Tag Archives: safety

Levi’s jeans made for bicycling

I went to the store to buy some pants today (yes, I know, black Friday and all but I really needed some pants). I was surprised to see that Levi’s is now selling bicycle “commuter” jeans that are water resistant, have extra sewing on the inseam for ruggedization, stretch fabric, a “utility” waistbelt to carry a U-lock, antimicrobial protection against odors, and when you turn up the cuff, they have a reflector sewn in. Kudos, Levi’s! Unfortunately, I didn’t like them as much as the pair I ended up buying but I’m glad they are available. Clearly designed with the Mission/Williamsburg hipster crowd in mind.

A city with real problems worth fighting for

Now compare that last post with a city with real problems like New York City. Here’s a great video by of an intersection in the Big Apple showing very clearly that what cyclists do (or should) fear in NYC is definitely not other cyclists, but everything else on the street.

Albertslund: a town with a completely segregated bike network

Recently, I went for a trip out to the Copenhagen suburb of Albertslund. This town has a history of progressive city planning, particularly in bicycle infrastructure. In the 1960s, they developed a completely segregated network of bicycle trails throughout the whole town, with the idea that kids would safely and easily be able to get to school without having to have conflicts with car traffic. Now they are planning to be the first municipality connected to inner Copenhagen via a 15 km segregated bicycle superhighway or what they are calling in Danish a “super bicycle path” (cykel superstier). I went to investigate both the old bike infrastructure in Albertslund and to pilot the new “highway”. I’ve put the section on the highway ride into a separate post since it was too long otherwise.

When we got off the train in town, we immediately spoke with a middle aged Danish woman and told her we had come out to visit their bike infrastructure. She didn’t seem the least bit surprised (apparently, we were not the first) and gave us a little trip plan. She seemed perfectly delighted and proud of the bike network.

The first path we came to was nice enough and followed along a little canal that ran through the center of town. I’m not sure why the path was made of bricks rather than pavement but nonetheless, it was nice not to have to hassle with any cars.

In particular, it was very nice that they had signage everywhere telling you where different things were in town. Sometimes there was even a map. All of these places were accessible by a completely segregated network of biking and walking trails.

On the other hand, no intersections with cars also meant lots of tunnels, which might not be so nice late at night.

Also, if you happened to accidentally get up on the “wrong” network, it could be challenging to find your way back to the “right” network and you didn’t want to be on the car network since there was no place for bikes or pedestrians. However, as we can see here, people may occasionally need to (or prefer) to be where the cars are and they had to adapt. These conflicts are not planned for and may be more dangerous than a typical intersection as a result.

In the background, there is a girl who was about 10 years old. She couldn’t figure out why I was taking pictures (particularly after I told her I was studying their bicycle infrastructure). She said she didn’t ride a bike but that her friends did. She took a bus to school, even though it was within biking distance. I wasn’t really able to find out why.

It was really nice to have all the paths segregated. You got a very carefree and easy way to experience the town. On the other hand, I couldn’t help but feel a bit detached from the more urban “life” of the town since while you were on the bike paths, you never passed any store fronts which were still oriented toward the car streets. Also, I was concerned that there might be greater conflict and higher rates of accidents in the situations were there did happen to be bikes or pedestrians on the car streets since these interactions were not planned for with any infrastructure and cars might be more surprised than usual to find someone on “their” street. However, I do not know the data to tell if this concern is well founded.

I am very glad that Albertslund was daring enough to try such an interesting and innovative concept and executed it relatively well. However, I left convinced that don’t want towns to be fully segregated. Otherwise, it seems to create an “us and them” situation where shops choose to cater to one or the other. Can’t we instead build cities and streets for all people and all modes that function together? I’m by no means a John Forester “integrationist”, or a hater of segregated paths. Bike lanes are important and have an important place in cities. But going to the other extreme of complete segregation between motorized and non-motorized infrastructure is not the city that I aspire towards either. We need to develop safe and comfortable experiences where all types of road users can contribute to the street life in order to develop more dynamic and enjoyable cities.

What good are “bike superhighways”?

After our tour of Albertslund, we started heading out of town to try out the “new” bike superhighway. It’s not technically built yet, but you can view the route here. As it turned out, the trail didn’t seem to be new at all, but simply bike trail number 58, which already exists. Perhaps they will just add some new signs to spiff it up a bit but it looked pretty much like a rebranding job from what we could tell.

