First segment of “bike autobahn” opens in Germany

Following up on an earlier post, the first part of the “bike autobahn” recently opened in northwest Germany:

Last month, Germany opened its first stretch of “bike autobahn,” a cycle route that will eventually cover 100 kilometers (62 miles) between the northwestern cities of Duisburg and Hamm. The autobahn moniker (the German term is actually radschnellweg) may sound over the top given that so far just five kilometers of the route have been launched. But the plan’s ultimate scale and ambition is not to be denied…

The idea nonetheless has real potential for medium-length journeys, pushing the limits of frequent daily bike use out from the (now well-provided-for) inner city into the suburbs and wider regions. Munich isalready planning a network like this one, which will stretch from the historic center out along 14 protected two-lane paths through the suburbs into the surrounding lake land. Germany’s fourth city, Cologne, has a smaller plan for a similar bike highway out into its western exurbs.

When it comes to extending this idea from metro areas to tracks between cities, the new Hamm-Duisburg route is ideal. It will pass through the most densely populated region of Germany, the Ruhr region, where a network of industrial cities lies scattered at only short distances from each other, interspersed with forest and farmland. When complete, the route will bring a string of cities into 30 minutes cycle distance of each other—almost 2 million people will live within a two-kilometer radius of the completed highway…

The main sticking point is cost. The full cost of the new Ruhr highway will be€180 million, funding that is not yet in place for the whole route but which should ultimately come from a blend of municipal and provincial budgets. Elsewhere, not everyone is convinced the benefits of projects like this outweigh the expense. A Berlin bike autobahn plan, which would link the city center with the southwest area, is facing resistance from opponents who say that, as as a link primarily used in good weather, it would do little to relieve pressure on existing rail links.

The portion that just opened – and the planned sections for Munich – seem to be primarily about commuters. If you have several million people within easy distance of these new routes, the bike autobahn could get significant use. It would be interesting to also know the ongoing maintenance cost of such paths; compared to laying down roads which need regular repair (and complete overhauls with several decades), these paths might be relatively cheap in the long run.

I do wonder how the commuters might mix with more recreational users. Perhaps the times of use might be slightly different but paths like these could attract both people who want to get to work and others out for exercise – all at varying speeds. Perhaps Europeans who are already more interested in bicycling around cities could handle this better than Americans who often use bike paths for recreational purposes.

Planning bicycle-only highways in Munich

Officials are looking into constructing 400+ miles of highways for bicycles:

The ambitious plan calls for a network of 14 two-way bike paths, each 13 feet wide and fully segregated from automobile traffic, that would spread out over an area of about 400 square miles. No crossroads, no traffic lights. It’s an autobahn for cyclists, or, as the Germans obviously call it, a Radschnellverbindungen

The Radschnellverbindungen is designed to do for bikes what highways do for cars: make traveling long distances more efficient and pleasant. Cyclists will be able to ride at about 12 mph, Kastrop says, without the need the need to slow down then get back up to speed at intersections. There are no nearby cars to worry about, and with wider lanes, you don’t risk getting stuck riding single file behind some slowpoke…

This idea of networks made for bike commuting has been catching on lately. As usual with this kind of thing, the Netherlands is out in front, with 28 long-distance, cyclist-only paths, according to City Lab. London’s planning a network of “direct, high capacity, joined-up cycle tracks.” Copenhagen’s got a “bike skyway.” Paris’ $160 million plan to boost cycling includes five proposed “highways” that will be almost entirely protected from car traffic, on some of the city’s biggest corridors, including the Champs-Elysées.

Building the Radschnellverbindungen’s not a done deal yet. Local authorities must approve the project before construction starts, and it won’t be cheap. The German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung pegs the estimate at $1.75 million per mile.

Three quick thoughts:

1. It would be interesting to see what it takes to plan such paths around existing infrastructure like roads, rail lines, power lines, and other obstacles. To not have any interruptions on the paths could require some ingenuity.

2. Would bicycle highways require their own rules of the road or traffic laws? You don’t want riders in the middle of the paths or riding three abreast. What happens when needing to make an exit from the path?

3. If you are curious about the cost per mile of construction, one group estimates it costs $8-10 million per mile of highway construction in urban areas.

Collecting data to see if cyclists break traffic laws more than drivers

Cyclists and drivers often do not get along but which group breaks the law more? Some researchers are hoping to find out:

These questions about sociology and infrastructure point to a more nuanced picture of what’s happening on city streets than most heated rhetoric — darn law-breaking bikers! — allows. Marshall, who co-directs the Active Communities Transportation Research Group with Kevin Krizek, wants to research this scofflaw behavior, why people say they do it (drivers and cyclists alike), and when they don’t.

As part of this research project, they and Ph.D. student Aaron Johnson and Savannah State’s Dan Piatkowski are running a survey that they hope will gather broad data on all of our behavior (go ahead and help science out here, even if you’re not a cyclist yourself).

