Three Simple Ways to Improve Walking and Cycling Infrastructure

Many cities and towns often do not have the right infrastructure in the right places to support walking and cycling. Providing the wrong infrastructure could lead to more driving, further contributing to traffic congestion. Some simple initiatives can help to build a walking and bicycle culture in cities.

To change people’s transport habits, we need walking and cycling infrastructure that is safe enough for everyone to use whether they are a nine-year-old cycling to school or an 80-year-old grandmother walking to the local shops. Research in Queensland, Australia showed that 70 percent of people on bicycles are middle-aged men. Very few women and children ride bicycles on a regular basis.

More people walking and riding a bicycle can reduce urban traffic congestion, support local shops, improve air quality, reduce noise, improve our health, well-being and fitness levels, reduce personal and family transport expenses and costs, connect people to their community and local environment as well as provide people of all ages with a sense of transport freedom.

We can all be part of creating and improving walking and cycling infrastructure revolution. Here’s simple ways we can get involved.

1. Data on cyclists spending

Imagine the next time you are in a cafe with your cycling friends that you calculate how much you collectively spend. Imagine your local cafe tweeting, “30 people on bicycles just spent 600 Australian dollars on coffee and lunch”. Research by Alison Lee in Lygon Street, Melbourne showed that each square metre allocated to bike parking generates 31 Australian dollars per hour, compared to 6 Australian dollars generated for each square metre used for car parking.

2. Data on arrivals by bicycle

Imagine if your local shops converted one unused button on their cash register to record the number of people arriving by bicycle. Imagine the greengrocer, newsagent and cafe all recording hundreds of people arriving by bike. Many tourist attractions collect data on the number of people arriving by boat, bus and bike. This data can be used to get funding for new infrastructure for example bicycle parking.

3. Data on where cyclists live

Imagine if we all did a bicycle census in our own suburb or street. The 2012 Australian Local Government cycling participation survey told us that just over half of all households had access to a working bicycle. Imagine if we asked people in the street where we live about their bikes and if their bikes are in good working order. Many schools have systems to collect journey to and from school data each and every month. The process means that schools had real data for numeracy projects and council had hard evidence to justify new footpaths and bikeways.

If we are really passionate about making our cities walking and bicycle friendly and we want to compete for government funding then we need to collect data. If we all collect more data we can all be part of creating a walking and cycling infrastructure revolution.

How do you think you can contribute to improving walking and cycling infrastructure in your city? Share your ideas in the comment section.

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

Internet and Portable Electronic Giants’ Involvement in Electric Vehicles

Their focus convinces us to strongly believe EVs (Electric vehicles) will be the Model T of the 21st Century. The Model T replaced the horse-and-buggy very fast with its obvious advantages on speed, practicality, affordability, etc. A similar phenomenon is beginning to take place in a few countries around the world, where the percentage of new vehicles purchased with a plug are moving up.

Right now, they represent only a rather insignificant percentage if you make comparisons. However the trend just might follow the Model T syndrome, should the price of the vehicle reaches the level of its ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) counterparts, which have been improved, refined and mass-produced for over a century.

Barriers holding back the adoption of electric vehicles

1. Lack of infrastructure to recharge the batteries – the time to implement this is longer than that of petrol.

2. “Range Anxiety” – this often discussed issue also acting against the sales of pure electric vehicles due to the scarcity of recharging outlets.

The efforts on building them work in direct proportion of the production or sales of EVs and vice-versa.

If one just to imagine being in a permanent reduction of about 95 percent of all petrol stations, as happened temporarily during the 1970s OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) oil embargo, who would consider buying the car they are driving right now? This is the more or less the situation, early EV adopters are in nowadays.

The battery cost is the major contributor for the difference in sticker prices in the scale EV vs. ICE. They have been gradually coming down in the last years, and promising to get closer to the level of Lead-Acid 150+ years old chemistry, however the skyrocketing prices of rare metals, mined only in a very few countries, might make it an uphill battle. This could especially occur when EVs reach the mainstream market and overheat the demand to the stratosphere.

