Much debate and many growing pains have accompanied the fanfare around the rise and rapid adoption of bikeshare systems such as Vélib in France and BIXI in Montréal. A recent article appeared critiquing the Bicing system of Barcelona, and by coincidence it came to my inbox (and was published) on the day of my first ever arrival in Barcelona. It took me more than a month to respond, but am glad to have done so. My commentary is published below, with my qualified conclusion in this case: no, it has not hurt bicycling!
The original article was here:
My commentary (soon to add photos, perhaps video too!) is here:
Thank you for looking at the big picture.
It was very interesting to receive this article because on that day, the day it was published, I had actually just arrived in Barcelona for the first time, and was in the process of analyzing the relationship between infrastructure and cycling in the BICY project (http://bicy.it). So it gave me a much appreciated puzzle to work on while in the area.
I spent several days pondering this during my visit, and even did some traffic counts and tours of the bikeways as well as cycling to the outer limits of the city to get a better understanding of the bicycle situation there.
First I must say that bicycle data is notoriously unreliable and collected in inconsistent ways, making it further unreliable or incompatible to use for analysis and comparison. It can also be quite political, and I’ve heard from people from other cities who do not believe the figures for cycling in their cities, because funding is sometimes allocated based usage.
Given this and my first impression, I was initially skeptical about the low cycling rates reported, particularly as in certain areas of the center one sees many bicycles. In fact the relatively low rates for everything but walking (45.5%!) presented a challenge.
However, having taken a further look, it’s quite likely these numbers are reasonably accurate. Barcelona, like Paris, is one of the great walking cities, and high cycling in one area does not translate into high overall cycling.
The low rates of cycling are also predicted by our model developed for cities in Central Europe, based on the amount of infrastructure present, although we would have estimated 4% not 2%, which given the many factors and the uniqueness of the city is still quite close.
The unique diamond intersections where cyclists must made several rapid sharp turns were fun in a race course sort of way but struck me as dangerous and inconvenient, due to poor sight lines, tight turning, and unexpected conflict zones, although adaptation may reduce that risk considerably. However it probably further discourages cycling.
Interviewing residents I heard repeatedly that the frequent stopping for red lights creates even more frustration, and leads to dangerous and aggressive behavior. We saw this repeatedly as drivers peeled out with screeching tires after waiting at red lights, even if cross traffic of pedestrians had not yet cleared.
I had to wonder why not turn the diamond intersections into circles, probably removing some or all parking in the process), with many net benefits in noise and air pollution reduction, traffic calming, reduced wear and tear on the entire system (infrastructure and vehicles), and collision reduction, while presumably making it a more free-flow and bicycle-friendly environment.
Observing the use of Bicing bikes, I noted they made up more than 50% of bicycle traffic in some central areas, at some times of the day, but in other areas made up much smaller percentages (and in large areas of the city that are not served, zero). Traveling with a group I saw how local Barcelona residents used the bicycles, in these cases enabling groups to travel together when some didn’t have bicycles.
In the end I certainly didn’t have time nor resources to conduct a full assessment, and respect the analysis in this article and the city’s publications. However I would like to put in some words of consideration in defense of the Bicing system:
1. Cost justification
While the system may cost a tiny bit more than the Metro or bus per trip, this is not a reason in itself to discontinue the service unless the Metro and bus systems should be discontinued as well (which, by the way, would be expected to increase bicycle use a lot, but likewise would increase motor vehicle use – the good news is bicycling has much more room to grow than car use, the bad news is motor scooters are almost as unlimited in their potential to increase, and carry worse emissions and noise pollution than cars for the most part). A bicycle trip has many benefits that a public transit trip does not, it deserves an even higher subsidy if need be. If we develop an ideal for traffic in Barcelona (choose your favorite), surely the total investment in cycling is much lower than it should be.
2. Political avoidance of building bikeways
Given that investment in cycling facilities is too low, the concern that the Bicing system is being used as an excuse for preventing development of a true and quality bikeway network is serious, and something raised other places (I’ve even heard officials in Montreal voice this regarding the BIXI system, for example).
However, the fact that many times more are invested in Bicing does not have to mean nothing for infrastructure. There should be more for both.