Most of us, whatever mode we travel, break the law at some point, Marshall points out, whether we’re driving five miles over the speed limit, or crossing the street against the crosswalk. And yet, we tend not to treat lead-footed drivers with the same disapproval as cyclists who ride through stop signs, even though the former behavior is potentially more publicly harmful than the latter. Which raises another question: Are cyclists really more prolific scofflaws than drivers anyway?

More data on the scofflaws inside all of us could potentially help create safer streets, even, Marshall imagines, more productive public debate about how cars and cyclists coexist. There is some evidence, for instance, that cyclists may be less likely to ride the wrong way down one-way streets and more likely to wait at red lights when they’re given dedicated bike paths. This would make sense for a number of reasons.

I would like to think that having more data would solve the issues and help both sides look at the situation more rationally. However, I suspect both cyclists and drivers might prefer more anecdotal stories that privilege their own perspectives. People on the roads tend to get angry with the people right in front of them rather than with abstract groups. However, the data could be used to change the infrastructure – more bike lanes? more regulations for cyclists? Roads with no markings or separation from the sidewalks? – which then might have more direct effects.

Bike lanes in Barrington Hills could unravel the whole fabric of the community?

Feuds between bicyclists and drivers are not uncommon but the recent conversation in Barrington Hills about bike lanes seems like rampant NIMBYism:

Residents say their roads are being clogged by unlawful, unsafe riders of the “professional biking community, clad in spandex.” Bicyclists, they say, flout the rules of the road, block vehicles from passing and, in some cases, have been caught urinating in yards.

Cyclists say Barrington Hills residents have driven them off the road, harassed them and even pelted them with objects as they ride by.

The long-simmering feud came to a head this summer amid talk of adding bike lanes along a village thoroughfare, a proposal quickly shot down by town leaders and upset homeowners.

If there is one thing the two sides have in common, it is an appreciation for the scenery of Barrington Hills. The affluent community of about 4,200 residents features thousands of acres of open space filled with forest preserves, horse farms, riding trails and rolling hills. Homes are built on lots no smaller than 5 acres, and village leaders have fiercely defended the town’s borders against encroachment by development that doesn’t meet their standards…

“We have no obligation to a professional biking community, clad in spandex, who are regularly abusive to our residents and drivers, and urinate on our property,” the website reads. “We have no obligation to out-of-town traffic speeding through our community. It is time we stood up and said NO MORE TRAFFIC!”

This is just an outside perspective but if Barrington Hills residents are so threatened by bicyclists, there are larger issues at work here. Bicyclists could be annoying on relatively low-volume roads. Yet, their level of traffic is minimal compared to vehicular traffic. It sounds more like the residents want to close off their roads to any outsiders.

See a story from a few years ago about arguments in Barrington Hills about how much outdoor lighting residents could have in order to limit light pollution. If lights and bicycles can rip the fabric of your community, I would guess the community is one in which people generally want to be left alone. This is one of the paradoxes of suburban community as pointed out by M. P. Baumgartner in The Moral Order of a Suburb: community is built by leaving your fellow suburbanite alone.

My first experience riding Chicago’s Divvy bikes

On a rare 50 degree Chicago day, I rode Chicago’s Divvy bikes for the first time. I made three relatively short trips: from Ogilvie Transportation Center to the Art Institute, from the Art Institute to Navy Pier, and from Navy Pier to Ogilvie. Here is evidence of my rides:

DivvyBikesChicago

My quick thoughts on the experience:

1. It is fairly easy to pay for and to get the bikes. It costs $7 for an all-day pass and rides under 30 minutes are free. There are lots of Divvy stations in the Loop so finding a stand near major attractions isn’t too hard. While it is a pain to have to wonder where other stations are when on the bike, I’m guessing $7 a day doesn’t cover a GPS with every bike.

2. The bikes themselves worked fine: big tires, nice fenders (otherwise I would have been quite splattered from all of the melting snow), good brakes, seats that are easy to adjust. The bikes only have three gears and this is limiting, but Chicago has a limited number of hills.

3. Riding near Millennium Park and Lake Michigan was easy. Riding in the Loop was not. I can handle it as I learned how to ride the mean streets of suburbia while a teenager (this may sound like a joke but we rode on a number of busy streets). Plus, traffic was pretty light in the middle of the day. However, I have a hard time imagining the average tourist wanting to do this. Some street have bike lanes but the only one I saw that was a protected lane was on Dearborn Street, a north-south street. Madison had a bike lane and I rode back to Ogilvie on Adams in the bike lane but both of these had plenty of double-parked taxis, cars, and buses. While drivers noticed me and took a wide berth, how tolerant would they be of slower groups of riders?

I would do this again, particularly in nice weather, as it is a different way to see the city and it can cut down on the time to get from attraction to attraction (less than 15 minutes biking from Navy Pier to the train). But, riding on busy streets is not for everyone and Chicago has a ways to go before having a street infrastructure that makes it easy for visitors to hop on bikes.

