How to reclaim North American cities from cars?

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distracted_at_work
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How to reclaim North American cities from cars?

Post by distracted_at_work » Tue Nov 21, 2017 12:55 pm

In North America, for the most part, the car dominates transportation around cities. Any time I leave my apartment, whether I'm walking, biking or driving myself, I'm subject to the actions of other drivers. What does the next 5, 10, 15, etc ... years look like to stop our cities from being dominated by automobiles? What action can we take? Will be a technological driven change or a social one?

I'm a firm believer of taking individual action to enact change. I bike and I see more bikers every day but I don't know that we will be enough.
I'm afraid North Americans are cursed due to the extreme distances we need to cover and, in some cases, the extreme temperatures we face. I can't coax my Mum onto a bike in a Canadian winter for example.

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Re: How to reclaim North American cities from cars?

Post by distracted_at_work » Tue Nov 21, 2017 1:09 pm

To help illustrate my point:

Image

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vexed87
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Re: How to reclaim North American cities from cars?

Post by vexed87 » Wed Nov 22, 2017 4:43 am

I suspect it will be either extreme price hikes, or energy shortages that will drive large scale social change required to get people out of their cars and live, work and shop more locally. Whether or not that will be too little too late is another matter entirely. The coverage I have seen of autonomous cars and how they handle pedestrians and cyclist make me worry more, not less. Cagers won't change behaviour unless external circumstances or public policies force them to.

It's a constant source of distress why one particular country can get the policy end nailed down, thus reducing single occupancy car dependency whilst immediate neighbouring states continue to get it so wrong... they key? Segregated cycling Infrastructure, pedestrianised roads & public transport spending.
https://i.imgur.com/Fkye6Nt.jpg

There's no political will, because most don't see the advantages of cycling or public transport, just the negatives. I forced to me crack a wry smile when people suggest to me a little inclement weather prevents them considering alternative transport, the first sight of snow in our temperate climate causes motor tailbacks that other countries deal with year round, but countries that have good cycling infrastructure have no problems getting out on their bikes in snowy conditions.
https://wintercyclingblog.files.wordpre ... any-41.jpg
Last edited by vexed87 on Wed Nov 22, 2017 6:37 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: How to reclaim North American cities from cars?

Post by ducknalddon » Wed Nov 22, 2017 5:05 am

That is an extraordinary image, I wonder how much it helps that there isn't much of a car industry in those countries.

The problem with autonomous cars isn't being run over by them, it's that they will make driving cheaper (in terms of the physical and emotional cost) so if they are widespread we are likely to see people driving more and further.

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Re: How to reclaim North American cities from cars?

Post by distracted_at_work » Wed Dec 06, 2017 4:39 pm

I didn't mean to let this thread lie for a few weeks... I heard an interesting point last week about cars being the ultimate expression of individuality; something key to the American (Western) way of life. Inside the car you are totally indiviudal, you can change the temperature, sounds, speeds to whatever you want. I wonder how badly changes away from the personal automobile will be resisted due to that desire for absolute freedom? That's the most compelling argument in favour of cars I have heard so far.

@Vexed87. I completely agree regarding the snowy biking. The main issue would be changing the perception. The fact I bike in to my office is treated as an INSANE negative. It's like I'm the antichrist because I don't drive a pickup truck to work and pay $300/mo for parking.

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Re: How to reclaim North American cities from cars?

Post by jacob » Wed Dec 06, 2017 4:43 pm

@daw - That's a boomer perspective. Millennials ignore cars (issuance of drivers licenses is dropping fast) but use smartphones to pursue the same approach on the "information superhighway" to borrow an outdated but appropriate term. The desire to create your own bubble seems to be a persistent human desire, but it takes different forms.

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Re: How to reclaim North American cities from cars?

Post by Riggerjack » Wed Dec 06, 2017 6:43 pm

Cagers won't change behaviour unless external circumstances or public policies force them to.

It's a constant source of distress why one particular country can get the policy end nailed down, thus reducing single occupancy car dependency whilst immediate neighbouring states continue to get it so wrong... they key? Segregated cycling Infrastructure, pedestrianised roads & public transport spending.
Uh huh. I live near Seattle, a city that has approved every ridiculous mass transit concept known to exist, and advertised some that don't (with tax dollars, don't worry, they wouldn't use real money.)

Our Dept of transportation has been engaged in a war on roads longer than I have been alive. Our traffic is... Worthy. Not the worst, but consistently on the list of the worst, no matter the criteria traffic is judged by. The mayor's race isn't run on policy, it's on who rides bikes the most. We build bike trails, we have bike protests, blah, blah.

So it's not that we have a good working system, and don't want to change it. It's not political will, or lack thereof.

It's that cars, generate a metric shitton of tax dollars. Licence fees, tabs, tolls, gas taxes, property taxes etc.

And bicycles generate... Annoying bastaads who want everyone else to pay for their infrastructure, and won't play nice with the regular users of the road, the ones who paid for it.

Now, I have a bike. I would like to ride it to work, but the only public path is along a road I already travel, while trying to watch out for the fine folks on bicycles, who seem to have no understanding of the rules of the road, or sense of self preservation. While I would like to do that, I can't see being that guy.

So, if you want a bike path, pool some money, buy and build one. Or start paying for the ones you already use. Or maybe, try using the existing roads in such a way that might cause your fellow citizens to not want to replace your path funding initiative with a bike banning initiative.

But since none of that is likely to happen, maybe embracing electric bikes is the way to go. This is what I am currently looking into. The improvement in this field has been silicone valley fast over the last decade. Yes, pedaling up a hill is mainly a matter of gearing and guts, but this is a hard sell to an Escalade driver. But a peaceful morning ride past traffic could be an easier sell.