The kind of analysis presented here is a first step to action for an increase of funding for and implementation of infrastructure including secure parking.
But the situation is not so bad: it is very encouraging that based on the official report, infrastructure increased 8.3% 2009-2010, and has steadily increased since the system opened after a long plateau last decade.
Yes this needs to be much faster, but is better than many cities and increasing, and going in the right direction. Also good news, parking has increased a great deal since 2007, suggesting Bicing was related to increased bicycle parking (p. 57). Again too little but in the right direction.
3. Suppression of cycling
First I have to question that Bicing reduced cycling. If you look at the graph of bike trips per day, they nearly doubled when Bicing was introduced in 2007, and have only fallen slightly since then (see p. 55 of the 2010 report).
Discussing with people in Barcelona about the concern that the system led to lower levels of cyclists and is contracting, local residents told me that the surge and contraction of membership had to do more with the promotions and newness at the beginning (many people encouraged to try and interested to try) coupled with the glitches in the system at the beginning (people encountered major system unreliability being unable to obtain a bicycle, and then unable to leave it, so gave up). These aberrations are normal in a new system, the thing to look for is the long-term trend which seems stable with higher ridership since its introduction. In fact the report supports this, particularly looking at the first two years.
Whether there are more negative effects of a bikeshare system on ridership for some people, or on long-term growth potential, is of great interest, but needs more clear evidence.
One bike rental operator told me he thought the system had increased private bicycle ownership and boosted bike shops, by allowing new cyclists to try bicycling and then realize having their own bicycle was better. (At the same time, he was deeply concerned about opening the system to tourists, because many bicycle rental businesses would collapse.)
Regarding the slight decline of bicycle use in the one-year span 2009-2010, this seems troubling but is actually small, and may be a statistical anomaly. There is error in modal split surveys, which appears more exaggerated for small numbers (the same error in walking would not be noticed, like a regressive tax the minority is hit harder). It’s even possible the true number increased. Certainly it is possible the Bicing system encouraged some people to give up private bikes, because it was easier to use the bikeshare occasionally for them, but on balance many more people are cycling since its introduction. The problem is this is still far too small for the potential.
It is also heartening that the total trips in Bicing, which should be a very reliable number, have increased by 377,744 2009-2010, although the rounded number for the higher 2010 figure suggests it’s approximate with unknown error.
4. Bicycle behavior
I did not see much evidence of bad cycling behavior during my stay, but it was a short stay. I don’t assume all non-bike lane trips are on the sidewalk, however; certainly I used the streets often, as in any city, and saw others doing so. (I’m also skeptical of any figure that attempts to know where all cyclists are, it’s not an easy task as recent GPS-based studies of just a fraction of cyclists attest.) However, there is a learning curve in any culture adopting cycling, and public support for education of cycling skills as well as sensitivity and awareness from non-cyclists should be added to the imperative goal of increased quantity and quality of infrastructure.
My conclusion: cycling in Barcelona is on the rise. Bicing is not causing harm, it has overall helped. However, it must not become a barrier to major actions to increase cycling.
The Copenhagenize Index recognized this by allowing it to score highly despite having very low cycling overall and a relatively poor network.
Next steps are to consider the relationship of Bicing to bicycling (because scaling cycling begs for scaling Bicing, or changing its use), and to re-envision the relationship of all bicycling to the public transport system, as bike trips can be more direct, reliable and cheaper and will be preferred if people feel safe and accommodated to do so.
A truly bicycle-friendly Barcelona would mean a shift from all other modes: motor vehicles as well as from public transport, and even a decline in walking. For this case, Barcelona must choose to be a bicycle city.
Certainly from a public interest perspective the argument is strong: The money saved on more expensive modes more than justifies the investment in cycling; the cost is less to begin with, even before the tremendous benefits (health benefits, boosts to the local economy, and more, including tourism).
Meanwhile, consider conversion of traffic signals where possible, particularly in the diamond-intersection areas, and installing roundabouts and shared space/slow zones in large areas of the city, hand in hand with new bicycle infrastructure and an array of new restrictions on driving both private cars and motor bikes (motorcycles and motor scooters).
Picture this; if you like it, make it your goal; it can happen very quickly.
