Friday, October 30, 2009

Suburbanization and cycling

Suburban sprawl by David Shankbone 2008

As you may know, I am a geography student, so why not utilize my education? Forgive me if I'm dry, I'll try to be at least informative :)

There are 2 types of suburbanization: British and American. Both mean that people desire to live outside the city center. The British suburbanized in the 19th century by developing public transit system. The American way was to get to the suburbs by private automobile, which also enables the low density population structure and urban sprawl. Nowadays there the both suburbanization types occur in Europe too. The American type has proved to be particularly detrimental for cycling, because the distances are too long and often the necessary and safe light traffic infrastructure does not exist.

Low density housing in America pretty much destroyed community walkability and light traffic infrastructure, but in those European towns that have managed to invest in cyclist friendly infrastructure the cyclist rates are still very high (Follman 2007). The examples of 20th century Amsterdam and Copenhagen prove this point but they also show that it is possible to reverse this development and break the connection between suburbanization and lower cycling rates.

In the 1st half of the 20th century up to 75% of trips in Amsterdam were done by bike. 75 percent! After the second world war cars took over Amsterdam and the city expanded. This obviously had a massive effect on cycling, and the cycling rate dropped to the all time low of 25% in Amsterdam and 10% in Copenhagen by the 70s. How ever, the city road capacity couldn't handle many cars and the oil crises forced the government to think of measures to decrease oil dependency, so they began aggressively promoting cycling among other things by investing in bicycling infrastructure and enhancing cyclist priority in traffic. They succeeded and nowadays the cities have 35-40% bike trip share. That is impressive! Nowadays the cities are known for their cyclist friendliness and are among the safest cycling cities of the world (Jacobson 2009).

So, usually suburbanization and cycling decline go hand-in-hand, but it does not have to be that way. Suburbanization can also promote cycling if the suburb is not too far, but that would be on the expense of pedestrians or public transit, not cars. It is better to reign in the (mostly the American type) suburbanization a bit by supporting strong city centers and restricting suburban mall-building. E.g Muenster has some positive experiences of that strategy (Pucher and Buehler 2007).

Turku has both American and European type suburbs. Less than half of the households on the closer and denser (British type) suburbs have cars, but 70% of the more distant ones have at least one. The highest cyclist rates coming to the center of the city are from the closer suburb area. Surprisingly the cyclists are not coming to the grid plan center as often as the average cycling rate (11,5% of all trips) suggests. From the more distant “American type” suburbs almost no-one bothers to ride a bike to the center (numbers are from Turku Bustrip self-assessment report 2006, in Finnish).

So, it looks like these suburb theories do fit pretty well on my town. How about you, do you have any theories about the connection of suburbanization and cycling or would you like to share your experience? Is this kinda stuff too boring for you or do you wanna hear more of my academic brain farts?

P.S. Here's a video about the solution to the problems presented by urban sprawl (which is not the same as suburbanization, but closely related to the American type)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Major bike paths in Vienna

Due to the ring structure of Vienna, there are two major roads, called Ring (the inner ring) and Gürtel (the outer ring), in the center. Both of them are of course highly frequented by cars, cyclists and pedestrians. There are bike paths on both streets, but none of them is really pleasant for cyclists.

Two major connections in Vienna: Gürtel and Ring bike path

The main complaints of cyclists are
  • bad design (including too small width, horrible alignment, detours etc.)
  • ignorant behavior of other road users (pedestrians who don't care about where they walk, broken glass, illegally parked cars etc.)
  • most inconvenient traffic signals for cyclists (sometimes one has to wait a few minutes every 50m)
  • in some places insufficient street lighting
  • currently also a lot of building sites which lead to complicated detours for cyclists and conflicts with pedestrians (while on the other hand at the Gürtel car drivers still have 8 untouched lanes for themselves)
  • almost painful noise, itchy dust and car exhausts (due to heavy motor traffic)
  • ...
As it is now I would prefer to ride in the car lanes, but due to our traffic regulations I'm not allowed to (exceptions only for road bikes and certain trailers, see StVO §68 (1)). I'm only allowed to use "the road" when there is no bike path.

