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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 01-18-10, 12:28 AM   #1
bragi
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Topography and bicycle culture

I've been riding all day in Seattle's most urban environments, and found them to be pretty good for bicycling. We have a few bike lanes now, and the culture is definitely very bike-friendly, so it's certainly not a threatening place to ride. There are, however, gigantic hills everywhere you turn. Personally, I like the hills, but I can imagine that they pose a formidable obstacle to some would-be riders. Contrast this to places like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, both of which have enviable bicycle cultures, and are also flat as a table top. I wonder: would these cities be the bicycle Meccas they are if they weren't so level?
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Old 01-18-10, 12:40 AM   #2
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I understand what you're saying but kinda depends on what you consider a mecca. I've been to Amsterdam and I saw a different sort of culture than I see here in the SF Bay Area cycling culture. Sort of a commuting vs sport thing, although we have plenty of both here, and that allows both to bloom. I think sport (rather than utilitarian, for lack of a better term) riding is more widely employed here than commuting/running errands sort of riding, though. Hills keep things interesting but is probably not conducive to the average person, but essential to my riding and seemingly many others. When I first moved here I moved on the top of one of the taller hills of SF and it definitely curtailed my cycling, having moved here from fairly flat environments, until I learned to love the hills and mountains. I find riding on anything but rather mundane now. I am in cycling mecca as far as I'm concerned, from weather to terrain to fellow two wheeled enthusiasts of all flavors. I have ridden around Seattle a bit, do like riding there, too although generally I favor our weather here.
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Old 01-18-10, 12:46 AM   #3
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Bicycle Elevator

With large hills such places might have never developed the bicycle infrastructure and culture.

Remember that video of an assist device built into the side of the road on a hill somewhere in Europe? It showed how a cyclist would pedal up to the bottom of the hill and catch his foot on a moving platform while remaining seated on the bicycle. the platform was like an escalator that would propel the rider up the hill as long as he kept his foot on that moving step.

Every city with hills should have such devices. It would eliminate plenty of parking spaces on such hills which would infuriate many automobile owners. Such devices would spur existing bicycle riders to ride more. I don't know if it would entice automobile drivers to use bicycles.
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Old 01-18-10, 01:54 AM   #4
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Remember that video of an assist device built into the side of the road on a hill somewhere in Europe?
http://www.ebelog.com/100/sykkelheis...ift-in-norway/
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Old 01-18-10, 04:51 AM   #5
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I note though that in flat places like the Netherlands it can be very windy, which can be at least as challenging as a hill and is psychologically more difficult since with a hill you know where the end is and you get the benefit of the downhill.
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Old 01-18-10, 05:24 AM   #6
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Amsterdam's and Copenhagen's flatness is one factor, but there are other important ones as well. Both cities are ancient compared to almost all of the cities in the Americas; they were designed for pedestrian and horse traffic rather then motor vehicles and bicycles are an effective modern compromise. There may be other North American cities that have small urban areas where narrow streets follow old wagon paths and are lined with period buildings, but Boston is the only one I know of for sure. Comparing Seattle to Berlin for bicycle ridership vs. geography purposes I think would be more accurate. As Berlin has been rebuilt since World War II, it is a city with a modern design that shares a bicycle supportive city government and is, I believe, relatively flat.
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Old 01-18-10, 07:40 AM   #7
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Totally cool, Toledo could use that up its highest bridge.
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Old 01-18-10, 08:03 AM   #8
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Little Rock has both very hilly sections and flat sections. Its not exactly a bicycle mecca though. I think that the roads and the land use itself are more important.
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Old 01-18-10, 08:51 AM   #9
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Topography and weather helps, but density and lack of parking are key reasons I never felt the need to drive in Holland. It is a rare urban journey that I could accomplish faster with the use of a car. Everything is close. Parking is a hassle. I can visit downtown, the beach, or leave the city all within 10 to 15 minutes riding time. Which means little or no exertion.

My eyes were opened when I revisited a western Canadian city last year. No driver's licence. No car. No public transit to speak of. "No problem", I said, "I'll just do everything by bike." Everything was so far away! I actually had to factor in travel times when making appointments. Exhausting and terrifying. It had never felt that way when I lived there.

Dutch cities other than the capital can also boast high bike ridership. Much of the Hague is hundreds of years younger than the Amsterdam that tourists see. But the density is still high. Wider boulevards that were designed around trams sport luxuriously wide bike lanes and bike roads. In the two years I've been here, I've seen substantial improvements made to cycling infrastructure. It just keeps getting better. And the Hagenaars keep saddling up. Why spend half an hour farting around with traffic and parking when one can go door-to-door in a flash?
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Old 01-18-10, 09:10 AM   #10
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Topography and weather helps, but density and lack of parking are key reasons I never felt the need to drive in Holland. It is a rare urban journey that I could accomplish faster with the use of a car. Everything is close. Parking is a hassle.
That's what much of downtown DC is like, too.

