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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 08-12-14, 05:21 PM   #1
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Learning from car-free vacations abroad

I've just returned from a three-week car-free vacation in Berlin. For almost all of my travel in that city, I used a bicycle or walked around. As expected, I didn't really see anything about bicycling in that city that surprised me:
1. The bicycle infrastructure, while haphazard and of varying quality, was everywhere.
2. At any given time, literally tens of thousands of people were underway on bikes (some of them smoked while riding).
3. Very few people used specialized clothing or equipment while riding. They ride in whatever they're wearing, few of them use helmets, and almost none of them use clip-in pedals;
4. Traffic is regulated in such a way that bikes have priority away from major roads: cyclists are allowed to ride in bus lanes, for example, and to ride the opposite way on one-way streets.
5. Bikes and bicycling are not a preoccupation of most riders; many bikes seemed poorly maintained, and the locks that most people use there are not much of a barrier to even the most casual thief.

The things I observed in Berlin probably did little to alter my own car-free life back home in Seattle; I've been car-free for a long time, and Seattle is a pretty friendly place to ride. It did forcibly remind me of some basic assumptions about bicycling as serious transportation, though:

1. A LOT more people would adopt bicycling if there was enough dedicated infrastructure to make it possible to ride everywhere in the entire city without having to resort to vehicular cycling. (I didn't used to believe this, but have gradually come around to this point of view. I often forget how intimidating cars can be to a novice, or to a visitor unfamiliar with the terrain.)
2. More people, especially young people, would ride if not for the false perception that you have to wear special clothing and equipment to ride a bike and survive.
3. Bicycling will never become mainstream in this country if you make a "culture" out of it. (The laughter directed at Portland is not entirely misplaced.) Bicycling is ubiquitous in Berlin, but it's not perceived as special. Few people there think about it at all; like driving a car, it's just something you have to do to get somewhere.

The main thing that I came away with from my stay in Berlin is this: if you want to get a lot of people to ride bikes, you have to spend some money. That extensive infrastructure didn't get there all by itself. It seems like an unreasonable expense to many, but it doesn't have to be Copenhagen-fancy, it's way cheaper than providing car infrastructure for an equal number of users, and when you're done you've markedly improved the quality of life in the city even for people who never even touch a bicycle.

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Old 08-12-14, 06:13 PM   #2
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Good thread! I agree about the importance of bike lanes. Even as a seasoned bike commuter, I feel the difference between riding in an unmarked vs. marked lane, even if cars have plenty of room to pass within the unmarked lane. Some spending is required but cities can be creative by simply repurposing existing roads to have less motor-lanes and adding a bike lane. The difficulty in this method is that public opponents scream about driving infrastructure being reduced. This opposition is very detrimental because it forces progress to occur by building bike lanes and path in addition to existing motor-lanes, which is more costly and damaging to the environment.

As for cycling becoming something people just do without caring about 'cycling culture' at all, that is a challenge. This does occur but many of the people I see like this who bike for transportation are poor so there must be this notion among the public that unless you're doing it for exercise, you'd have to be poor to bike for transportation. Berlin is also a fairly cool city, naturally, and people in hotter cities tend to grow accustomed to air-conditioned vehicles and buildings. This may be changing with energy-consciousness and conservation growing but it is a hard sticking point for many.
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Old 08-12-14, 09:30 PM   #3
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I've seen a number of videos on Youtube about cycling in Berlin and have some concerns. First, they paint "bike lanes" on fairly broad sidewalks and consider this satisfactory but not in my opinion. I was thinking the infrastructure would be similar to Amsterdam but was mistaken.

While Berlin has more "Painted" bike lanes than most cities, you can clearly see all the issues they have on my video. Overall, it needs improvement and more separated bike paths with wider lanes. The cross street do not protect the cyclist who can be struck by turning vehicles. Berlin also need traffic calming because the cars were going too fast.

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Old 08-12-14, 10:30 PM   #4
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I've seen a number of videos on Youtube about cycling in Berlin and have some concerns. First, they paint "bike lanes" on fairly broad sidewalks and consider this satisfactory but not in my opinion. I was thinking the infrastructure would be similar to Amsterdam but was mistaken.

While Berlin has more "Painted" bike lanes than most cities, you can clearly see all the issues they have on my video. Overall, it needs improvement and more separated bike paths with wider lanes. The cross street do not protect the cyclist who can be struck by turning vehicles. Berlin also need traffic calming because the cars were going too fast.