The first part of the path was really segregated- sunk a few meters below grade and rather disconnected from the street. There were bus stops on the road above but only steps to get to them, no parking and no way to put your bike on the bus.

It was nice enough on a sunny afternoon with a fair number of folks running or biking along it, but didn’t seem like it would be so welcoming after dark since no one could see you if you got into any danger. It was nice to not have to make any stops, but after a couple kilometers of non-stop peddling, we started getting a bit sweaty and actually hoped for a stop light to get a little break!

After several kilometers, we got lost and accidentally wound up in the suburban town of Glostrup near the train station. We knew something was amiss because the path follows in parallel to the train tracks, but at a distance of about 2 km the whole way. Rechecking our map, we went back and eventually found the trail again.

This turned out to be a fateful mistake. As soon as we were about as far from a train station as possible, Ayako proceeded to get a flat tire. We then found ourselves about 3 km from the nearest station- and any sort of town center, bike shop or anything else useful- and in no mood to walk back to the station we just passed up.

We had a patch kit but with the weather hovering around freezing and the sun on its way down in the afternoon, we weren’t that interested in stopping to fix it. We stopped to pump up every few hundred meters at first and then, finding the air leaking out too fast, we gave up and walked the last 2 km to the next station. We were a bit grumbly by the time we made it.

Ultimately, I feel that the concept of a segregated superhighway (and perhaps this extreme segregation we found in Albertslund) just doesn’t really add up. This experience of the flat tire really drove home the fears I already had about the system. Why would anyone want to ride 10-15 km (30-45 minutes) into town on a path that is far from any grocery, day care, or bike shop and feels unsafe at night? Perhaps this would be a nice change of pace on a sunny day in August when temperatures can crack a balmy 25C (~75F) if you are lucky. But when it is freezing cold, windy, and rainy- like it is most days in Denmark- I’d be hard pressed to imagine all but the most avid cyclist to be keen on biking that far.

Given that you could take the train (and even park your bike or put your bike on the train) and be in the city in less than 20 minutes, why not focus your resources on getting people from a few kilometers away in to the train station, which also conveniently has access to things like shopping, bike and repair shops, schools, and day care?

Multi-modal integration seems like a much more reasonable approach than assuming people want simply “speed and safety” like car drivers. Bikes aren’t cars. We shouldn’t apply traffic planning that works for cars for bicycling. We will need to have a more comprehensive and systemic experience to offer cyclists if we will capture more than the most extreme recreational riders on such trails.

Mapping distance based on time

Found this great post from over at the City Fix Blog about some new mapping software called Mapnificent that allows you to see how far you can go from a given location in the city in a certain period of time using public transit. Mapumental also lets you factor in housing prices and ‘scenicness’. Now if only they could do the same map for  bicycles!


This seems like a much more logical measurement of ‘distance’ that probably gets closer to people’s actual perception of distance than just a kilometer measurement. Typically, studies show cycling rates dropping around 5 kilometers but also that maintaining a high and consistent speed without stopping is an important motivator, especially for experienced cyclists.

I wonder what would happen if you actually measured how fast people bike and how far they could travel in a given time period. This might be a more accurate measurement of what is considered a ‘bikeable distance’.  I think people are also more willing to bike longer distances if the infrastructure lets them go faster and safer.

I’m thinking of clocking folks with a laser gun and/or GPS tracking for my research to see how fast and how far folks bike. Maybe we could finally find out if Copenhageners bike faster than Amsterdammers too…

Do segregated cycle tracks make sense in India?

This in from an informant in Pune, India where they built 80 km of cycle tracks, but most are unusable due to poor design, paving, and encroachment.

On 10th Nov 10, a cyclist was hit by a speeding luxury bus and died. The cycle tracks in Pune are just not visible, nor usable resulting in non-use of cycle tracks.

The manifold problems re CYCLE TRACKS are:

1.The signages are too little and insignificant/invisible, displayed after a pretty long distance. Lost or broken boards are never replaced.

2. CT are blocked by parking of 2 wheelers/rickshaws/cars , even trucks. (see earlier posts here and here)

3. Auto vehicles drive frequently on CT for convenience-contra flow-short cuts-congestion etc.

4. CT are used for private and commercial activities.

5. CT are used for dumping garbage/building repair-construction materials and left overs.

The question remains then: what is the best strategy for informal economies from the global south, like India? Can segregated bicycle lanes work? Or are they culturally specific to cities where traffic rules are clear and followed, like rule-bound Denmark, Holland, and Germany where they were developed? What should be put in in a place like India instead if segregated cycle tracks don’t make sense?