A final note: this data is now almost two years old. It would be good to know the latest developments now that the system, and the public, have had more time to adjust. (And speaking of delays, my comment has been delayed first because I wanted to do more research, apologies for the time lag.)
Thanks to many requests for these presentations I’m posting them online. This will also help assure their availability long-term; I do not know when presentations will be posted on the Velo-city Global website (and the stated plan is to remove them after one year). There were also many problems with the presentations from 2011 not being online.
PRESENTATION ONE: IDAHO LAW. meggs-jason-velo-city-2012-idaho-stops-law-srv2
PRESENTATION TWO: BICY PROJECT. bicy-velo-city-2012-meggs-schweizer-srv2
Please let me know if you have any problems or need any further information. There have been several problems (unusual!) with the PDF version of the Idaho Law presentation posted earlier. This one is slightly updated as well.
I hope to publish an extensive article about the entire experience soon, time permitting. There was much to see and do at Velo-city Global 2012! Many wonderful people and their projects came together to share.
The IDAHO LAW: legendary in U.S. cycling circles. The 1982 “Idaho Law”, I.C. §49-720, allows bicyclists to slow and safely choose whether to yield to stop signs and red lights. (Since 2005, cyclists must stop before proceeding straight through a red light, but may still yield on right turns.)
How did just one state achieve such a progressive approach to bicyclists and traffic controls? Great topic, important topic; its importance for active transport is not to be underestimated!
I was involved in a study of the Idaho Stops law at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health.
This included visiting Idaho, numerous interviews with key stakeholders, a survey, and video data collection, as well as comparing city traffic safety data with other cities.
There was absolutely no indication that the Idaho Law had caused any harm.
The most substantial piece of that study was a comparison with Sacramento, a city which is surprisingly similar in many ways.
Sacramento appeared to be much more dangerous for cyclists than Idaho by all comparisons, with at least 30% (or 60%, depending on definitions of injury) more injuries per bicycle commuter, and regular fatalities each year, whereas Boise had NONE, year after year.
This surprising difference year after year, from such similar cities, certainly dispels any “sky will fall” assumptions about the Idaho Law and lends strength to the supported hypothesis that the Idaho Law actually improves safety for all roadway users, and increases cycling. Other cities were also compared, and like Sacramento, all fared worse than Boise.
In fact, quite a list of apparently attributable benefits for the Idaho Law were found. Increasing cycling, increasing cycling safety, increasing safety for all roadway users, and reducing the risk of injury including repetitive strain injuries, were among the benefits. One of the largest benefits of all is political; across the USA political opposition to bicycling is vehement, even violent in many cases many of you have heard of, in attempting to control and contain cycling for “flouting” the law. But whenever a law has such near universal non-compliance, by everyone from grandmothers to police officers, and especially grandmothers who are police officers, we owe it to all to revisit the law.
The assumption that bicyclists follow all laws intended for motor vehicle users is highly flawed. No “warrants” (e.g., informed criteria) for cyclists to be held to stop signs and signals were developed in that broad sweeping legal measure (adopted by many states 50+ years ago, after the bicycle had been prominent in ground transport for about as many years without such control). Bear in mind that stop signs and signals would not exist as they do today, but for the motor vehicle.
In fact, many stop signs and even many signals are what traffic engineering would call “unwarranted” for motor vehicles; they are used solely for traffic calming. Ironically, this occurs intensively on what many if not most consider the ideal cycling routes, quieter streets parallel to arterials (e.g., bicycle boulevards). Thus to stop cars from using residential cycle routes, we’ve en masse hurt cycling on those very routes. Adding stop signs can more than double a cyclist’s time spent, and more than triple the energy spent. No fun. It discourages cycling. Add to that the evidence that stop signs actually increase injuries, and the call for relaxing stops for cycling seems imperative.
We don’t require walkers, runners, push-scooter operators, skateboarders, inline skaters, or electric wheelchair users to stop, yet those modes are as a strong general rule, much less able to avoid collisions…If we don’t require those active transport modes to stop, why would we ever require bicyclists to do so?
