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Living Car Free Do you live car free or car light? Do you prefer to use alternative transportation (bicycles, walking, other human-powered or public transportation) for everyday activities whenever possible? Discuss your lifestyle here.

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Old 12-30-06, 12:50 PM   #1
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Type of town you live in

I have a theory. You will see a lot more car-free and car-light folks in this type of town
* university town with younger population
* has better bus transportation
* has more grid-type streets rather than suburban "crescents"

My reasoning is that the town I live in (Des Moines, Iowa) has an older population, awful bus transportation although the actual layout of the town is pretty bike friendly. 30 miles from here is Ames, a smaller town with a large college, much better bus transportation and a similar street layout. In Ames, you see a lot more folks biking for transportation and quite likely many of them are car-free since studying or working on campus is not that convenient with a car. In fact, buses are free for students and car parking is a major hassle.

What's other factors play into a better "biking for transportation" city?
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Old 12-30-06, 01:24 PM   #2
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Well, technically Little Rock is a University town. The streets are roughly on the grid plan, but the buses are bad. I don't think you took topography into account though or street conditions.

Even near the university I don't see many people on bicycle. The only big bicycling place is down by the river. Everybody drives there, takes a bike ride and drives back home.

But the streets are narrow, hilly and in bad shape. So I don't blame them.

I don't think that grid versus crescent has much influence. I think a bigger factor is the condition of the roads and how much room is allowed for bikes.
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Old 12-30-06, 01:45 PM   #3
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University indeed. Tempe creates good transportation and infastructure to promote the University.

Grid city nope. Phoenix has bike BLVDS which make for some of the best cycling I have seen. Unless you want to go shopping. One positive thing is I never buy anything. Our bicycle cordinator for 1.5 million people does not even cycle himself and is a second job title which he puts behind a traffic engineer.

Density Yes New York city.

I belive the public dictates how well carfree the city will be. Like a rolling snowball.
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Old 12-30-06, 05:43 PM   #4
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What does Minneapolis-Saint Paul qualify as? I spent a couple of days riding up there this past September and was amazed at the sheer number and types of cyclists, as well as the available facilities. We rode from New Brighton/Roseville area, into the downtown area of Minneapolis, along the river, into Saint Pauls, then over the Menedota Bridge, Fort Snelling, Minnehaha Falls and back, never hit what I would consider to be excessive vehicular traffic and a good bit of the ride was on MUP or dedicated bike lanes. BTW we rode the 42 miles on 3 speeds I would consider moving there if it wasn't for the average tempature in January being 3
I agree in principle that a college town is likely to have a better cycling facilities, but I think there are many other factors that come into play too.

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Old 12-30-06, 07:20 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gerv
* university town with younger population
* has better bus transportation
* has more grid-type streets rather than suburban "crescents"
...
What's other factors play into a better "biking for transportation" city?
I would say the first two are certainly pertinent factors, but the third is more variable. In Seattle (where I live) and Portland, two of the most bike friendly cities in the US, the streets are quite variable. And while Seattle's public transit isn't great, it's still supposedly among the best in the western US. I think university towns are bike friendly primarily for economic reason - most students don't have much disposable income, and bicycling makes practical sense.

There's also the less quantifiable factor of culture. Cities like Portland, Seattle, San Fran, and Minneapolis have many environmentally conscientious residents who bike for this reason (and also excercise).
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Old 12-30-06, 07:37 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Artkansas
I don't think that grid versus crescent has much influence. I think a bigger factor is the condition of the roads and how much room is allowed for bikes.
In this part of the world, the roads are pretty good -- flat and pavement is recent. However, no bike lanes on major thoroughfares. What that means for folks who live in some "crescent shaped" suburbs is that the only way from A to B is to head for the nearest major, busy, 50mph street. Which is a major minus for a new commuter or utility cyclist.

With a grid layout, you can select less-travelled streets. You may select a route that is a little longer than the busy avenues, but it gets you somewhere nonetheless. In the older part of Des Moines, you can get almost anywhere in the city without using the busy, bike-unfriendly streets.