I'll also agree with the OP that the general topography has an effect on what kind of biking people do. If you're going to go grocery shopping with a bakfiet, do you really want to slog over a couple miles of hills on the way home?

There are two ways around that. One is to drive, of course, but the other is to have grocery stores a lot closer, so you may not even need to bike over a hill in the first place.

One of my dad's friends at work never learned how to ride a bike when he was a kid. When I asked why, the main reason given was that his house was on a hill, and trying to ride meant either blasting downhill or trying to chug uphill. I'll admit that that's not very friendly for beginning cyclists. My neighborhood was flat, or at least flat enough, and all the kids rode bikes.
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Old 01-18-10, 09:35 AM   #11
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Having lived in San Diego which, although is not perfectly flat, has the absolute best weather in the United States for cycling. I remember riding my bike in December in flip flops, shorts, and a t-shirt and not being too cold at all. Almost never rains either. However, the culture of Southern California is dominated by highways and the automobile. Nobody walks except on the sandy beaches. Cycling is popular there but only among the "extreme" mountain and road riders.
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Old 01-18-10, 07:10 PM   #12
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My eyes were opened when I revisited a western Canadian city last year. No driver's licence. No car. No public transit to speak of. "No problem", I said, "I'll just do everything by bike." Everything was so far away! I actually had to factor in travel times when making appointments. Exhausting and terrifying. It had never felt that way when I lived there.

Dutch cities other than the capital can also boast high bike ridership. Much of the Hague is hundreds of years younger than the Amsterdam that tourists see. But the density is still high. Wider boulevards that were designed around trams sport luxuriously wide bike lanes and bike roads. In the two years I've been here, I've seen substantial improvements made to cycling infrastructure. It just keeps getting better. And the Hagenaars keep saddling up. Why spend half an hour farting around with traffic and parking when one can go door-to-door in a flash?
Just a guess: Alberta? I always thought Canadian cities were much more compact than US cities. I live in a US city with a population density of 991/sq km. I've lived in Ottawa Canada where the denisty is 219. Amsterdam has 4491 per sq km.

This must really make a huge difference.

Flat and crowded would make cycling a real no-brainer no matter how windy it is.
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Old 01-18-10, 08:00 PM   #13
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Just a guess: Alberta? I always thought Canadian cities were much more compact than US cities. I live in a US city with a population density of 991/sq km. I've lived in Ottawa Canada where the denisty is 219. Amsterdam has 4491 per sq km.

This must really make a huge difference.

Flat and crowded would make cycling a real no-brainer no matter how windy it is.
Part of the advantage of crowded cities is that businesses can afford to serve a smaller area and, therefore, be packed closer together themselves. A corner supermarket might have trouble getting enough customers in a spread-out suburban area, but would get enough foot traffic in a neighborhood of row houses and apartments.

FWIW, DC, on average, lists its population density as 9,776/sq. mi, or 3,771/sq. km, on its Wikipedia page. There are denser locations just outside the District, too.
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Old 01-19-10, 07:55 AM   #14
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I didn't think Seattle was very bike friendly at all when I visited there recently. In fact, the only cyclists I saw (and this is of course in the winter when it's rainy and 45 degrees and I"m talking right in the heart of the city on Capitol Hill and such) were young skinny men in dark hooded sweat shirts and jeans w/ out even so much as a rack on their bikes. I did see a few riders w/ blinkies once it got dark and maybe one or two in blaze yellow jackets (no one in the entire city seems to own clothing in any color except navy, brown, and black). I saw just one woman on an old ten speed -- this is after 8 days in a city w/ a million people in it. The hills are everywhere and they're steep (20% grades often). I just can't imagine myself pulling a Bikes-At-Work trailer loaded up w/ a fridge or washing machine on it. I think for car free living you'd need a reasonably flat terrain and bike specific lanes would help a lot. Actually the area I live in now is more car-free living friendly than I thought at first (there are lots of low-traffic back roads and you can usually find a way around the huge hills if you're willing to ride an extra 10 miles or so) but I live on top of a 700' incline and it's awfully cold flying down it in the NH winter and hauling much up it isn't a lot of fun so if I lived at the bottom of the hill, I could do just about 80% of what I need to do w/o a car.
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Old 01-19-10, 12:58 PM   #15
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Two words: San Fransisco. Hilly and dense and good weather--with lots of riders.