Anger directed at urban cyclists and city bike lanes really about fears that younger Americans don’t want sprawling suburbs?

Complaints about urban biking and new bike lanes might be less about biking and more about what younger Americans don’t want: the sprawling suburbs.

All this sounds like a nightmare scenario if you live in the suburbs. Gas prices rise and housing prices fall, eating into liquid capital and equity. Families with the ability to move return back to the city, depressing housing prices even further. Declining property tax revenues and a fleeing upper-middle-class undermine previously excellent schools. At best, suburbanites take a huge hit on depreciating houses; at worst, they’re stranded in decaying neighborhoods, cut off by isolating new infrastructure…That’s where I see an undercurrent of Millennial resentment (we’ll spot Kass a decade or so on “grunge;” when you’re out across the county line, the news travels slower). The boomers escaped cities in decline, investing sweat equity earned in office parks into a house and two cars, the gas taxes they paid into epic interchanges, and their high property taxes into excellent schools.

And the little bastards who went to those excellent schools don’t want that inheritance. They want to ride their car shares from their rented apartments to mass transit, making the last-mile commute on shared bikes (they don’t even own bikes!) to virtual startups in work-share spaces.

From the perspective of postwar America, it looks like a whole lot of nothing, an unsettled and rootless future. Where they’re going, they don’t need… roads…

But it’s the future we’re being promised by a lot of people in position to make it happen, who threaten to reverse—to invert—what their parents spent a lifetime building. It’s scary, and not just on a merely economic level. And the people out there who are so angry about it aren’t just trying to outrun a few three-speed, step-through shared bikes; they’re trying to outrun the future, and you’re in the way.

Moser is arguing the bike lanes are just a sign of bigger trends at work, as suggested in books like The Great Inversion and The End of the Suburbs. This is really about a changed way of life, a different way of thinking about the American Dream, trading suburban spaces for new iPhones and exciting urban experiences the creative class desires. I think Moser is right to be skeptical; these changes will take time as well as a lot of collective action. At the same time, there is a lot of conversation about denser suburbs and returning to cities. Of course, this doesn’t mean such moves solve all the problems; there are still plenty of poor urban neighborhoods and suburbs that are left behind in the movement of what might be largely middle- to upper-class residents who can afford these changes.

How much irony is there here that the suburbs might have actually provided the “unsettled and rootless future” that younger Americans may now not want? Think about classic suburban critiques like American Beauty or the Arcade Fire album The Suburbs. The suburbs were viewed by many as the places to escape the problems of the city – everything from corrupt morality, dirtiness (factories, pollution, horses in the street everywhere, etc.), new populations – and yet the suburbs clearly have their own problems.

Bike sharing programs in Chicago, NYC, Boston, Washington D.C. skew white

The Chicago Tribune looked at the locations of the new Divvy bike sharing stations in Chicago and found overall they were more accessible to white residents:

By design, the Emanuel administration’s freshly launched Divvy bike-sharing network is centered in crowded neighborhoods. But one byproduct of the strategy is that the new transportation alternative is far more convenient for white residents than those who are black or brown, a Tribune analysis shows…

Federal and local taxpayers bankrolled $22.5 million in seed money for the bicycle system, but to thrive and eventually expand it needs to quickly attract a solid customer base and demonstrate financial viability…

Nearly half of all whites in the city live within a short walking distance — a quarter mile or less — of spots the city has designated for bike rental and drop-off, according to the analysis, which overlaid census data on the locations announced for Divvy stations.

By comparison, fewer than 19 percent of Latinos and nearly 16 percent of African-Americans live within a quarter mile of the bike stations, the data show…

In New York, nearly three times the size of Chicago, about 20 percent of white residents but only 8 percent of blacks and Latinos live within a quarter mile of a docking station for that city’s new Citi Bike system, the Tribune found. The two-year-old Hubway system in the Boston area puts a docking station within a quarter mile of 44 percent of the white population, but just 26 percent of Hispanics and 19 percent of blacks.

The proximity gap closes somewhat in the Washington, D.C., area, where the Capital Bikeshare system places a docking station within easy one-quarter mile reach of half of all white residents, 44 percent of Hispanics and 31 percent of African-Americans, according to the newspaper’s analysis.

A recent user survey released by Capital Bikeshare concluded that not only are 80 percent of the responding customers white, but nearly six in 10 are men, nearly two-thirds are under 35 years of age, 95 percent have an undergraduate college degree and 56 percent have a postgraduate degree.

Are bike sharing programs a new strategy for attracting or retaining young professional males in cities? Is bike sharing primarily a program aimed at the Creative Class and tourists? This would not be surprising as plenty of cities are looking to expand their downtown populations of young professionals.

It would be interesting to hear more about the process that went into locating the bike stations in Chicago. How exactly did the city try to balance population figures with economic figures? Now that I think about, we tend not to hear such insider information from Chicago…

Another thought: why not also map the bike locations by social class? Even for whites, are the bikes located more in upper-end neighborhoods or are they aimed at the working class?