We don’t require walkers, runners, push-scooter operators, skateboarders, inline skaters, or electric wheelchair users to stop, yet those modes are as a strong general rule, much less able to avoid collisions. In general their operation has a longer stopping distance and a larger turning radius, and a reduced ability to see and hear. If we don’t require those active transport modes to stop, why would we ever require bicyclists to do so?
A major distinction must be made between choosing when to yield for safety, and taking right of way over all other users. There is no reason to believe that the Idaho Law increases disrespect for pedestrians, which is best addressed by other means than a mismatched stopping law. If anything, proper respect for bicyclists (including proper education and training) will help reduce conflicts and create a friendlier culture of inclusion. The Idaho Law allows prosecution of any cyclist who violates the right of way of not only a pedestrian, but other cyclists and motorists as well.
I’m happy to provide the draft study and a policy document based on the study, and certainly welcome any help in completing and publishing the study. An earlier version of the paper is available here: IDAHO-LAW-jasonmeggs-2010version.
Perhaps the most informative for a quick look is an even earlier presentation, available here: idaho-presentation.
Presently I have an outstanding request for more data to the Idaho OHS, and a multi-city follow-up survey in the works. Your Agent Meggs has been asked to provide testimony to a number of states and cities considering adoption of their own long overdue version of this important, inexpensive, and broadly beneficial measure. In recent years numerous places in the U.S. have considered, and in some cases even introduced legislation, to adopt an Idaho Law, including Oregon, Arizona, Virginia, California, and Washington, D.C.
An example policy letter to share with decision makers can be found for download here: idaho-letter-jmeggs-20090627. I’m happy to also write a short letter introducing the latest version of my study, such as this one, available for download here. In addition to written testimony, I can be available for in-person oral testimony in support of legislation.
In the meanwhile, you may enjoy this very clear and helpful video from Oregon:
UPDATE FEBRUARY 2012:
There’s a new legal situation for cyclists in France, with a test rolling out in Paris. Despite a lot of confusion on the topic, Paris militants à vélo, Mieux se Déplacer à Bicyclette (MDB), assure me this article is “not totally false”:
and that “this possibility is not only for Parisian cyclists, it is a nationwide law. For instance, in Nantes, the experimentation started one year ago without problem so it as be decided to make more” as discussed here: href=”http://www.bicloo.nantesmetropole.fr/Magazine/Actualites/Le-tourne-a-droite-des-velos-generalise
And quite a perspective and discussion on the topic at the emphatically energetic On the Level Blog.
UPDATE NOVEMBER 2012:
As a result of attending Vel Read more…
The MeggsReport is cooking up a storm.
We’ve been encouraged to self-report on personal cooking theory and practice; “not many people cook like you do.” Part chemist/alchemist, part traditional foods enthusiast (especially merging Chinese food theory with more universal traditions), this might seem a bit odd to most in the USA.
So as a first glimpse, let’s take a quick look at a quick recent meal, noteworthy as it was made while traveling, yet adheres to principles usually used at home.
Watch as Meggs magically transmogrifies available goodies into a pile of tasty sustenance, in short order, each element cooked to perfection yet in the same pot, served hot with not a BTU of energy wasted. Colorful and tasty, prepared with a select combination of health and sustainability guidelines. All with a minimum of clean-up!
Fifteen minutes from first thought to table; Voilà!
The day in question, Meggs was traveling, staying with friends in Philadelphia.
1) Sourcing. Goal of eating whole foods. Organic/local/free range/live/sprouted/traditional foods. Minimize processing including cooking; cooked (or not) as appropriate for the type of food and the needs of the individual. Sprouted grains possible thanks to specialty breads (e.g., Ezekiel, and other(s)) available in freezers at many stores. (At home, sprouted grains such as brown rice would be used.)
