Multo Bene: Milan is ready to shift…

…from cars to walking and biking:

Milan is to introduce one of Europe’s most ambitious schemes reallocating street space from cars to cycling and walking, in response to the coronavirus crisis.

The northern Italian city and surrounding Lombardy region are among Europe’s most polluted, and have also been especially hard hit by the Covid-19 outbreak.

Under the nationwide lockdown, motor traffic congestion has dropped by 30-75%, and air pollution with it. City officials hope to fend off a resurgence in car use as residents return to work looking to avoid busy public transport.

The city has announced that 35km (22 miles) of streets will be transformed over the summer, with a rapid, experimental citywide expansion of cycling and walking space to protect residents as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.

I hope this idea is contagious.

COVID Silver Linings: Cycling Rediscovered…

Much of the world is locked down and turning to cycling. An excellent reminder that it is a superior (carbon-free) mode of transport. And that smart planning would mean making it safer and more accessible everywhere.

Cycling Your Way To Happiness

“Buddha sits. I cycle. We are both enlightened.” Photo: Simon Roberts

The Bhutanese know a thing or two about happiness, and why it is important. And these days there is a lot of happiness coming from atop bicycles:

To ask a Bhutanese about happiness is akin to asking a Frenchman about wine or a Brazilian about soccer: It is the expected question, the question he is perhaps a bit weary of answering — yet he will gamely respond, unfolding not just a rote reply, but an admirably subtle disquisition. Gross National Happiness, or G.N.H., is the big talking point when it comes to Bhutan. It is also a source of intense debate, a fluid concept which, many Bhutanese contend, is often misunderstood, especially by the outside world.

“Here is the key point to understand about G.N.H.,” said Kinley Dorji, the head of Bhutan’s Ministry of Information and Communication. “Happiness itself is an individual pursuit. Gross National Happiness then becomes a responsibility of the state, to create an environment where citizens can pursue happiness. It’s not a guarantee of happiness by the government. It’s not a promise of happiness. But there is a responsibility to, you know, create the conditions for happiness.”

Dorji said: “When we say ‘happiness,’ we have to be very clear that it’s not fun, pleasure, thrill, excitement, all the temporary fleeting senses. It is permanent contentment — with life, with what you have. That lies within the self. Because the bigger house, the faster car, the nicer clothes, they don’t give you that contentment. G.N.H. means good governance. G.N.H. means preservation of traditional culture. And it means sustainable socio-economic development. Remember, here, that G.N.H. is a pun on G.D.P., Gross Domestic Product. We are making a distinction.”

There is another line of thinking about happiness that is gaining currency these days: that happiness is a thing — specifically, a bicycle. A favorite mantra of cycling-boosters goes like this: “You can’t buy happiness — but you can buy a bike, and that’s pretty close.” In 1896, Arthur Conan Doyle voiced the same sentiment, in less bumper-sticker-friendly fashion. “When the spirits are low,” Conan Doyle wrote, “when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without the thought of anything but the ride you are taking.”

If you don’t cycle it is hard to explain. So all I can say is listen to the Bhutanese and hop on a bicycle some day. And as you pedal you will feel better about life. And your brain will produce important insights about work or family (I promise). And you will smile.

A (Not Atypical) Moment In The Life Of A Cyclist

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When I started cycling a lot about seven years ago, the relationship between drivers and cyclists seemed in flux. It felt like with a little motorist understanding, and better cycling manners, motorists and cyclists could learn to live together and learn to share the road.

Unfortunately, the opposite has happened. In my experience, the relationship has steadily deteriorated and now motorists and cyclists exist in a state of perpetual cold war. Many motorists are hostile and abusive, and still don’t understand why someone on a bicycle is slowing their progress by, oh, 10 seconds. And many cyclists are slow to single up while riding, or don’t think twice about taking a driver’s right of way at an intersection, or yelling, or giving the finger to, or smacking the side of cars that pass in a way they don’t like.

The result is overt hostility from some drivers, and since it is motorists who have the benefit of a 4,000 pound vehicle and a powerful engine, it can get a little dangerous out there. So I thought I would share just a single incident that reflects what it can be like out there for a cyclist on the road in the DC area.

This occurred last Monday evening in southern Anne Arundel County during the regular Monday night ride from a local bike shop. A group of five of us was riding north on the shoulder of Route 2, and as the light at Harwood Rd. approached pulled out toward the centerline in preparation for making a left onto Harwood Rd at the light. As we did, a car coming south at about 50 mph steered onto the double yellow line/rumble strips to pass very close by.

