Cycling
August 25, 2010

New York Fit City

How can we in Vancouver be having a debate about bike lanes and cycle tracks without talking about fitness and active transportation?  That doesn’t happen in New York City:

George Miller, the current president of the American Institute of Architects and a local practitioner, opened the fifth annual Fit City symposium at the Center for Architecture, in Manhattan, by challenging the crowd to rethink the planning, architecture, and design of our metropolis, with the goal of encouraging physical activity and healthy lifestyles.

Our city is in the midst of a health emergency: 43 percent of elementary school children are overweight or obese, and diabetes rates are climbing, driving health-care costs up and life expectancies down. Clearly, a shift in mind-set is needed. “Ninety percent of the game is half mental,” Miller quipped, channeling Yogi Berra, master of the malaprop.

More here.

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“Residents who live near public transportation live healthier, longer lives,” says this Planetizen item, referencing Todd Litman’s work, and thereby affirming the bias of this blog.

This research indicates that people who live or work in communities with high-quality public transportation tend to drive significantly less and rely more on alternative modes (walking, cycling and public transit) than they would in more automobile-oriented areas. This reduces traffic crashes and pollution emissions, increases physical fitness and mental health, and provides access to medical care and healthy food.

Self-evident, you say?  But oddly, not a point raised in the debate over bike lanes.  When the medical-care system is threatened by the implications of obesity, why is that point not front and centre when the debate turns to the choices we make on how to spend our tax dollars (see immediately below)?

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July 30, 2010

Sandy James passes along some disconcerting news for those of us who sit at screens.

From the New York Times:

In a study published in May in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, (researchers) reported that, to no one’s surprise, the men who sat the most had the greatest risk of heart problems. …

What was unexpected was that many of the men who sat long hours and developed heart problems also exercised. Quite a few of them said they did so regularly and led active lifestyles. The men worked out, then sat in cars and in front of televisions for hours, and their risk of heart disease soared, despite the exercise.

Their workouts did not counteract the ill effects of sitting.

Darn.

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July 23, 2010

From Dan Freeman:

Just came back from a recent trip to Montreal, where I used Bixi almost exclusively to get around. Was a lot of fun and incredibly easy  to use – even in the sweltering heat.

I thought you might enjoy this picture of a surprising use of  Montreal’s public bikes: as outdoor gym!

Just outside the Place d’Armes Metro station (next to Chinatown and the  newly renovated Convention Centre) I came across this group of seniors  pedaling away on the bicycles parked at the docking station!

Why not? Chock it up to another public health benefit of public bicycle systems.

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From the BBC:

Germans have been throwing an enormous party on one of the busiest stretches of the country’s famous autobahn (motorway) network.

As many as three million people turned up for a giant banquet at picnic tables along 60km (40 miles) of motorway between Duisburg and Dortmund. The Still-Life event was meant to celebrate the Ruhr region.

Party organisers said they had given away 20,000 tables to allow people to eat, drink, dance and perform plays into Sunday evening.

At midday German media reported that the A40 temporarily had to be closed to cyclists due to traffic jams and overcrowding.

Thanks to Ron Richings.

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My latest Business in Vancouver column:

Half a month after the new Dunsmuir cycle track opened, the reaction to the separated bike lane that runs through the eastern heart of downtown, from Main Street to Hornby, has been surprisingly muted, given the emotions typically stirred up by the reallocation of road space.

The prevalent attitude in the downtown business community seems to be: wait and see.

Those who had rushed to judgment once before, predicting chaos and overwhelming disapproval of the bike lane on the Burrard Bridge, were disarmed by its success. This time they’re holding fire, save for the culture warriors who clamour for scalp on their blogs.

For those inconvenienced, particularly by the loss of right-hand turns, there’ s a sense that a self-righteous minority is changing the rules of the game, that the social engineers have been given a bulldozer. They turn their anger on those “children of traffic,” the red-light-flouting cyclists.

There’ s also that annoyance factor when guilt enters the equation. Those who don’ t embrace two-wheeled transportation intuitively feel they’re being criticized for a slovenly lifestyle, not to mention the death of polar bears. It can make for a touchy conversation.

But, we all wonder, where is this going?

More lanes to be reallocated? Viaducts to be torn down? Streets to be pedestrianized? It looks like those advocates for Copenhagenizing the centre of Vancouver have momentum – and a movement.

‘Active transportation’ is the catch-all name for ways of getting around that involve the human body. It can mean anything from cycling to work to taking the stairs. Embraced by the public-health profession, it now comes with the imprimatur of those who have “Dr.” in front of their names.