As I said, the infrastructure there is haphazard. Some of the bikeways there are awesome, but others are indeed just smooth brick paths hastily added to wide sidewalks. However pasted-together the network is, though, it seems to work. The signals and signage are actually really good, and in three weeks, there was never a moment that I felt that I was at risk. Compared to Seattle, one of the more bike-friendly cities in the US, it was pretty awesome. I think this is a more realistic model for most of the US than Copenhagen or the Netherlands; Berlin clearly didn't spend nearly as much as Copenhagen, but they spent something, and ended up with a system that apparently is good enough to get many thousands of people on their bikes on a regular basis.

I think we have to be realistic here in North America. I can't think of any North American city that's reasonably going to go the route of Copenhagen. But some cities here may, with some effort, manage to do what Berlin did: create an ungainly patchwork that somehow gets the job done, sort of like American cities themselves.
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Old 08-12-14, 10:42 PM   #5
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As I said, the infrastructure there is haphazard. Some of the bikeways there are awesome, but others are indeed just smooth brick paths hastily added to wide sidewalks. However pasted-together the network is, though, it seems to work. The signals and signage are actually really good, and in three weeks, there was never a moment that I felt that I was at risk. Compared to Seattle, one of the more bike-friendly cities in the US, it was pretty awesome. I think this is a more realistic model for most of the US than Copenhagen or the Netherlands; Berlin clearly didn't spend nearly as much as Copenhagen, but they spent something, and ended up with a system that apparently is good enough to get many thousands of people on their bikes on a regular basis.

I think we have to be realistic here in North America. I can't think of any North American city that's reasonably going to go the route of Copenhagen. But some cities here may, with some effort, manage to do what Berlin did: create an ungainly patchwork that somehow gets the job done, sort of like American cities themselves.
Good observations, bragi. I think many cities here are also going that haphazard route, although not with the rapid pace of Berlin. A few years ago, a new bike lane in my city would get a lot of fanfare in the local media. Nowadays, they just seem to spring up without any notice. A couple times I've been riding along and suddenly realized, "Hey, I'm in a bike lane! Where the heck did that come from?"
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Old 08-13-14, 03:26 AM   #6
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Build it and they will come... however it needs to be built properly. The largish town to the south of me has... STOP THE PRESSES... put in bike lanes! however they are in residential areas on side streets with 25 mph speed limits. Forget the fact that the down is cut in to sections by large 6 lanes roads that only a track sprinter can cross on a single cycle of the walk light. Pedestrians and cyclists get mowed down indiscriminately.

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Old 08-13-14, 07:23 AM   #7
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Build it and they will come... however it needs to be built properly.
+1

Not haphazardly.
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Old 08-13-14, 09:30 AM   #8
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OP, interesting write up. Thank You!

I live in a town with a population of ~21,000. I'm active in the large and growing cycling culture here. It's mostly Triathletes and Roadies on weekend group rides with the associated weekday training/fitness rides. The owner of the LBS and I know of exactly one person who uses their bike for transportation because they choose to and not because they have to. That one person would be me.

Your comment regarding vehicular cycling rings true. I grew up in Los Angeles on a bike and I can tell you we don't have any traffic vs cycling issues where I live now. Nor do we have any cycling infrastructure. However my neighbors, both cyclists and none cyclists, think I'm some mixture of dare devil / idiot for riding where and how I ride. It's all a matter of perception, I don't know how you change that.

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Old 08-13-14, 10:07 AM   #9
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I've seen a number of videos on Youtube about cycling in Berlin and have some concerns. First,
You might also learn from Internet browsing that bumblebees can't fly and get some concerns.

The OP observed what I also saw in Berlin (and numerous other European cities); bicycling conditions are very good and the transportation system, cars, planes, tram and rail transportation works for the residents, if not for provincial YouTube spectators.
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Old 08-13-14, 11:55 AM   #10
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+1

Not haphazardly.
Oh come on, Machka! We're talking the US/Canada here; even here in bike-friendly Seattle, every time a new bike lane is installed (er, painted), neighbors and local businesses scream bloody murder (until they discover that the car traffic still moves fine and that bicyclists are actually more prone to stop and spend money than motorists are). We have to do what we can, given budget constraints and local politics. And "haphazard" doesn't automatically mean "half-assed." You can build a network a piece at a time and still end up with something that works. Again, look at Berlin. (Or Boulder, Colorado for that matter.)
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Old 08-13-14, 12:09 PM   #11
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It's no big secret that places that have the most bike infrastructure also have the most riders.
Some things I noticed on my travels:

I've visited The Netherlands/Holland a few times during different times of the year.
Mild winters and summers; at least compared to where I live and work - NYC area.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPHI...IoDLA&index=69

Spent 3 weeks in China, mostly Nanjing and Shanghai. Very hot summer;
maybe that's why a lot of people are using electric mopeds instead of pedaling bikes:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fi01...6zPoymgKaIoDLA