One of our riders had a camera in the flashing light under his saddle and caught this video (click on the settings icon in the lower right of the video to slow it down to .25 speed and watch from about 25 seconds in).

I was in front of the rider with the camera and close to the center line, and estimate that the car passed less than a foot from me (and it felt like inches). Unfortunately, the resolution of the camera and the car’s speed (plus maybe a license plate cover) is making it hard to pull the plate number.

It is impossible to know whether this was a deliberate attempt to target and intimidate a group of cyclists. Maybe it was just distracted driving, and the driver was on a device. But the steering was very precise and smooth throughout. There was no sudden course correction, which you might expect if a driver suddenly looked up from a text and saw that he/she was about to take out a group of cyclists. It certainly felt calculated and deliberate (and it hurts me all the more that it was a Redskins fan!).

It goes without saying that whatever logic or thought process was at work, it is INSANE. A minor steering mistake by the driver or a cyclist could have resulted in a death. What also struck me was that this sort of driver BS is common enough that I didn’t even flinch, and I don’t think my heart rate increased one beat. It was like: “Oh well, another complete a**hole driver. Glad I wasn’t killed or maimed.”

So that’s just a single moment in the deteriorating motorists vs. cyclists cold war. It is an entirely asymmetrical war since it is easy for motorists to kill cyclists, and very hard for cyclists to injure a motorist. And I have lost hope that drivers who, for whatever reason, can’t stand that they have to share the road will somehow mange to keep things in perspective and remember that lives and families can be destroyed in an instant if they give in to their aggression.

I used to joke that I would love to have a helmet-mounted paintball gun to surreptitiously paste the back bumper anytime a jerk driver blasts by too close while leaning on his horn, or spits, or curses, or throws something at me. But until that technology arrives I think the best thing cyclists can do is to put cameras on their bikes (the one that caught this incident is integrated into the blinking light that mounts on the seat post; but it is apparently flawed by the fact that the resolution and frame speed wasn’t good enough to read the license plate).

And if enough cyclists do that, and if there are enough prosecutions that result from cyclists doing that, and enough motorists become aware of the fact that their actions might be captured on camera, maybe then drivers with cyclist rage will, you know, not try and take it out on vulnerable cyclists.

I have also been thinking cycling jerseys that simply, and in easily visible lettering, declare “Camera On Board,” or “Caution: You Are Being Filmed,”would be a good safety innovation (regardless of whether there actually is a camera on board). Because deterrence is the key, to draw on a central cold war strategy. I’d much rather prevent a motorist from putting me in the hospital than prosecute a motorist from a wheelchair.

Be careful out there…

Bicycle Nerd Alert: 7 Fascinating Facts About Bikes

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Some more grist for my “Cycling Can Save The World” religion, Courtesy of Popular Mechanics. For example:

Put a person on a bicycle and they become the most efficient creature on Earth. No other living thing can expend so little energy for so much self-powered travel. And that’s just when riding along level ground. When a person rides downhill, the free energy from gravity reduces the demand on the human body even more.

If a cyclist and a pedestrian expend the same amount of energy, the efficiency of the bicycle means the cyclist will be traveling three times as fast. At an average walking pace, the walker uses more than six times the amount of metabolic energy above the resting level compared to the cyclist.

Running is four times as energy-greedy, and neither they nor other self-propelled athletes, even the world’s fastest, can keep up with a top cyclist. Usain Bolt ran at 23.35 mph in the 2009 Berlin World Championships, but for less than 10 seconds. Speed skater Jeremy Wotherspoon set a world record of 32.87 mph over a 547-yard course. But no athlete could run or skate the 35.03 miles that Chris Boardman rode in one hour at the Manchester (U.K.) velodrome in 1996.

I like this one, too:

The more people cycle, the safer the roads seem to become. That’s not just true for cyclists—it’s true for all road users, even drivers confounded by the influx of bikes.

In Portland, Ore., all deaths from traffic accidents declined from 46 to 28 per year between 1997 and 2007, while the number of cycling trips quadrupled to total 6 percent of all journeys by 2007. Similarly, cycle use in the Netherlands increased by 45 percent from 1977 to 1997, while cyclists’ deaths fell by almost 40 percent. In Berlin, between 1990 and 2007, the share of bicycle trips doubled to 10 percent while serious injuries to cyclists fell by 38 percent.

The phenomenon of safety in numbers is not so hard to understand. A growth in the number of cyclists makes them more visible, and drivers change their behavior accordingly. Cities are more likely to provide safer road designs and facilities for cyclists when there are more of them about. And when some drivers switch to cycling, it means there are fewer cars on the road, which reduces the chances of anyone colliding with a high-speed chunk of metal.