Nonetheless, major players, including companies in different business areas such as Internet providers and portable electronics are investing heavily in the EV business model. Even the United Nations are organizing international conventions where they are calling for talks and commitments to work in favor of the decarbonisation of human activity. This obviously includes the adoption of vehicles with no toxic emissions.

All the latest news stories are pointing to a carbon-free transition in land transportation, however it has to go also through a very strong opposition from the “business-as-usual” heavy-set players and the questions remain: how long will the battle take, and who will win at the end?


The transition to green urban transportation

In fact, that end could happen much sooner than one might think, should a coalition of utility companies, power contractors, etc. join the cause by taking over the battery-modules ownership. They could negotiate a SAE/DIN standardization with automakers and lease them to motorists on a pay-as-you-go basis. It would bring EV prices down to competitiveness right there; would create thousands of outsource-proof jobs while shifting all profits from energy acquisition for transportation in-house, end most (if not all) conflicts over oil as well as significantly reduce the risks of the possibility of funding terrorist organizations.

This might sound like another pie-in-the-sky idea (like EVs not too long ago) however: Should petrol products distribution companies also join the bandwagon by installing modular instant-swapping battery-modules machinery on the area of the barely used parking spots of their petrol stations, it would spell the arrival of the transition.

Automated Recharging or Instant-switching Electric Stations (ARIES) would benefit motorists living in apartments, flats, townhouses without access to overnight electrical outlets, as well as long distance drivers, out-of-towners, taxis, rentals, car-share, couriers, police cruisers, etc., without interrupting the traditional petrol business.

The potentially profitable network of stations could also take care of fluctuation of consumption plus “peak-shave”, allowing power plants to operate in a 30~50 percent (depending on the size and density of the network) capacity steady output 24/7, improving equipment efficiency or maintenance while avoiding typically wasted electricity.

They will serve also as perfect sites for the construction of sub-stations (on their penthouses), which could counter-act a threat of blackout locally. Larger format “ARIES” systems could also be built to serve trucks, trailers and buses.

Should a coalition of other retailers decide to join the “green-club”, it would sure help to speed up the transition, as they could also use their outlet network for the sales and servicing EVs. In fact, there is a minimum requirement for maintenance on these automobiles – no oil changes, hundreds of moving parts, mufflers, radiators, fuel stuff, etc.

Very fortunately, there are some signs of cooperation among major players in the EV manufacturing business which give us hope in the possibility of the creation of an international coalition to save the planet.

What will be the outcome of the investments of Internet providers and smartphone or computer manufacturers, as well as the possibility of involvement of utility companies, petrol distributors and other retailers in electric vehicle (EV) activities? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

How Does the Policy Framework Affect the Success of New Transportation Technologies

Innovators across the globe are developing new ways to solve mobility challenges in urban and rural environments. As these ideas become more applicable in real world situations, it is important to remember the political and policy effects of these exciting new technological advances.

In order for mobility technologies to be successful, innovators need to communicate with policy makers to ensure that the existing public infrastructure merges well with new technology and that regulation continues to enable innovations of this sort.

The public and private sectors can also work together to create lucrative partnerships. For example, the public sector can use public dollars and resources to incentivize the private sector to fill gaps in the publically available transportation services.

The current transportation landscape

In the United States, local public transit operators such as Los Angeles Metro have introduced offices dedicated solely to innovation. These offices are responsible for developing partnerships between public transit providers and private sector companies. These partnerships aim to develop complimentary transportation solutions.

At the national level, the Obama Presidential Administration recently announced a new “Smart Cities” initiative that “will invest over 160 million dollars in federal research” exploring – amongst other things – how to use technology to improve mobility in the United States.

While this shows effort at the local and national level, more work needs to be done to define the most effective roles for national, state and local governments. Defining these roles will allow communities to take advantage of the new mobility technology at a faster and more efficient pace.

Understanding the bigger picture of transportation landscape

It is important to explore how national level governments can continue to play an active role in the policy sphere. Already, think tanks are investing in grant-funded research to explore the connection between mobility, technology, and policy.