Spent a few days in Puerto Rico, mostly San Juan. Hot caribbean climate, no bike lanes/paths.
Not too many riders except for some roadies and fixie riders:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jea4...6zPoymgKaIoDLA
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Old 08-13-14, 06:14 PM   #12
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Oh come on, Machka! We're talking the US/Canada here; even here in bike-friendly Seattle, every time a new bike lane is installed (er, painted), neighbors and local businesses scream bloody murder (until they discover that the car traffic still moves fine and that bicyclists are actually more prone to stop and spend money than motorists are). We have to do what we can, given budget constraints and local politics. And "haphazard" doesn't automatically mean "half-assed." You can build a network a piece at a time and still end up with something that works. Again, look at Berlin. (Or Boulder, Colorado for that matter.)
Yes, of course you can build a network a piece at a time and end up with something that works. But you need a plan. Doing it haphazardly, with no plan, with no organisation, produces poor results and creates frustration for everyone.
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Old 08-13-14, 11:24 PM   #13
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Yes, of course you can build a network a piece at a time and end up with something that works. But you need a plan. Doing it haphazardly, with no plan, with no organisation, produces poor results and creates frustration for everyone.
The scale of planning is another variable. Do you design for just one neighborhood at a time? For an entire quadrant of a city? For the total city? For a large metropolitan region? For an entire state or province? Sometimes smaller pieces are built first, then eventually joined with a larger system. This process might seem haphazard, but there is planning involved at each step of the way.

My city has a "non-motor master plan" that looks 25 years into the future. So do many neighboring cities, suburbs and the entire tri-county region. The plan (really more of a dream at this stage) is to eventually hook all this together.
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Old 08-14-14, 02:13 AM   #14
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The scale of planning is another variable. Do you design for just one neighborhood at a time? For an entire quadrant of a city? For the total city? For a large metropolitan region? For an entire state or province? Sometimes smaller pieces are built first, then eventually joined with a larger system. This process might seem haphazard, but there is planning involved at each step of the way.

My city has a "non-motor master plan" that looks 25 years into the future. So do many neighboring cities, suburbs and the entire tri-county region. The plan (really more of a dream at this stage) is to eventually hook all this together.

If there's a plan, it is not haphazard, is it?
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Old 08-14-14, 05:38 AM   #15
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Plan the work, work the plan...

Unfortunately too much "planning" in the US is haphazard, usually politically driven. In my county the Planning Board is primarily made up of developers who are looking out for their pocket books, not the general public. After stuff is built the cities come in, annex then have to deal with the crap they have left them to work with. That is the way it works in much of the US.

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Old 08-14-14, 10:01 PM   #16
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Yes, of course you can build a network a piece at a time and end up with something that works. But you need a plan. Doing it haphazardly, with no plan, with no organisation, produces poor results and creates frustration for everyone.
In Seattle, there's always a plan. And then they revise the plan. And then they have meetings about the revisions to the plan. A lot meetings. Sometimes they even implement parts of the plan, but then when they get criticized by members of the community who are affected by the plan but who were not even aware that there was a plan to begin with, the whole process starts all over again, and then nothing much happens, sometimes for years and years. Sometimes, it just makes more sense to just knock something out and sort it out afterwards, like the Germans tend to do (with varied results).
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Old 08-15-14, 06:51 PM   #17
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Any sort of worthwhile plan is dynamic if it is meant to cover a decade or more. Usually, when it is drafted, it should show the intent without the detail for what should exist in 10 years' time.

Sometimes other factors intervene to prevent full implementation of the plan; lack of anticipated funding, a natural disaster, change of ownership, political pressures or changes in the political landscape after elections.

That's when changes to plans occur, and reviews are a required to (a) judge progress, (b) value for money (c) what has worked and what hasn't and what can be learned so implementation of the latter stages is more efficient and (d) assessment of feedback from users either through survey or observation.

I am afraid a lot of cycling infrastructure is developed for opportunistic political gain, especially on the left side of politics, and it's then when the approach can be haphazard and in some cases lethal. I can draw parallels between this and an Australian program to install home insulation under the previous left-wing government that killed some people (yes, killed them), and left many financially ruined because there weren't adequate planning and checks and balances in the process.

I am a firm believer in incremental changes to road landscapes, but with a long-term plan that helps govern that implementation. It may look at road renewal programs that are already in place and integrating cycling facilities into those. It may look at planning schedules for real estate development, and integrate facilities into those. It may mean persuading government to change planning regulations to include cycling facilities as a matter of course.

However, the greatest barrier to all this is the disintegrated approach taken by the cycling communities (plural) who all have their own self-interests and cannot see the big picture.