2) Cooking order and cooking intensity. Stalks and dense/root vegetables cut smaller and cooked first and longer, in a minimum of water (so material on bottom boils, material on top steams). Ginger was used for its health benefits and flavor, added first to cook longest, finely chopped. Leaves of greens tossed on top at the end as a secondary lid to absorb heat and retain heat, as the flame was reduced or turned off, so they cooked least; lightly cooked. Egg added for nutrient density and animal proteins and fats, placed directly onto cooking vegetables when almost done. Egg yolk is important to eat raw. Whites one might minimally cook to destroy avidin (that reduces uptake of biotin, a B vitamin) so some would say the ideal is soft poaching, although others say the biotin in egg yolks make up for the avidin, and cooking destroys important complex nutrients. But here a partial cooking: the whites cook from the hot water a bit similar to egg drop soup but no stirring. Stirring destroys complex proteins. The vegetables were cut in the order of cooking, added as they were ready, so cooking/cutting times closely corresponded.
3) Energy savings (“Not a BTU wasted”). Bowl for eating first used as lid, warming it up, so bowl will not sap heat when soup is served (eating hot food is a goal too, and a cold soup is a let-down). Bread thawed/warmed in lid (serving bowl used as lid for pot) while food cooks, and/or placed around edges to steam thaw. (Toasting avoided due to acrylamide and nutrient destruction.) Bread placed at bottom of bowl when serving to ensure not frozen, and also thus made softer and easier to eat by absorbing the liquid. The liquid contains important extracts (e.g., vitamins and minerals) essential not to be wasted. Not to mention, that just in time cutting method.
For additional flavor, spices and garlic can be added as appropriate. Garlic would be added near end to prevent cooking out healing properties. For saltiness and more fermented content, miso can be stirred in after boiling. To minimize disruption to the layered mix, pour off some hot liquid into the hot bowl, smash the miso with a spoon, then add the rest on top. Cayenne increases circulation and aids respiration, and good for certain conditions.
Served in one motion by sliding out of the pan into the hot waiting bowl, preserving the pile; thus the presentation in the photo.
Philosophy stems from numerous sources:
Guidance from Chinese Medicine, particularly Paul Pitchford’s book, Healing with Whole Foods, and a nod to emerging trends: certainly the Traditional Foods Movement, public health issues (consideration for those intolerance to gluten and milk; diabetes epidemic; carcinogenicity of pesticides and some packaging and processing; strong association of processed foods with degenerative diseases; etc.); healthy and more sustainable sourcing (pesticide free/Bio/Organic, homegrown or local if possible, etc.). And of course, the Pollan-ization.
“Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” –Michael Pollan, a Berkeley southpaw of note. :p
Not mentioned: the ease of sprouting while on the go, even while backpacking.
Knowing that vegans may find the Mmm-eggs photo objectionable, apologies; in another tale I might discuss my own history with veganism and vegetarianism. (An interesting broader inquiry, for this Report or another news venue, would be: why so many longtime vegans and vegetarians, including outspoken organizers, in the San Francisco Bay Area/Berkeley (an epicenter) have quietly or not so quietly given up that practice.) Vegetarians as well as vegans may have issues with the Traditional Food movement, and related emerging trends like the Paleolithic Diet.
An excellent resource for vegans and vegetarians which attempts to harmonize veg practices with traditional foods principles is found here.
Surely some will also question raw eggs. The risk of salmonella, while real, I understand is extremely low if organic/pastured eggs are used, and even quite low if the riskiest, factory-farmed-torture-swill eggs are used. Two commercial sources that seem good on why raw eggs are highly beneficial to eat this one and this one.
Thanks! We hope this is helpful. Your Meggsychef hopes to share more on dietary examples and perspectives in the future. Remember, everyone is different, there’s loads of info out there, and quite a lot of conflicting advice and opinions. This information is provided here to help you make better choices, not to tell you what to do. More sharing planned for the future on the Meggs Report.
Updated October 11, 2012 due to changing information in the wiggly web world: folic acid reduction from uncooked egg whites no longer appears to be a concern, however now finding that biotin is said to be at least partially cancelled by avidin when whites are not cooked, e.g., here.
A report from the Emergency Room, with a compassionate and accomplished doctor I’ve known a long time.
“Americans are really sick. Sicker than ever. And the emergency rooms are really getting hit. Diabetes epidemic, obesity epidemic, the asthma epidemic, congestive heart failure, more and more renal failure from the diabetes, and then the psychiatric stuff. What’s really getting bad is depression. With psychotic breaks, they end up in the emergency room too. It’s all tied together.