These independent and “big picture” perspectives provide a starting point for discussion about future policy roles as transportation technology continues to rapidly evolve. This type of research can help identify how the policy framework can participate in current and potential trends.

As technology has changed, so have the needs and usage of consumers, which in turn, is changing how people travel. These waves of demographic trends may need to be reflected in how the federal government is structured.

Many have criticized separate modes of transportation for their lack of communication thus causing barriers to innovation; for example, it was only recently that the U.S. Federal Highway Administration proposed a rule change that would exempt urban roads from the same regulations that apply to conventional highways.

Changes in the national level role may need to be far more drastic, but it is worth starting that conversation now to shape how policy can play a role as technology continues to change.

Leave a comment: How do you see the national, state, or local government playing a role in your country in regulating and encouraging new transportation technologies?

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

Are Predictable Traffic Jams a ‘Tragedy of the Commons?’

Predictable traffic jams or ‘dumb mobility’ is hampering progress towards a better mobility, and will only be reduced when people take greater collective responsibility for mobility outcomes. This article considers whether the road network is a ‘commons’, and if so if dumb mobility represents a ‘tragedy’ of the commons. It suggests that the ‘commons model’ may be a useful framework for thinking about the challenge of getting people to take greater collective responsibility for mobility outcomes.

In a 1968 article in Science called ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’, Garrett Hardin provided a fascinating and very readable insight into the nature of mankind to breed and consume itself into extinction. Mankind depends on certain common resources for survival. A feature of a ‘commons’ is that individuals can consume the common resource without restriction.

Hardin explains that as population expands beyond some point, rational (self-interested) consumption of the common resource by each individual can be expected to result in excess consumption by the whole of the community, thereby destroying the common resource: a tragedy. Hardin called for ‘mutual coercion mutually agreed upon’ as a mechanism for preserving the resource – in effect removing it from being a commons.

In 2009, Elinor Ostrom received the Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences for demonstrating that ordinary people can create the sort of mutual coercion that Hardin spoke of. In her 1990 book, Governing the Commons, Ostrom explains that at the heart of the tragedy of the commons and similar models is the problem of the free rider – the one who gets the benefit of the collective action, but does not contribute to the joint effort.

Is the road network a commons?

The road network is somewhat different to the types of common pool resources that Hardin’s and Ostrom’s work explores. As well as not being a natural resource, a key difference is that road networks are (or were) expandable, so upon finding the shared resource full, more lanes could be constructed – not the case with grazing land, fish, or an aquifer.

Also, putting too much demand on the road network does not necessarily damage it for future use in the way that natural resources suffer from over-use.

However, once the limits of road network expansion are reached (either physically or fiscally) the resources seem more similar. And if the resource is framed as a thoroughfare, with the benefit derived being unimpeded passage on a daily basis, then an argument could be made that its function as an effective thoroughfare during peak periods on certain days of the week can be permanently damaged by predictable traffic jams.

In this way, the road network can be seen as a commons, and dumb mobility can be seen as a tragedy of that commons.

Governing the road network commons

Hardin speaks of inevitability. However Ostrom’s research identified a number of examples where sustainable self-managed shared resources existed, and had existed over long periods of time without becoming tragedies. She analyzed case studies of these situations and proposed a framework for evaluating options for alternative structures in different situations.

She proposed a small change in the theoretical model that explained a workable alternative, and presented a very real example of such a solution in operation. In essence, the users of a common resource (in this case a fishery in Alanya, Turkey) devised a solution that allotted fishing sites to local fishers without the usual methods of privatization or central (read government) regulation.

Ostrom goes on about examples that have worked and ones that have not: “The differences may have to do with factors internal to a given group. The participants may simply have no capacity to communicate with one another, no way to develop trust, and no sense that they must share a common future. Alternatively, powerful individuals who stand to gain from the current situation, while others lose, may block efforts by the less powerful to change the rules of the game. Such groups may need some form of external assistance to break out of the perverse logic of their situation.”

“The differences may also have to do with factors outside the domain of those affected. Some participants do not have the autonomy to change their own institutional structures and are prevented from making constructive changes by external authorities who are indifferent to the perversities of the commons dilemma, or may even stand to gain from it.”