Of course, none of this is of any use if no one uses a bike for transportation. This is the problem in Des Moines. You will see many, many recreational riders in April, May, June, July, but when the RAGBRAI event ends in July, cyclists are rare.

Like Little Rock, everyone seems to view the bicycle as a great Sunday afternoon drive. No concept of going from A to B with a bike. No... that's what you have the car for...
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Old 12-30-06, 07:44 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AlanK
There's also the less quantifiable factor of culture. Cities like Portland, Seattle, San Fran, and Minneapolis have many environmentally conscientious residents who bike for this reason (and also excercise).
Alan, that's probably the biggest factor. As global warming continues to be self-evident, I think we'll see more of this culture in other cities. The price of gasoline might be another factor too.
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Old 12-30-06, 08:20 PM   #8
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I will qualify that the town I ride most in is very small and laid out on a grid, no mass transit, no college, no bike shop... but is very easy to get around by bike in. It takes all of 15 minutes to go from one end of town to the other and from side to side. IRIC it is only about 12 square miles. Relatively flat too.

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Old 12-30-06, 08:41 PM   #9
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I agree with gerv's criteria. I would add that mixed use development makes for good carfree living--jobs, schools, homes and shopping in the same area, or very close. Denser populations make for easier cycling/walking, since things tend to be closer together. In other words, whatever is the opposite of typical American sprawl is the better place for being carfree, IMO.

I think that climate and topography (other than true extremes) are secondary, since humans, like rats and cockroaches, can easily adapt to almost anything. Someday there will probably be bicycles on Mars!
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Old 12-30-06, 09:17 PM   #10
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I think the key factor is the relative ease of driving. If cycling is easier than driving, people will ride. Otherwise, they won't.

Paul

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Old 12-30-06, 10:08 PM   #11
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I think the key factor is the relative ease of driving. If cycling is harder than driving, people will ride. Otherwise, they won't.

Paul
Does this need an edit, or am I reading it wrong? Shouldn't cycling be easier than driving?
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Old 12-30-06, 11:36 PM   #12
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I live in a college town. The bus system is ok I guess but I haven't used it much. Town is totally flat and is bike friendly. There are lots of bike shops here.
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Old 12-30-06, 11:54 PM   #13
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Raleigh NC has multiple colleges but I wouldn't consider it a "college town". Only downtown and the very oldest neighborhoods are gridded. Everything else is a star pattern.

The busses typically run in a star pattern meaning a trip downtown and a transfer if you want to get anywhere off that straight line. Light rail has been hyped for years, but went nowhere due to poor planning and general opposition from the suburbanites.

The newest 4+ lane road construction is utilizing a wider right lane. No bike lanes to be found, and no commutable trails. The lanes on many of the main arteries have had their lanes narrowed to insert additional lanes (turning 5 lanes into 7 for instance). On some of them, they have paved over the concrete curbing to use that space as a lane. When this is done, the sewer grates are usually left at their original height, meaning they're recessed from the asphault.

The secondary streets are typically residential and are not suitable for commuting because of their random nature.

Downtown has been undergoing a condo boom lately, but prices are $350ish sq/ft, and with no infrastructure (grocery stores, etc) there, it's not exactly the ideal urban location. My current location in a nice neighborhood about 10 miles from center is only $150ish sq/ft. Like so many others, it's hard to convince myself that it makes financial sense. It would be different in a larger town with more downtown development - retail and transit.

I might possibly be in the worst location to be thinking about going car-free (or car-lite since my wife will still own one), although I still plan to attempt it this year. I have identified one location, about 2 miles from my office that contains my gym, grocery, restaurants, and some shopping. Unfortunately, it's not a kid friendly location and with a baby on the way it will require some thought.

To give you an idea, I started bike commuting about 4 months ago (10.5 miles each way) and I've seen exactly five other commuters ever (and only once each). Not exactly a cycling mecca.

