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. The lack of mobility choices of many of the 99% is clearly connected with the policies of the 1%, and, after all, what good is a public space if you get attacked by the state for being in it?

Time's Up! in NYC did respond, as did J. H. Crawford of (the latter with a video "Occupy All Streets!" linked below). But as far as I can tell no other groups etc. did (tell me if I missed something). 

What is keeping these organizations quiet? I knew that - just to name one example - in 2009 the Bloomberg Foundation donated 125 million dollars to a coalition including EMBARQ, and that within a year EMBARQ praised Bloomberg policy in a video without mentioning this funding (and in the meantime a deputy mayor of Bloomberg had been appointed to simultaneously head his charity (!).... and that, generally speaking, sustainable mobility professionals working in NGOs find it personally prudent to separate a friendly issue from a sticky one. At least a couple people told me privately to do this in my related blog comments, Tweeting and so on.

BUT I don't roll like that. For me it's about solidarity and sustainability. And I don't want to single out Bloomberg: As I write this the Portland police are evicting Occupy Portland - wonder how this affects the street cred - or whatever - of the mayor of that city famous for cycling (in the USA context.)

Recently in my gentrifying neighbourhood in Berlin, I complained to a friend and neighbour  - he is about 50 and has been active in local politics at a grassroots level and has lived in the same co-op since the 1980's - about all the anti-social cycling that happens in the somewhat traffic-calmed neighbourhood. He passively encourages it, and does not mind if the restored cobblestone pavements (sidewalks) are covered with trash.

He said "We made this neighbourhood so nice that we can't afford to stay in it."


Gritting and gnashing my teeth as I leave aside gentrification (!), the "stop & frisk" policy of the New York City Police Department, lack of city support for animal shelters, support of the abusive carriage horse industry, and, connected with Occupy Wall Street, the destruction of a library in public space,  arrest and harassment of journalists and pepper spraying of peaceful protesters -- all of which NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg is ultimately responsible for, I, like many, appreciate what the NYC Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) has recently done for surface transportation safety in NYC, as part of the goals of PlanNYC, created by the Bloomberg administration.

Mike Bloomberg and his partner Diana Taylor, out for the evening, dressed in black. Photo from Business Insider.

Separated bike paths, bike parking, bike share (depending on its yet un-named sponsor) ... good stuff. Bloomberg's "lieutenant" in charge of this, the NYC Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, is popular for good reason. Her personal style is well known, too. She dresses in black, like the night, when riding a bike.

Curious if Sadik-Khan wants a bike with a proper, full chaincase so she doesn't have to keep on begging people for extra rubber bands. Photo by Fred R. Conrad/NY Times.

Last Tuesday NYCDOT introduced a new traffic safety awareness campaign. "Curbside Haiku" is meant to "... draw attention to the critical importance of shared responsibility among pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists in keeping New York City’s streets safe."

New skool messaging?

One of the signs - also a woman in black! The signs are small. Very small, so that they won't distract drivers, says Sadik-Khan in the NY Daily News (but then how does the "shared responsibility" of motorists get "attention"?).

Indeed, why is the campaign focused on blaming the victims? It might be because the budget - sourced from drunk-driving fines - was so small that larger driver-focused signs were impossible budget-wise. It could be because this was not very long in planning, and the connection was simply a 2010 New Yorker mention of the artist John Morse's earlier haiku work in Atlanta

Why is the campaign biased towards owners of smart phones which can read the QR codes? Half of the images will be presented with a QR code only, but perhaps only 1/3 of people walking and cycling in NYC have smart phones.

And now a few more of the signs:

It is not clear if the intention is driver vs. pedestrian here, but if it is, comparing the aggression of a driver and a pedestrian is an absurd non-starter. An aggressive pedestrian might push and shove on the sidewalk, but what can they do (compared) to a driver, let alone a car? An "aggressive pedestrian" is most likely to be injured themselves, or possibly make a cyclist fall, but no chance of doing the same kind of damage as a driver.

The blame the victim thing seems to be artist Morse's thing. In the anti-Sadik-Khan New York Post he says "... think about the fragility of your body. You're just a human. You're nothing against these cars. Poetry underscores the harshness of this reality. That's why it has this power." 

This is strange because the NYCDOT seems to recognize this. It is why separated bike paths - the best insurance against cyclist injury and death in a city (and world) where most people are still not prepared to stay or be carfree - are being built in NYC. This makes me think that NYCDOT is confused about how it wants to handle this "power". 

Well, Ms. Sadik-Khan, if the bike lane is this dangerous why is it not a separated bike path?

You may have noticed the partners of NYCDOT in "Streetside Haiku". The Safe Streets Fund includes both the Toyota Foundation and the American Automobile Association of NY. While these groups have every right to be involved with driver behaviour, I am not surprised that they support this partial pedestrian and cyclist victim-blaming action. They also support the NYCDOT's free helmet programme, which uses statistics on helmet safety - e.g. "Wearing a [...] helmet reduces the risk of serious head injuries by 80%..." which I believe are quite exaggerated, and then tosses out hyperbole like "...helmets are a good idea for cyclists of all ages..." while - I am sure - never telling parents something like what is in the proposed label at the bottom of this advert.

Confusion within NYCDOT communications, while possibly chronic, is perhaps nothing compared to how its gains in subjective (real) and objective safety are at least partly offset by the dangerously passive behaviour in regards to safety by the NYPD. 

The situation is now being investigated by Transportation Alternatives (TA). On Tuesday it "... delivered over 2,500 citizen letters to NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly demanding that the NYPD crack down on dangerous driving, and announced a comprehensive probe into how the department handles traffic crash investigations." The press conference video is here.

Stop & frisk is also, obviously, anti-freedom, so it works against the freedom increased by public squares and bicycle infrastructure. 

Another Bloomberg "lieutenant", Ray Kelly, in black! He is also quite popular. Some say he is a kind of general to Bloomberg's commander-in-chief.  Photo from Brooding Cynyx.

The NY Daily News story mentioned above reported that TA responded to the NYCDOT haiku action with:

Safe street designs. check,
But where is the enforcement?
It's your turn, police.

In the same vein, coverage in The New York Times "City Room" blog, comments were - by request - in the form of haiku. The most popular, by Steve in Brooklyn:

Drivers kill and maim
Hundreds die every year
Police ticket bikes


As you can see above Bloomberg (and his partner) plus his two commissioners most directly responsible for safety of NYC's surface transportation wear black often and very likely at night. They - like anyone - should feel free to do so. NYC - and all - drivers following reasonable speed limits should be able to see them. If they cannot see them, it is because they are driving too fast (and that the street might have too fast a speed limit or other designs which prioritize motorized traffic flow over everything else).


To be fair to the artist Mr. Morse (and NYCDOT), they did do one image and haiku I really like.