As people sit in traffic, suffering from dumb mobility, to what extent are they participants in a tragedy of the commons in which they have “no capacity to communicate with one another, no way to develop trust (that they will not cheat), and no sense of their common future”?

To what extent are they bound to stay in this situation as a result of ‘powerful individuals or external authorities who stand to gain from the tragedy, or are indifferent to it’?

Further, is it possible in 2015 that the tools are beginning to exist that could help them communicate with one another and develop trust? If so, could a new paradigm of road network management be devised by the users (rather than tolling authorities or central government regulators) that would result in better outcomes?

What do you think of the idea that the road network is a commons? Is dumb mobility a tragedy of that commons? And do you think road users could devise a better management system? Please share your opinions in our comment section.

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

Car and Bike Should be More Friends than Enemies

In the past few years, sustainable mobility has been revealed as an effective political tool to attract the vote of the more environmental conscious citizens in western world and more recently in Latin America. These are generally well known good news for the planet and urban life. The problem lies on the fact that this political eagerness sometimes turns into bad public policies which go against the same purpose they aim for.

Radicalism and non-agreed political direct decisions on urban mobility planning, especially bike boosting programs, must be taken seriously or they can be potentially dangerous. The basis of good urban planning and social comfort is coexistence and not confrontation.

Bike boosting programs, whose target is to promote biking as a real commuting alternative, were initially carried out by social organizations which pushed the political willingness afterwards. The conceptual basis of these initiatives was on the right track, looking for equity in the public space use and reclaiming the citizen right of equal opportunities for each citizen independently of his means of transport. Especially if that transport mode is more efficient at peak hours, how it happens with bike use over car domination.

Misunderstandings and repeated mistakes in bike boosting mobility policy

As the Spanish saying goes, “Humans are the only animal that trip over the same stone twice.” The problem does not consist in the goal, but the current methods. The defense of this bike boosting mobility policy is misunderstood creating the assumption that there is a war to be won against the car.

To think about mobility justice as giving the right to bikers and other users to share the space formerly dedicated to cars on main vehicular avenues is a large planning conceptual mistake that has terrible and sometimes irreversible consequences in bike use promotion.

First of all, the war “bike against car” loses its point considering that they are simply machines whose only purpose is to let us commute every day. Every citizen is as rightful as the next one to move as he considers most convenient, always following the logical convention of social civic behavior. In conclusion, a biker has the same mobility rights as a driver and this concept is important to bear in mind.

Secondly to classify driver and biker needs as the same pattern of needs technically is also a mistake. Moreover, if we consider the matter from the point of view of coexistence and street hierarchy for the different mobility alternatives, car and bicycle are completely compatible, in fact, they are complementary.

Thirdly, every mobility network, independent of the transport mode, has his primary, secondary and local streets. From the 50’s, cities have been planned having the car as its priority so this idea has been also established in the people’s idiosyncrasy, including the pro-bike social platforms.

The mindset that vehicular primary avenues are the core of the urban life has to change. Car use must be discouraged as well as land use and streetscape improved, but these avenues should not become more complex in terms of their mobility and road safety.

Implementing bike lanes or other bike infrastructure in vehicular avenues?

Vehicular avenues are vehicular priority streets, main car mobility connectors within the city. Their main planning objective should be to attract, concentrate and canalize car flows as fast as possible from their origins to the most important mobility attractors such as the city center.

For this reason, these avenues are generously wide with car dedicated lanes, each one of them 3 to 3.5 meter wide, having traffic light prioritization and lots of connections with lower hierarchy streets that are not always controlled by traffic lights.

On the other hand, cycle tracks or bike lanes are exactly the same for the bicycle network. This dedicated infrastructure is the “vehicular avenue” for bikers: High quality standard infrastructure which provides comfort, connectivity and continuity so as to attract, concentrate and canalize bike flows. Furthermore, the less noisy or polluted and the more beautiful the street is the more attractive it becomes for cycled mobility.

What do you think about the bike and car war in urban planning? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.