Wednesday, May 13, 2009

On the Coalition of Sustainable Transport

We're all in this together, us transit riders and bikers. We're in a fierce fight against the car and the its superior attitude out there that pervades our national psyche. Of course I believe that cars are necessary at some times (I drive one once a week to visit family) and we shouldn't completely rid ourselves of them. I also believe that bikes are real transportation and perhaps would be used more if infrastructure was built more for beginners who are truly scared for their lives when biking on the mean streets. But I can't get on board with comments like those written by Stephen Jones in his bikes article in the Guardian:
For the rest of you: what's your excuse? Why would you continue to rely on such wasteful and expensive transportation options — a label that applies to both cars and buses — when you could use the most efficient vehicle ever invented?
First off, a bus is nowhere near as wasteful as a car, especially here in San Francisco where many of our transit lines are electric and powered by hydro plants as well as packed to the brim with riders. Second, while I really love the fog in San Francisco, it's like the humidity in Houston that uses moisture to boil you alive, but instead chills you to the bone. It's not hard to wonder on a cold rainy day why someone might want to have the option of taking Muni. Transportation should be multi-modal to give people options. If we start to think our mode is the best for everything, we're no better than highway engineers and the sprawlagists.

I understand that it was probably supposed to be a rhetorical question, but I'd like to think we're in this together against the car culture that keeps modes of more efficient transportation from thriving. Perhaps many cyclists share this feeling, that Muni is not needed, however I believe that would be a dangerous mistake to make, and bust up a winning coalition that seems to have cars on the ropes, even if we do suffer setbacks such as today's budget fail.


Anonymous said...

Please check out Gruber Assist. Not that the price is right yet, but this is a 2-pound bike motorizer that will bring long distance biking to people of almost any physical capability. Maybe not this exact mult-thousand dollar gadget, but more reasonably priced versions of it to come.

fpteditors said...

Naturally anyone who attacks buses is going to get ink, don't blame the majority of cyclists. Yes, the bus is a transition back to the streetcar, just as it was the other way.

W. K. Lis said...

Before one can have sustainable transport, you have to be able to at least walk to the transit stop. That means sidewalks. Many residential, commercial, and industrial areas lack sidewalks. In winter, with snowbanks piled high, walking on the road (especially with children) can be dangerous.
Sidewalks must be put in now, so that transit can be used.

Greg said...

The "bike supremacists" are delusional. They seem to think that the entire world can ride a bike, including seniors, people with small children, etc.

The kind of asinine commentary such as the one you criticize is becoming typical of the "progressives" in town. Never mind that many people can't practically ride a bike to work because they don't have a job where they can walk in decked out in bike gear and such.

Bob Davis said...

As one who hasn't ridden a bicycle in many years, I sometimes marvel at the almost "evangelical" fervor which bike boosters try to sell cycling. The LA Times has published articles that extol the virtues of bicycles, even though they get a lot more ad revenue from autos. At some level of bike usage, there will come a "tipping point" where bicycling becomes as widely used as it is in Holland, or Davis CA (both of which have topography that brings the term "billiard table" to mind). Until then, it will remain a "niche market", divided among college students, kids too young to drive, Mormon missionaries, daredevil messengers, Sierra Club members and the Day-Glo jersey folks to whom "bicycling is not a means of transportation, it's a way of life." So far most Americans haven't been priced out of the convience, speed, safety, comfort and cargo capacity of the automobile (or pickup truck). Even those of us who are followers of Al Gore find these advantages hard to give up. "Hush little luxury, don't you cry. You'll be a necessity by and by."

Pedestrianist said...

There are many advantages to bikes and any complete transportation strategy for a city (if not for an individual) must necessarily include bicycles.

But while they may be energy efficient to operate, they are only slightly more efficient than cars in terms of use of public space.

Bikes are smaller than cars, but they take up space at a rate of one/person on the road. And they do not disappear when you get off them. Bike parking may be easier to accommodate in cities, but it is really just the same problem as car parking on a different scale.

Walking and Transit represent a communal use of resources that avoids problems with storage and limited road capacity that - though they are admirably less obnoxious than with cars - are still very real inefficiencies that come with bikes.

njh said...

Pedestrians also take up a space at the rate of one/person.

Alon Levy said...

Biking is even more efficient than walking. I for one am going to stop walking anywhere, even in my own apartment.

Steve said...

Yes, pedestrians also take up space at the rate of one/person but unlike a bike, with a pedestrian you don't have to worry about vehicle storage once you reach your destination.

Pedestrianist said...

No, pedestrians take up space at a rate of zero per person (or a bag per person, etc.)

If we say pedestrians = 1/person then bikes > 1/person

A bicycle takes up more space than a pedestrian.

njh said...

A pedestrian takes up at least a square metre, probably more like 5 when you include the force field around people (personal space, fire escapes, toilets, corridors etc).

It is true that a bike takes up somewhat more than that, but I expect for people at a destination the bike space is comparable to the person space - pedestrians are no more than twice as efficient as bikes in terms of destination space. Velib improves on this, rollerblades are better still :)

Alon Levy said...

A pedestrian doesn't take even close to a square meter. In protests, it's common to have 6 people per square meter. The New York City Transit safety guidelines call for at most 3.6 people/m^2 on the subway, and are routinely exceeded by a factor of about 1.15 on the busiest line. In motion crowding levels are lower, but not by much - at busy intersections, people can go literally shoulder-to-shoulder, taking up perhaps a third of a square meter each. My impression is that the distance to the nearest person in motion at Times Square is no different from on a really crowded subway line or a moderately crowded peace march, which would imply ~3-4/m^2. This should imply a capacity of about 30,000 per car lane width per hour, but I'm pretty sure that with red lights and people elbowing their way through in both directions, it never consistently reaches these levels.

I honestly don't know how much space a bike takes when stationary (i.e. on a train). In motion, it's probably the same as a motorcycle, which has a capacity of 6,000-7,500 per car lane width per hour. But it's easier to park bicycles - all you need is a bike rack at the lobby of your place of work.