Because of one of the building sites at the Gürtel bike path (they repair a short piece of tram lines and block the bike paths for weeks now) at U6 Thaliastraße I actually can use the "normal road" legally in one direction for about 50m. I always enjoy that. So much space, so fast :). Usually cars are ok with me cycling there. Not all of them might see the obstructions for cyclists, but as I'm only in "their lane" for a short while and they are often stuck in a traffic jam anyhow, "they" let me be.

However, today, on our national holiday, within these 50m two car drivers honked at me. Apparently they didn't see the building site and of course there first reaction was something like "Hey, you cyclist, get out of my way!". I really don't understand such a behavior a) at all and b) on a holiday where nobody is in a hurry anyhow. Suggestions?

A not so bad part of the Gürtel bike path

Well, since I'm almost daily annoyed with both of these bike paths, I will write a little more about them and show you some explicit incorrect planning of bicycle infrastructure in Vienna. In my humble opinion is this halfhearted planning one of the main reasons why a city with so much bicycle infrastructure (> 1000 km) still has such a small amount of cyclists (~ 5 %).

The Ring bike path is currently under construction. Small bits are improved, but the whole of it still just is a patchwork of leftover areas assigned to cyclists rather than a thought-through bike path. You can get some insight by reading "Stadt Wien beschließt RingRundFiasko" by IG Fahrrad (a Viennese bicycle lobby).

For the Gürtel area I have a rather radical suggestion for a redesign which would be convenient for most people (abutters, pedestrians, cyclists, shop owners, bars etc.), but well, is novel. More about all that another time.

Nevertheless I will also show you some of the good things about these bike paths, maybe do some videos so that you get an overall picture. After all, cycling is fun and I like to share that :).

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The importance of bike racks

According to Christoph Chorherr's blog entry from April 2009 (a Green politician) there are about 1 Million bicycles in Vienna but only 18.000 bike racks available. This is of course far to few and explains
a) why many bikes get stolen (locking the bike frame to a fixed object is essential) and
b) why so many bikes are locked to street lamps, traffic signs, fences etc.

Well, this number is old. Recently I have seen many new bike racks, especially in the city center. The city of Vienna builds bike racks in two different types, both of which are pretty safe if one uses them correctly (see how to secure bicycles).

The most common type of bike racks in Vienna and many European cities.
Do you have such public bike racks too? Or does your city build other ones?

But it's not just the sufficient number of bike racks that is important, it's also the accessibility that plays a key role. I don't mind walking 500m from the bike rack to my destination if I leave my bike for a few hours (e.g. if I go to the cinema, theater, dinner or so), but if I just have to buy a milk or post a letter (which takes less than 5min) I want to be able to park my bike right outside of the shop.

This is something that is certainly missing in Vienna. There are very very few shops with bike racks, even in major shopping streets like Mariahilfer Straße bike racks are rare. There is, however, one positive example that sticks out:

Bike racks at U6 Floridsdorf: subway and train station
and a big shopping mall are right beside the racks, which are even canopied!

Talking about it, other important spots for bike racks are of course public transport stations, especially train and subway stations. Vienna lacks many bike racks in these places as well as in front of schools and universities. But the city builds many new racks these days and is certainly improving, something that I can only appreciate :).

Still, the best and most bike racks ain't help if they are occupied by someone else. So I kindly ask all moped and motorbike riders: please park your vehicles somewhere else and don't block the few racks that are available for safe bike parking.

Thanks in advance.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Well, as most of you probably already know, there are two Annas writing on this blog:
anna from Vienna, Austria (me)
Anna from Barcelona, Spain
Although we live far apart, we've been close friends for many years now. We don't meet often, but whenever we do we share a great time. I visited Anna last in April 2009 in Barcelona (a surprise visit for her birthday) and also wrote about my impressions of cycling in Barcelona on the shared BiCiNg bikes: Anna cycling in Barcelona. Moreover I also shot my first bike video in this fancy place (none have followed so far, but I plan to do one in Vienna too).