Read them all, though!

Jonathan Vaughters: The Smartest Take On Doping In Cycling I’ve Seen

Jonathan Vaughters unburdens himself to ESPN Magazine, and gives a fascinating explanation of how the moral, practical and competitive considerations made cycling a completely doped sport. Example:

“My first two years racing [1994 and 1995], I raced clean and there was no testing whatsoever for [the blood-boosting hormone] EPO in Europe. I would be barely hanging on the back of the peloton, finishing 130th. You were stuck sitting on someone’s wheel just praying the race would slow down at some point. Then I’d come back to race in the U.S. and win — it was amazing the difference when it was all 180 guys on EPO in those European races. The race is just faster and faster and faster because everyone always has the energy for a counterattack.

“It’s against the law of nature in the pack that the guy spending 30 percent more energy pulling in the wind for kilometers on end for his team leader can suddenly somehow still hang in there for third or 13th place. The race is just faster and faster and faster because everyone always has the energy for a counterattack. Fleche Wallonne in 1994 [when riders from the same team finished 1-2-3] was the seminal moment, when it went from individuals to team-based doping. So you had an en masse decision, with doctors and managers and riders saying, OK, gig’s up; we’ve gotta do this. And the attitude among the riders was: This is medication given to me by the team doctor. He told me I need to take it.

“With EPO in the 1990s, that was the first time in the history of sport where you had a totally undetectable drug that definitively gave a performance gain to everyone, and there wasn’t a downside. By 1996, in big races like the Tour de France, I think doping was very close to 100 percent prevalent.

Vaughters who is now part-owner, and manager of a racing team, also believes in a Truth And Reconciliation approach to getting the whole story out. It’s well worth reading his whole interview.

Nightly Reader: Nov. 5, 2012

1) Farm Bill Folderol: You’ll never read this 700-page legislative opus. But you should care an awful lot about what’s in it.

2) Desperately Seeking Denmark: Today I showed you what a Copenhagen “rush hour” looks like. Here’s what happens when a North American an American cyclist becomes a Copenhagen cyclist.

Hmm, see if you can pick out the North American cyclist.

3) Global Poll (FWIW): If the entire world got to vote in the US election it would be Obama by a landslide (except in Pakistan).

BONUS VIDEO (election Edition): Rory Stuart acknowledges a crisis of democracy, and makes a plea for renewed commitment to the ideal of democracy.

Cycling Can Save The World: And Copenhagen Is Leading

Check out this video of “rush hour” in Copenhagen. It is like a vision from an alternate reality. There is definitely a rush. But there are no traffic jams, and hardly any cars. If only….

Rush Hour in Copenhagen-Dronning Louises Bridge from Christine Grant on Vimeo.

Can you imagine living in a city that uses bicycles as the basic and most common mode of transport?

There are endless ways to make the case that such cities would make for a better world. One of them, the source of the video, is this article laying out seven reasons cycling is not just for cyclists.

Some of the reasons are better than others (judge for yourself). But this one should win some converts among anyone who worries about a massive cubicle-induced coronary (yes, I am at my computer but I just got back from a 20-mile lunchtime ride!):

6. We don’t have time to compensate. Most people reading this article are sitting in front of a computer. More and more of us are “knowledge workers” who sit in front of computers for much of our careers. If you also choose to use passive forms of transportation such as driving or taking the bus, doctors recommend that you compensate for your sedentary lifestyle by “working out.”

Unfortunately, I didn’t find much time in my schedule to compensate—and I wasn’t alone. The Center for Disease Control reports that 80 percent of Americans fail to meet federal guidelines for physical activity despite the $19 billion we shell out for gym memberships each year. Why can’t activity just be engineered into our daily lives so that we can stay healthy without the added chore of working out? Cycling has been the solution for me. I typically burn about 500 calories a day pedaling myself to the places I need to go, and going to the gym is never on the to-do list anymore. Having one less chore means I have more free time to spend with the people I love.

Of course, a hefty carbon tax wouldn’t hurt, either.

Human Engineering

Sometimes I think humans are so clever we can engineer our way out of all the problems and challenges we create with our politics and culture. Then I remember that engineering itself–cars, factory farms, for example–is a big part of the problem. But still. It’s hard not to be hopeful when you stumble across genius at work, in all its diverse forms.

(Backstory is here, and hat tip goes here.)

This next one is more subtle, but perhaps even more promising because, as you know, Biking Can Save The World (here and here).