maybe you need two out of three?
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Old 01-19-10, 06:08 PM   #16
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I am in Raleigh NC, it is flat compared to cities like Seattle and the Bay Area- and yet nearly nobody rides a bike for commuting/errands/etc. The city is quite spread out though and IMO the cycling infrastructure is practically nonexistent. Chapel Hill is just up the road and whenever I am there I am amazed by the # of cyclists I see compared to Raleigh.
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Old 01-19-10, 10:39 PM   #17
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Seattle was awesome for biking. How many cities have a 60-mile bike trail like the Lake Washington Loop Trail, or have throngs of elite cyclists pacing along a bike trail at a steady 26MPH. I also have yet to encounter a hill on par to 4th Ave N up Queen Anne, that sucker is steep.
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Old 01-20-10, 09:27 AM   #18
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How many cities have a 60-mile bike trail like the Lake Washington Loop Trail,
but how do you get to that trail? my guess is that most cyclists in Seattle have to drive their bikes via cars to the trails. My idea of a bike-friendly topography would include easy access to trails throughout an urban area. Biking to Bellevue from Capitol Hill to get onto the Lake Washington Loop trail sounds pretty unpleasant to me unless there is a better way that I don't know about
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Old 01-20-10, 02:54 PM   #19
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but how do you get to that trail?
That's the key question, isn't it? If the answer is, "I have to go out of my way to get to it," then it's really not that useful after all.

Yeah, there can be main trails that act like cycling arterials, but to be really bike-friendly, you should be able to take as direct of a path as possible without having to negotiate freeways, narrow 50-mph main roads, or other obstacles.
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Old 01-20-10, 06:47 PM   #20
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That's the key question, isn't it? If the answer is, "I have to go out of my way to get to it," then it's really not that useful after all.

Yeah, there can be main trails that act like cycling arterials, but to be really bike-friendly, you should be able to take as direct of a path as possible without having to negotiate freeways, narrow 50-mph main roads, or other obstacles.
The Lake Washington Loop Trail is actually very accessible, where it passes by all the major towns in the greater Seattle area, including straight through downtown Bellevue. You can check out a trip report I wrote up back in 2006 here: http://students.washington.edu/climb...hp?f=29&t=3220

Even though I lived 10 miles north of the trail, it was a small matter just to ride down to the loop, do the ride, and then ride back.

My favorite sign on the Lake Washington Loop trail. Where else are bicycles told to yield to jets?
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Old 01-20-10, 07:12 PM   #21
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Even though I lived 10 miles north of the trail, it was a small matter just to ride down to the loop, do the ride, and then ride back.
but how would you get to the trail from downtown? I mean from Cap Hill or the waterfront? sure once you get a bit further out like Queen Anne and such and cross a few bodies of water you can usually find a trail running through your area, but what about smack downtown where you have to deal w/ I-5?
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Old 01-20-10, 09:28 PM   #22
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but how would you get to the trail from downtown? I mean from Cap Hill or the waterfront? sure once you get a bit further out like Queen Anne and such and cross a few bodies of water you can usually find a trail running through your area, but what about smack downtown where you have to deal w/ I-5?
The most common route is Denny Way which goes right over I-5, and even has a side walk for the less ambitious cyclist: Google maps street view of Denny Way over I-5
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Old 01-21-10, 01:08 PM   #23
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I am in Raleigh NC, it is flat compared to cities like Seattle and the Bay Area- and yet nearly nobody rides a bike for commuting/errands/etc. The city is quite spread out though and IMO the cycling infrastructure is practically nonexistent. Chapel Hill is just up the road and whenever I am there I am amazed by the # of cyclists I see compared to Raleigh.
This got me thinking. University campuses almost always have a lot of cyclists. I think the main reason is parking. A student has to pay hundreds of dollars for a parking pass--if they can even get one--and faculty and staff usually have to pay a lot for parking also. Even if you pasy for pasrking, you usually have to park a long way from class or work and you might end up taking a bus from the parking lot.

I wonder if cities with a lot of riders have similar scarcities of parking? What's the parking situation in Portland, NYC, SF, Amsterdam, Etc.?
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Old 01-21-10, 02:28 PM   #24
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I wonder if cities with a lot of riders have similar scarcities of parking? What's the parking situation in Portland, NYC, SF, Amsterdam, Etc.?
VERY anecdotal: The university where I work, in Odense, Denmark, doesn't even _have_ parking permits. The parking lots are never even close to full, both at the main campus on the edge of town and the smaller campus in closer to mid-town.
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Old 01-21-10, 03:07 PM   #25
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Just a guess: Alberta? I always thought Canadian cities were much more compact than US cities. I live in a US city with a population density of 991/sq km. I've lived in Ottawa Canada where the denisty is 219. Amsterdam has 4491 per sq km. This must really make a huge difference.

Flat and crowded would make cycling a real no-brainer no matter how windy it is.
Sounds like Isla Vista. With a population density of 8635.2 sq mile, and flat and next to UC Santa Barbara, the unofficial slogan when I lived there was "bicycles, dogs, and frisbees". And wind? Wind just kicks up the waves to make the surfing better.
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