One of the best things about our last reunion was definitely the Tandeming on Anna's birthday. You can see a few pictures and read about all the fun we had if you follow this link. There is, however, another picture that I shot with my analogue medium format camera Diana (it's a lomo camera in case anybody is familiar with the concept) and which is still unknown to Anna. Since I don't use the camera very often it takes forever to finish and develop the films. Thus I only received this funny picture a few days ago:

From left to right: anna, Anna, anna and Anna

Note that the "doubling" effect is not due to Photoshop (boring) but due to a so-called Splitzer (a multiple imaging slicing accessory for the Diana) and a rearragement of ourselves. The quality could of course be better, but hey, it's just a fun camera. And we certainly had a lot of fun!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hey, we are missing an indian summer here

Let's talk about winter. I like winter. I love the snow. And the feeling of coming in from the cold to a warm cup of black tea with milk. But ...

View from my window

... it's only October! And it's unusual for Vienna to have snow in the middle of October. Imagine, we still had 28°C (about 82 F) last week in Vienna. Well, now it's less. Far less. We had snow on Wednesday for the first time. Apparently, according to the news (in German), this is the first October with so much snow in Austria in 25 years. Cool, eh?

Oh, I enjoyed it so much. I like to get all wrapped up in my velvet jacket, my warm gloves, my cosy scarf and my colorful cap. And then the snow. Snow just looks lovely. And cycling in the snow is much better than cycling in the rain. One arrives a lot drier. And happier :-).

Ready to hit the road (me in winter clothes)My "I don't like to be stuck in a traffic jam generated by lazy I-use-my-car-cause-I-don't-want-to-get-a-cool-butt-people when it's f***ing freezing"-faceYeah, snow is nice (me dreaming of winter already :-))

Well, the snow unfortunately didn't stay and they claim that it will be a lot warmer again next week. Generally fall in Vienna means the following: fog – fog – rain – fog – rain – fog – wind – fog – rain – rain – wind – fog. That's a good weather to get into a slow and lazy mood. For proper snow we probably have to wait a few more weeks ...

Still, it's time to dig out your winter clothes and strong bike lights, and to peacefully cycle into a winter full of snow (as always I hope that there will be a lot of snow, I hope you agree). For some general tips about winter cycling see my posts from last time:
  1. the bicycle
  2. the cyclist
  3. cycling

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A mind game for the curious cycle enthusiast

Sometimes bikes leave me wondering who they belong to. Like this one:

A rather uncommon Dutch-style bike in Vienna

For months I walked past it every day on my lunch break. And finally, after a long time of curiousness I saw this guy riding it:

He was on his way to work, his briefcase was sitting on the front rack.

Ever had a similar experience? I find it really fun to look at bikes and imagine what kind of people are riding them :).

If you are, on the other hand, interested in a computer game for cyclists, check out Bicicla't.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

re: bike fashion in fall

In Budapest, just before our ways parted after the mobility workshop, me, Anna and Ida went to do some shopping at a bike fashion store Musu. The store was tiny, but there were not many identical products on the racks and they would customize their products in your taste so the choice was plentiful. We were impressed by the collection, which was inspired by and designed for cycling, and everyone ended up leaving with something bought from the store. Here's what I bought:

Some bling, of course! And...

... a poncho for the chilly fall. It is made of thick and heavy cloth so it keeps the wind off your skin. Love the print! The skirt (below) is also a Musu product. The gray part which rises almost to the empire line is part of the skirt. There is a pocket on the right side made of the gray cloth. It is a good skirt for cycling because the hem is just high enough not to get stuck anywhere and low enough not to show too much. Also the gray kidney warmer-part is very comfortable. A big bonus is that you can combine it with other garments to wear it anywhere (tested while shopping, in school, bar, and a fancy arts exhibition opening party).