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Old 12-31-06, 01:26 AM   #14
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My metro area holds about 250,000 souls. Overall, it's a pretty rough industrial city. I live near the center of the largest city in the area. I'm about 4 miles from a fairly large university, but it's a whole different world over here! My city has a grid street plan, and I would describe it as medium density population. The bus system is fair, except that it doesn't run enough late at night and on weekends. There isn't a lot of bike culture here. There are many utility riders, but they don't seem to be involved with bike lore, if you know what I mean. There is Critical Mass and some radical cyclists at the university. There's also a very active club for the more bourgeois riders.

I do a lot of riding on side streets, although I do ride on busy streets as needed. I also take a lot of shortcuts on trails and singletracks. I live 3 minutes (by bike of course) from a large supermarket, and within 20 minutes of lots of stores. Work is 17 minutes away. I was very careful when I moved the last time to find the "perfect" location for being carfree. It really isn't much of a city, but I love it and I doubt if I'll ever leave.
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Old 12-31-06, 03:13 AM   #15
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I live in the outskirts of Denver. Right on the edge between Lakewood and Golden. The 'grid' network of streets has broken down before before you get out this far, but I haven't had much trouble. I live about 2 miles from the nearest grocery store. The ONE thing I'd like would be a convenience store that was close... The nearest is nearly to the grocery store.

The bus system is pretty good here, but I rarely take it. I do live about 3/4 mile from a transfer center/ Park 'n Ride.
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Old 12-31-06, 08:00 AM   #16
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Jeffs,
I agree with your assessment of Raleigh, especially the downtown area. I sometimes wonder about these developers when the come into a downtown area with their high priced condos and don't provide true mixed use, like grocery stores. In that area all the big retail is on the outskirts or off of major arterial roads not readily accessible to cyclists. I have found Greensboro to be a bit more cyclist friendly with the one saving grace being a MUP/greenway that runs thru the center of the city proper.

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Old 12-31-06, 10:59 AM   #17
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I should note that Baltimore has a decent sized car-free and car-light population but our bus system stinks (one of the worst in the country for a metro area.) It’s also interesting to note that areas that have larger concentrations of biking also include alternate routes (not always a grid but at the same time do not force everyone on one road for any kind of trip.) In contrast with the DC metro area biking seems to flourish along the (metro) rail lines and trails that interconnect and does not seem as dependent on the road system being a grid or having alternate routes.

One common thread that I have noticed that transportation mode choice seems to be very dependent on time. People are more likely to use alternate transportation if the can get to work in a half hour and somewhat likely if they can get to work in an hour. And the selection of biking as a choice is dependent on if other people are doing it which is mostly dependent of some significant bike facility nearby that can be biked to or a general economic situation such as around collages.
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Old 12-31-06, 11:17 AM   #18
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I think that climate and topography (other than true extremes) are secondary, since humans, like rats and cockroaches, can easily adapt to almost anything. Someday there will probably be bicycles on Mars!
Psychologically I think both of those put a lot of people off. Near Palm Springs people thought I was crazy to ride in the summer. The terrain was mostly flat with the occasional small sand dune or a several thousand foot climb. I didn't see too many people ever attempt the big climbs.

Here in Arkansas, in West Little Rock, its nothing but 50-100 foot hills. Bicycle commuters are as rare as hen's teeth. Yes, people can adapt, but you'd be surprised at what a minor barrier most people will allow to keep them in the car.
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Old 12-31-06, 11:18 AM   #19
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JeffS, I agree with everything you said about raliegh. I lived near nc state for a year, and I found that certain roads like western blvd in particular, were a nightmare to use getting downtown by bike. I was just trying to be car-lite and I found it hard. Now I live in south durham, and I find that it is much easier. For one thing, the American Tobbaco trail runs through durham, and they have bike lanes in other places. I see many, many more cyclists in durham, although I cannot tell if they are commuters. Downtown durham actually has grocery stores too. Durham seems to have more bus service then raleigh, but I have never actually ridden on it to comment. I wish they would get this light rail system, so then I could ride to raleigh when I had too.