Crime Riders: how not to ride in Denmark

Danes making fun of all the rules there are for cyclists in Copenhagen. Everything here is practically illegal and subject to fines. Riding without a tail light, taking a right on red or left on green (without first crossing the street and then waiting for the next light to cross again) are all subject to $100 spot fines.

People are quite law abiding compared with places in the US where bicyclists quite often completely ignore lights and more or less do as they please. Of course, Scandinavians always like to complain about issues that others might find inconsequential since the problems here are simply on a minute scale compared to other places in the world. So of course there is nonetheless a huge debate about people breaking the laws while biking.

I saw Copenhagenize blogger Mikael Colville Andersen duke it out with the superintendent of the Copenhagen traffic police in a debate (that link also takes you to a cross post of the same video with a handy translation of some of the Danish in it). He made a fairly compelling argument that what we really need is not more enforcement of laws that are designed for cars, but more bike friendly traffic rules and more enforcement of the killers on the road- cars. I think if we really scratched our heads for a minute and thought about all the hit and runs and non-prosecuted car drivers responsible for injuries and fatalities of cyclists and pedestrians on the road, it would be pretty easy to see just who the ‘crime riders’ really are.

Practicing foreign traffic behavior nearly gets me killed in Copenhagen

The other day, I was riding with my housemate on one of her first urban bike rides ever and helping her get used to Danish streets. But I had just myself come back from 5 months in Holland, India and Cambodia so I was a bit rusty on the rules, especially the notion of following them too particularly.

I made a left turn directly without first crossing and waiting to cross the street again (which is the custom in Copenhagen). I almost got hit by oncoming traffic coming both directions, who honked angrily to remind me of my mistake.

I was a bit shaken up and had to explain to my housemate not to *always* follow my lead! Just to show how it’s the practice of the law, not the letter of the law that is important, which is why understanding traffic behavior in different contexts is important!

Bombay: Too scary to bike!

Local bicyclists braving Bombay traffic

I thought Phnom Penh would harden me but Bombay is a whole different beast. It can take up to 4 hours just to get across town in rush hour. Bicycling is lethal and I only see a handful of delivery guys carrying milk in jugs or eggs. They all use Atlas or Hero bicycles with the double crossbeam design.

Phnom Penh- Don’t look under the hood!

Riding in Phnom Penh is quite exciting. There are more 2 wheelers than 4 wheelers, though most are motorized.  It begs the question: how can you design roads for 2 wheeled vehicles? That is still a bit of an advanced question though since the first challenge is getting people used to the idea of lanes, traffic lights and traffic rules.

You still don’t need a license for a motorscooter so rules are largely interpretive. You have to learn to abide by the ‘flow’ of traffic and figure out lots of unwritten rules. For instance, people going the opposite direction on the street generally stick to the outer lane, unless they are trying to cross. Bicyclists are the next ‘lane’, then cars. Scooters fill in all the cracks and go everywhere. Horns are essential.

Bicycling is very hot since it was 35 and humid when I was there. To avoid arriving at your destination sweaty and dirty, you had to go early in the day (before 8 am) and use a dust mask. Mine was a lovely masculine pink. A hat and long pants and shirt keep the sun off. Sun glasses were surprisingly not used, even though grit and pollution from the road gets in your eyes so you need eye drops. Riding at night is cooler but extremely dangerous.

Some test roads had motorscooter lanes, especially long distance national roads. But they were more designed for motorscooters not bicycles. They also served as extra buffers for cars if oncoming traffic was in their lane. Bicycles were seen quite often in rice paddy fields as well, especially for kids (whose bikes were always too large) and those too poor to afford motorscooters.

Pretty much only students and very poor people who couldn’t afford scooters ride bikes. Anyone who has money rides a fake Lexus RX300 or fake Land Rover. They look brand new, but are actually made of 20-30 year old cars with completely new exteriors and interiors. But don’t look under the hood. It’s probably not roadworthy. They of course try to barrel you down off the road. Maybe that makes them feel more important.

Number of near fatal collisions in 2 weeks: 4

Frequency of near collisions: daily