I recently returned from a visit to Paris and Barcelona. Both cities are ranked in the top 20 most bike-friendly cities on the planet by Copenhagen Design Co. As a first time visitor to Barcelona, I was incredibly impressed with its cycling infrastructure. As a recurring visitor to Paris, I noticed more bike lanes than on my last visit a couple of years ago. Paris declared 2017 the year of the bike (see Reuters article) and will be adding bike lanes and pedestrian zones on its most popular streets, including along the Louvre and in the Marais district. I suspect I will see more drastic changes on my next visit. In this post, I will dwell on Barcelona’s impressive protected bike lanes.
By 2018, Barcelona will have 300KM or 191 miles of bike lanes for 1.6 million people. This metric alone is not that impressive. Boston has a similar-sized network when adjusted for population (about 165 KM of “bike lanes” for 650 thousand people). Paris boasts 400KM for 2.2 million people. But a bike lane in Boston and a bike lane in Barcelona are two different animals. What makes these Barcelona lanes stand-out is the level of protection they offer two-wheelers. Most of these paths are protected. By contrast, in Boston, according to the Go Boston 2030 study (page 50), only 6 of 105 miles of bike lanes are physically separated from traffic.
Here are some pictures of Barcelona’s protected bike lanes. I saw a lot of oblong low bumps (a per the picture above) and delineator posts (see this resource about the different ways to protect a bike lane from traffic). The one I found most unique is the protected round-about bike lane which I believe is being considered for Somerville’s Union Square (see below).
Now we are back in Boston, back to unprotected bike lanes. See the picture below of my family and I riding the day before our Euro tour in June (Somerville Ave I think?).
After seeing the high-class bike lanes of Barcelona, I now feel even less safe riding on Boston’s streets. Until we get to 100 miles of protected bike lanes, we’d better gear up. That’s a subject for another post, or a full website dedicated to protective cycling gear. As a start, here is a list of Vision Zero safety equipment from Hobbr.
Last week I attended a fascinating conference on the future of transportation organized by Transportation for Massachusetts or T4MA. The organizers assembled an impressive list of speakers, including Robin Chase, CEO of ZipCar, Jackie DeWolf, Director of Sustainable Mobility at MassDOT, and Julian Agyeman, Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts. Robin shared her thoughts on autonomous vehicles or AVs (they’ll be tested in Boston at year end!) and how cities can ensure they don’t deliver hell, or more congestion and more pollution. Her opinions and predictions were particularly intriguing, and they are nicely summarized in this Back Channel post and in her cool You Tube video. I also share her most important comments here:
The arrival of AVs will have a profound social, economic and environmental impact. Regulators need to make drastic changes to current regulation across a broad range of policy areas to ensure AVs benefit people and don’t lead to more congestion, pollution and unemployment.
“If we allow the introduction of autonomous vehicles to be guided by existing regulations we’ll end up with more congestion, millions of unemployed drivers, and a huge deficit in how we fund our transportation infrastructure. We will also miss an opportunity to fix transportation’s hereto intractable reliance on liquid fossil fuels (and their associated pollution)”
Robin believes the solution to our woes lies in AVs that are electric and shareable, including the rides. The economics of a trip on a ride sharing AV will be too attractive for people to pass up (cheaper than a bus ticket) and car ownership will decline rapidly in cities.
Side note: I don’t see why we even need AVs to be cars. Why not introduce self-driving electric buses for even less congestion.
With fewer cars on the road, there will be less need for parking and cities can convert ugly parking lots into parks or affordable housing units
Shareable AVs will address congestion, pollution, safety and beautify the urban landscape, but what about taxes and jobs?
We need a revamp of how we collect tax revenues from the transportation sector. The gas tax must disappear and be replaced by road user fees based on fuel type, distance traveled and time of travel with the introduction of peak hour pricing. Cars that are roaming the block in search of parking or to wait for a passenger would get taxed more (the technical term is “zombie cars”)
This shift also requires a massive change in our employment system. Automation will lead to unemployment. Robin advocates for a minimum income, and the portability of benefits.
Furthermore, to ensure the arrival of AVs don’t lead to an increase in car ownership by wealthy individuals who can afford a third car, Robin believes governments should be requiring a moratorium on personal AV car ownership for five years. This will give shareable AVs a head start on being used and known as a shareable and green mode of transportation.
Wow! Implementing these massive changes over the course of the next five years will require policy makers to ignore a lot of other important issues and to work like investment bankers. What are the chances of that? These proposals are bold but necessary to build a cleaner, quieter and more just city.
I don’t know about you, but one reason I don’t opt to ride my bike or electric scooter more often is because I have to wear a helmet. The impact on my hair is noticeable. Perhaps you are lucky enough to have hair that bounces back into shape immediately after removing the helmet, but I know we are not all so blessed. This is why I am excited about new head safety products that do not press down firmly on the head. For readers of Gizmag or Harvard Business School case studies, you may have heard of Hövding, the Swedish firm that invented the airbag for cyclists. See link to a video on how it looks and works. It sits on your neck like a collar. An internal sensor detects when you are in an accident (the firm studied thousands of bicycle accidents) and triggers the bag’s helium gas inflator.
Hövding’s airbagThe product is currently not available in the U.S. but is becoming more prevalent across bike and sports stores throughout Europe. I did purchase one and am awaiting a shipment from a relative in Europe. Once it does reach U.S. shores it will be interesting to see whether this product becomes accepted. The cost is not cheap at 299 Euros ($338 dollars) and most Americans do not seem to mind wearing a helmet (at least compared to Europeans). The firm will have to sell the public on the safety of its product – it is supposed to be three times safer than a regular hard case helmet.
Would you replace your helmet with a Hovding airbag?