All this based on my personal experience.
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Old 08-15-14, 07:02 PM   #18
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Speaking of Berlin, I wish it looked like this video from around 1900. You'll notice the transport of choice in Berlin was not bicycle, tram or horse. The transport of choice at the turn of the last century was plain walking. Beautiful.

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Old 08-15-14, 07:05 PM   #19
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Speaking of Berlin, I wish it looked like this video from around 1900. You'll notice the transport of choice in Berlin was not bicycle, tram or horse. The transport of choice at the turn of the last century was plain walking. Beautiful.
It was shoe leather or bare foot transport for Berliners in 1945 too. What is your point?

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Old 08-15-14, 07:18 PM   #20
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It was shoe leather or bare foot transport for Berliners in 1945 too. What is your point?
I believe most of those structures have been destroyed. The city today looks very different and you can't just walk casually in the streets as you could in 1900. Berlin's roads back then were built for traffic traveling under 12 miles per hour or less.

Quite frankly, I would not want to be in a car, tram or bicycle at Berlin during the 1900's. A city that beautiful could only be enjoyed at 2 mph or less.
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Old 08-15-14, 07:21 PM   #21
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I believe most of those structures have been destroyed. The city today looks very different and you can't just walk casually in the streets as you could in 1900. Berlin's roads back then were built for traffic traveling under 12 miles per hour or less.

Quite frankly, I would not want to be in a car, tram or bicycle at Berlin during the 1900's. A city that beautiful could only be enjoyed at 2 mph or less.
You're displaying a bad case of romanticism. I don't know what makes you think that living in a city back then made it more beautiful or enjoyable. I am almost certain that the societal class structure that existed back then made many people's lives more miserable than you think.
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Old 08-15-14, 11:57 PM   #22
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You're displaying a bad case of romanticism. I don't know what makes you think that living in a city back then made it more beautiful or enjoyable. I am almost certain that the societal class structure that existed back then made many people's lives more miserable than you think.
I think he was referring only to the transportation situation, not all the issues of social class and poverty that are largely irrelevant on this forum.

The old photos of cities all over the world look very nice when you focus in on the transportation--mostly trolley, bicycle, and above all walking. Evidently, the people of that time enjoyed being in their city because they experienced it at a slower pace and they were in much less fear of being killed by fast moving vehicles.
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Old 08-16-14, 01:04 AM   #23
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I think he was referring only to the transportation situation, not all the issues of social class and poverty that are largely irrelevant on this forum.

The old photos of cities all over the world look very nice when you focus in on the transportation--mostly trolley, bicycle, and above all walking. Evidently, the people of that time enjoyed being in their city because they experienced it at a slower pace and they were in much less fear of being killed by fast moving vehicles.
Social class and poverty is overt in just about every discussion in this forum. You will deny it, but to any outsider (and even the realists looking in) there are several here who wear their poverty and social class on their sleeves as a badge of honour... to justify their car-free status. Not that I am going to name names or anything

You also gloss over the social class structure that ensured the wealthy had access to motorised transport and could act as toffs in the city where the power brokers -- political and financial -- were based. Out of the city, the underclasses were employed working the factories or other forms of manual labour.

And the fear in those days -- a very real one -- was being killed by horses.
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Old 08-16-14, 01:19 AM   #24
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Social class and poverty is overt in just about every discussion in this forum. You will deny it, but to any outsider (and even the realists looking in) there are several here who wear their poverty and social class on their sleeves as a badge of honour... to justify their car-free status. Not that I am going to name names or anything

You also gloss over the social class structure that ensured the wealthy had access to motorised transport and could act as toffs in the city where the power brokers -- political and financial -- were based. Out of the city, the underclasses were employed working the factories or other forms of manual labour.

And the fear in those days -- a very real one -- was being killed by horses.

But really, when looking at people getting around in their communities, don't you find that the era immediately prior to the automobile truly was a Golden Era? The pedestrians in those old photos certainly look happy as they wander wherever they want, easily able to dodge the few horse wagons and slow moving trolleys. There might have been a pungent aroma of manure, but that was very preferable to the smog and dust particles of our times.
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Old 08-16-14, 01:33 AM   #25
Machka 
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Originally Posted by Roody View Post
But really, when looking at people getting around in their communities, don't you find that the era immediately prior to the automobile truly was a Golden Era? The pedestrians in those old photos certainly look happy as they wander wherever they want, easily able to dodge the few horse wagons and slow moving trolleys. There might have been a pungent aroma of manure, but that was very preferable to the smog and dust particles of our times.
No ... I don't have any notions that pre-automobile days were a "Golden Era".

Some of what we've learned in our travels was that pre-automobile days, in some places, were really quite horrible when it came to transportation.
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