“By law, the ER must treat you before they ask your insurance status. So it’s not a bad law; it saves lives. But, it’s an unfunded law. And more and more people can’t pay. So the insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid are cutting back reimbursement, so we ER docs are working harder and harder for less and less money.
“Nationwide, admissions to emergency rooms are growing at 5% a year. Some hospitals are going out of business, and some are closing their emergency departments. And it’s not only that people have no place else to go, it’s also because there’s no place else that’s appropriate for them to go.”
While at Velo-City Global 2010 in Copenhagen, Denmark, last summer, two inspirational new ideas shined upon me from the stormy heavens of twenty-plus years in the world-change trenches. This is one of them:
Create teams of experts ready to mobilize in support of political opportunities to make big changes in pursuit of healthier, more sustainable cities.
In particular, the election of a visionary new mayor is an ideal example.
Change is needed and change needs support.
Everywhere around the world there are people who want and need change. They face barriers. They need to overcome those barriers. Some are members of the public. They live the reality that needs changing. Some are experts: planners, scientists, policy makers, researchers, advocates and engineers, who have thought about these problems and their solutions. They need the political opening to apply their knowledge to real solutions, and other with complementary skills to work with. And SOME are well-meaning elected officials, who face at times tremendous even crippling institutional resistance to make major changes, as well as a steep learning curve to apply cutting edge solutions to their particular problems.
The key here is to align all three to work together.
Thus when a forward thinking elected such as a new mayor comes to power, a new form of support is needed to coordinate and coalesce the investigation and implementation of those broad intentions. The people are already there, although they may need help coming together. The expert support may be lacking. Bring it to them!
Obviously, the idea of maximizing achievements during political opportunity is not a new idea. However, the struggle to make change continues to grow and experiment. This proposal does appear to be a new idea.
True, each change of administration typically involves a replacing of high level support staff and the selection of new appointments, certainly for presidents and other high-level electeds. Even that is not enough.
Last night, attending the Sustainable Transport Award ceremony in Washington, D.C., presented by Institute for Transport & Development Policy (ITDP) during the 90th Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board, this idea came to mind again. Yes groups such as ITDP provide much support, however this idea differs even from NPO/NGO assistance, which is also very much needed.
One recipient of an award, Francisco Sheffield, the mayor of León, México, expressed gratitude for being able to go back to the people of Léon with international validation for all the work being done there. What if a team of helpers went with that validation?
Picture a team full of knowledge and vision assembled to support a mayor. In fact this is highly similar to what happened in Bogotá, Colombia, much celebrated for its rapid transformation.
At Velo-City I broached this exciting idea to Gil Peñalosa, an advocate for sustainable transportation and livable cities, and brother of the former mayor of Bogotá, Enrique Peñalosa. Gil was standing in for his brother as a featured speaker. He liked the idea.
Gil served as Commissioner of Parks during that legendary and tumultuous mayoral term, in which five megaprojects were championed, including the highly successful and now world-famous, premiere Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project in the world, TransMilenio. Much was done for the transformation of public space, reduction of automobile use, and improvement of social equity, access and mobility.
Gil concurred that a large part of the success in Bogotá at that time was the special formation of a top level of supermanagers to bring together interdepartmental cooperation.
Often in city government there are institutional legacies which inhibit change. Departmental isolation or “siloization” is one meta-example. A team of coordinators helps them see the way to working together to fulfil a grand clear vision.
Thus I’m tentatively calling this collaborative response team idea the “SWOT” team, derived from the “SWAT” emergency response teams (highly trained response teams sent to save people in crisis situations, with an exciting theme song from the classic teevee show), and the “SWOT Analysis” methodology, although this idea goes beyond identifying Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats to strategic engagement and active implementation.
How can the movement for more sustainable, healthier, and more livable, lovable cities step up its involvement to really find the force of leverage and carry forward political openings? There is so much that can be done, even quickly and inexpensively, which saves lives, saves money, protects human and environmental health, and makes people happy.
All that is really needed is the political will and good guidance. Here is a call to bring these together. I for one would love to participate in such a collaboration. In the meantime I hum a few bars of Rhythm Heritage action anthem when not pulsing the active transport drumbeat to the old standby, the Mission Impossible theme song.