In addition to the obesity epidemic, active transportation also addresses other major issues simultaneously: reducing greenhouse gases and air pollution, increasing affordability and transportation choice, creating green jobs and attracting the creatives.

That’ s a tough list to come out against. Trying to argue against a bike lane suggests that none of these issues need to be taken so seriously that we would actually do anything about them, certainly nothing that would inconvenience those in cars and trucks.

There’ s also legitimate doubt about the consequences of redesigning the city for those on foot and bike. Will such strategies be accepted enough in the real world to really make a difference? Are they worth the money? And will such social and physical engineering hurt the economy, threatening the vitality of the very thing it’s trying to be part of – the downtown core?

In short, is a cycling city really practical for our rainy way of life?

A few years ago, it might have been possible to spark a campaign of opposition to changes like the Dunsmuir cycle track, maybe even strong enough to create a political movement. Opponents could claim, as they did in Toronto about a proposed bike lane on Jarvis Street, that there’ s a “war on the car” being mounted and that greener-city strategies are ultimately frivolous, wrong-headed and wasteful of taxpayer dollars. At another time, even half a decade ago, that might have worked.

But in the meantime, the Gulf of Mexico started to bleed.

What’ s happening there is not just a another oil spill – regrettable but correctable. This is an oil volcano – a hole in the ocean floor through which the earth is spewing its innards. A man-assisted hole, to be sure, but not man-controlled. The 24-hour broadcast of that cloudy spout, pumping out an Exxon Valdes worth of oil every week, month after month, is devastating to the narrative of progress and technological mastery that constitutes our secular religion.

For Canadians, it surely raises some troubling questions. Will Canada allow drilling in the Arctic? Will we lay more pipelines, build more ports, scale up the tarsands to get more of the crude we need to keep our civilization’s trajectory going ever upward? Well, probably.

In doing so, we create a tension in our conscience. A society trying to reconcile the planetary consequences of its consumption is one ripe for change – and a bicycle route in a world of climate change and peak oil looks increasingly more like common sense than alternative lifestyle.

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You can determine the ‘walkability’ of your neighbourhood by using Walk Score – a website will give you a rating out of 100 for practically any address in North America.  But can you do the same for ‘bikeability’?

Sort of.  You may not yet be able to do so for any address, but at least you can find out what elements go into determining what makes a community more bike friendly.   Nathan McNeil is a Master of Urban and Regional Planning at Portland State University – and he’s just published his paper on “Bikeability and the 20-Minute Neighbourhood.”

Not surprising that this work has come out of Portland, a community that is not just a mecca for active transportation but which also  has a culture that generates the research needed to advance the transformation of communities.

Thanks to Ron Richings.

UPDATE: Just in case you missed in it in Comments, Adam Parast of the Seattle Transit Blog sent in a similar project he did for an advanced GIS class. “My project wasn’t based on as good of data (ie Jennifer Dill’s work) but if you take a look at the results they show the same trends. “

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“6% productivity boost in active-travel cities could save millions”

Well, duh. 

But it’s nice to have a number:

New research from the Parsons Brinckerhoff-Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute Alliance shows productivity is 6% higher in active-travel cities, which could save close to AU$40 million in health care and productivity costs.

Speaking from Canberra, PB’s Director of Sustainability Darren Bilsborough explained three reasons why the research supported an alternative approach to urban development.

The research shows active-travel cities, which encourage people to walk or cycle, have more productive workforces – by over 6%

“Second, these cities generate considerable health and productivity savings for their communities – close to $40 million measured over a 50-year period.

“Third, these cities provide a framework for sustainable population growth.

“It is very important to include our nation’s health and productivity in any measure of the sustainability of city infrastructure.

“Active-travel cities encourage higher levels of physical activity through incidental exercise – with a proportional decrease in health costs.

“Increased workforce productivity was measured by lower absenteeism, stress levels, job satisfaction and turnover due to better health.”

More here.

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What, asks transportation consultant Todd Litman, has been the biggest vehicular breakthrough of recent decades?

This:

Wheels on luggage.  Rolling suitcases.  The freedom to carry stuff while walking.

You can certainly see the effect on the Canada Line.  Those who might previously have opted for a taxi now save the cash and go by transit – because they don’t have to struggle to carry their luggage by hand.  No doubt, airline charges for checked luggage have had their impact too, along with the desire to pack everything into something carry-on size.

So now a class of people who would never have imagined themselves using transit have become converts.  They first get used to taking the train to the airport, then perhaps a connecting bus; they begin to walk longer distances than normal, and start to see the urban landscape as someone in a wheelchair might – a place that has to allow for seamless transitions.

In short, they change their view of how a city can work, and ultimately their place in it.

Not bad for a few pieces of round plastic.

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