Here's what I wear in the fall (OK, the jacket wasn't the right color). You can see that it is quite a lot of clothes, layering is essential, but just wait for the winter...

Do you have special cycling clothes? What do you think about Musu style and mine? (Yep, I'm combining toque, helmet and high heels, but all of them are must!)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Is there something called 'bike fashion'?

A difficult topic. Of course, some people would say, we even own 'cycling clothes'. However, when I say 'bike fashion' I certainly don't mean that:

Weekend warriors on their bikes (and a bad example of a two-way bike path in Vienna)

So what kind of 'bike fashion' am I talking of then? Let's say there are two different types, not necessarily disjunct:

1. Comfy clothes one can easily cycle in:

That includes of course almost all types of clothes. You name it: trousers, skirts, dresses, suits etc. Just open your closet!

Bike fashion

However, there might be some designer clothes or shoes that are neither constructed for walking, sitting nor cycling, but only for gracefully standing around. Like this:

In case the dress is stackable, cycling is still an option :)

2. Clothes with bike-related imprints:

Although I have seen a lot of such clothes I don't own any myself. But I can provide you with a picture from the lovely musu shop in Budapest:

Simply adorable

No matter what, most of use are aware of the fact that cycling is fashionable anyhow. And that it is particularly fashionable if one rides a lovely bicycle. Indeed, riding pretty is easy. Especially girls and bicycles go together quite well. If you're not convinced consult Vélo Vogue for some fashion advice. So come on, let's go for a ride!

Keep it up, fellow cycling friends. We will too :). If you're keen on spying you can see what we wear in blog posts marked with the clothes label.

Monday, October 5, 2009

How to leave bikeprints on the street

First something you might already know: Contrail invented a system to leave a faint chalk line behind the bike while riding it. See the official website or the homepage of the studio gelardi (the creators) for more information. They claim that by leaving road marks like that cycling would become safer as cyclists see which routes are frequently used (after all they create a bike lane themselves) and hence cycling is safer there. Well, I am not so sure about that and I also don't think this is something that should be used largely (I don't like dusty air when I'm cycling), but every now and then it could be fun.

However, this product only exists in theory and not yet in real life. On the other hand I have tried a real bicycle painting tool on the closed down Andrássy street in Budapest:

They took a fixed gear bike, mounted sponges to each of the tires and connected them to bottles filled with colorful paint. Well, a certain area of the street was covered with paper for the painting purpose. Still fun to leave some bikeprints.

Me on the painting bike

But don't be sad if you don't have the opportunity to ride a painting bike. Just wait for the winter and leave your bikeprints on uncleared roads in the snow :).

Friday, October 2, 2009

Picturized ideas for sustainable transport in major cities

I hope you're not getting bored with me talking about Budapest so much, 'cause I still have something interesting to share with you concerning the workshop about urban mobility Sonja and I attended (winner of an EU youth exchange project).

This time, however, it's not about infrastructure or activities. This time it's about the results, most of which are available as videos. I think this is also interesting for people outside of Budapest and Europe as most problems in urban planning (due to car-centric planning) are quite similar worldwide. Note that all this work was done within ten days only, and even less working days!

First, students (mostly in the fields of architecture, civil engineering, geography and spatial planning) as well as filmmakers worked together to analyze the transport problems in a given project area in the center of Budapest. View all observations from different groups, or in particular ...

... a video about the accessibility of public transport ...

... the noise problem ...

... the lack of bike racks in important places ...

... the power of (parked) cars and white lines.

Do you agree? Can you find similar problems in your town? Do you think some of them are solvable? If yes, how? Brainwashing our society does not count, by the way ;-). Difficult, isn't it?

Well, we tried to solve some of these problems anyhow. Possible solutions or let's say suggestions are collected as final results. Among others you can for example ...

... follow a curious man on a walk through Budapest ...

... see how you can become an everyday life star ...

... or simply try to love Budapest.

Still not bored? For further reading see