If I ever move though, I will look for a city with more public transportation options, at least some kind of light rail and decent bus systems.
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Old 12-31-06, 10:13 PM   #20
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RVA is a poxy mess. Once you get out of a few areas-- VCU and Northside come to mind (there are three regular bike commuters on my block in Northside alone!) there's not much bike use, as the city is sprawling, the outlying counties don't want to be connected into a metro area mass transit system (so there aren't many buses outside of Richmond central). Downtown has a few nasty hills (though they're easy enough).

But I suspect even if all three of your criteria were met, most folks would insist on driving everywhere.
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Old 01-01-07, 01:29 PM   #21
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My town has a little of both. We have a university and the older, central areas of town are quite nice for riding. But the farther out you go the more my town becomes your typical car-only suburban nightmare. You can guess which areas I frequent the most.
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Old 01-01-07, 03:37 PM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Artkansas
Psychologically I think both of those put a lot of people off. Near Palm Springs people thought I was crazy to ride in the summer. The terrain was mostly flat with the occasional small sand dune or a several thousand foot climb. I didn't see too many people ever attempt the big climbs.

Here in Arkansas, in West Little Rock, its nothing but 50-100 foot hills. Bicycle commuters are as rare as hen's teeth. Yes, people can adapt, but you'd be surprised at what a minor barrier most people will allow to keep them in the car
.
But look at it the other way. Here in Lansing, flat as a pancake, bike commuters are also scarce. And on a perfect summer day--75F, sunny, light breeze--there will not be a lot of people on our Rivertrail, which is a very nice recreational facility. More people than on a cold winter day, but still not crowded. I think people are just plain lazy. They'll go for a recreational drive in the car on a nice day, but not a walk or a bike ride. So I still think weather and topography are not major factors in how good a town is for riding or for being carfree.
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Old 01-03-07, 10:28 PM   #23
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Phoenix, public transportation is very weak compared to other big cities. Not nearly as many bike lanes as there should be. The light rail construction folks really didn't have cycling in mind when they set up all these barricades. Everything is spread out, but luckily I have alot of good things within range, Cheese'N'Stuff Deli, local pharmacy, bike shops, etc. I'd like to meet more cyclist and do what I can to make Phoenix more of a cycling friendly city, but there is only so much a sixteen year old can do. There is this nasty pothole in the bike lane on third ave near the hospital that need to be taken care of.
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Old 01-04-07, 09:27 AM   #24
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I don't think flatness of terrain has anything to do with it. Southwestern Ontario is very flat yet the number of bikers here is pretty low and pales in comparisson to Vancouver which is much hillier. Another thing that surprisingly doesn't matter is weather, I have noticed no difference in the number of bikers in the southern US compared to here in Ontario.

I think the main factor is ease of getting places. If in order to get to most stores, you have to ride down busy roads with lots of high speed traffic, you will be less likely to bike, than if you can use low-speed low-volume roads to get from place to place. It depends on how the city is laid out.
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Old 01-04-07, 09:57 AM   #25
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I live in Allendale MI Between Grand Rapids and Holland. In Allendale I see bikes locked to every post but no riders. The bus was really awesome when it first came then it cut out all the stops which really sucked! Allendale itself is not bike friendly at all to the casual bike commuter. Although all the buses have bike racks so it makes it easy to get into downtown. I would say downtown Grand Rapids is a bit more bike friendly although I have yet to see a bike lane. Downtown buses have bike racks bus drivers are usually polite. The roads are generally in good shape although there is a lot of construction so this can be a PITA because picking up nails. If I were to design a Utopian bike city it would probably be like Grand Rapids although it would be a larger because I like big cities with a lot of skyscrapers. I would have more parks in the downtown area for bikes to enjoy I would have light rail that is friendly to bikes so it can get people where they need to be on time I would have bike friendly buses I would have more organic coffee shops and more outdoor markets. Plus more bike shops it is easier to fix your self when you have parts around the corner
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