Honestly, I know riding is completely different from driving, and there are good reasons for why we ride as we do. No need to set me straight. My point is that bicycles are fun, and work great, and deserve a separate infrastructure. It just too bad that bicyclists ride the way they do, and then choose to get money from the same people they have gone to such efforts to segregate themselves from. If you think you deserve a path, pay for it.

For those who think this is just another angry cager, maybe. But a cager who knows infrastructure. Most roads are already wide enough to accommodate the path you want, you just have to pay for the path. The land is already public. As new infrastructure goes, it doesn't get any easier.

I'll know you're serious when I see bikes with tabs. Or some sort of effort to fix this among bicyclists, without trying to get others to pay for your preferences. I'm not holding my breath.

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Re: How to reclaim North American cities from cars?

Post by jacob » Wed Dec 06, 2017 7:06 pm

@Riggerjack - You should visit California sometime. Or maybe just NorCal/eastbay which is all that I'm familiar with so I'll only speak for that, but at least... In that area, proficient cyclists(*) know the rules of the road and have reached sufficient critical mass for drivers to pay attention while reducing ... what might be called their hipster pedestrian jaywalking attitude ... to not piss drivers off on a consistent basis.

It can work, but it's a cultural issue that requires as much effort on the cyclists as it does for the drivers.

If I was autocrat, I wouldn't focus on "bike paths" (which I think is a terrible idea) as much as I would on building cycling skills in the general population. There are still far too many noobs riding on the sidewalk down the wrong way because they still think bicycles are toys for 10 year olds...

A regular cyclist can outaccelerate all cars in a 40yd race but a Tesla or a sportscar. (Strong legs have more torque than internal combustion engines.) That's good enough to be safe.

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Re: How to reclaim North American cities from cars?

Post by theanimal » Wed Dec 06, 2017 7:20 pm

jacob wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 7:06 pm
If I was autocrat, I wouldn't focus on "bike paths" (which I think is a terrible idea) as much as I would on building cycling skills in the general population. There are still far too many noobs riding on the sidewalk down the wrong way because they still think bicycles are toys for 10 year olds...
Unless you live in a place like I am now where the bike path is the sidewalk and is advertised as such.

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Re: How to reclaim North American cities from cars?

Post by jacob » Wed Dec 06, 2017 7:31 pm

Uhm .. yeah ... as long as bicycles are thought of as a kids-toy ... we're going nowhere.

It's similar to walking. In Chicagoland, pedestrians consistently jaywalk and anyone who doesn't just looks weird. Whereas cars rarely run red lights at will even if they push it on yellow lights. Cyclists feel and behave closer to pedestrians in Illinois and do stupid a suicidal stuff. They could act closer to cars if cycling culture was more mature.

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Re: How to reclaim North American cities from cars?

Post by Riggerjack » Wed Dec 06, 2017 8:16 pm

@jacob,

https://youtu.be/V3nMnr8ZirI

And this wouldn't be funny, if it weren't also so true.

I really do think the electric bikes will be how we transition to that critical mass. Check out endless-sphere.com for a look at where this is going. Yeah, potentially explosive lithium batteries between your legs should satisfy the need for a thrill, if 55 mph on a bicycle won't do it for you!

But seriously, if this takes off, this will be the way for casual bike riders to get on the road. That will get your critical mass for real riders. With our weather, we won't get that critical mass on our own. Here, the most common sighting of a bike is on a rack, on an SUV. No SUV driver is getting on that bike on any road with other SUVs. Just not gonna happen. But on a separate path? That could happen. And when we can get Escalade drivers to ride their Lamborghini electric bikes, then trail funding won't be a problem.

But getting an Escalade driver to pay more gas tax to make a bike rider happy? Don't hold your breath.



All the best conversations in my life seem to happen around a campfire or a game of cards. A good friend, maybe 15 years ago, was talking about being stuck in traffic downtown, trying to get to the highway. Eventually, he gets up to the intersection, "and there's this twisted up bike and a pair of legs sticking out from under a Honda. And I was pissed, cause it had taken 20 minutes to get that block to get to an intersection, so I could get anywhere. And I'm embarrassed to say this, but that brought a bit of a smile. I felt a little justice had been done. I know that makes no sense, and makes me a pretty XXXXXX person, to enjoy the schadenfreude of his suffering, but you've worked downtown, you KNOW what I'm talking about, I can see you smiling too in the firelight. All I could think was, One down..."

And that is the mentality bicyclists are generating in the same people they want to cough up money for bike infrastructure. Maybe not all so extreme, maybe some are more extreme. But sympathy isn't on the list of emotions bicyclists generate in drivers, and most taxpayers have a car. Just saying.
Unless you live in a place like I am now where the bike path is the sidewalk and is advertised as such.
Well, yeah, but it's a bike path in the summer, and a snowmobile path in the winter, right? Oh, and "please remove your ski mask before entering Bank" those were my favorite signs in Fairbanks, back in the day.

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Re: How to reclaim North American cities from cars?

Post by Lucky C » Wed Dec 06, 2017 9:16 pm

@jacob My experience as a millenial (though at the upper end of the age range) is that it is still the norm for young people to desire cars, but "adulting" is becoming delayed further and further. Millenials want a car/house/spouse eventually... but first just a few more years of living with the parents playing Zelda while they figure this whole life thing out. So in a few years millenials may seem more conforming than the current stereotype. However it is promising that it seems many young people are realizing that if they have access to good public transport, they can do without cars.

I'm reading one of Csikszentmihalyi's books and he mentioned that outside of work, the most common source of flow for Americans is driving. That blew my mind because I didn't realize that people actually like driving - I thought that was just conjured up by car commercials. It seems weird to me since I don't enjoy driving and I don't think it acquires any real challenge if you've been doing it for a while, but apparently it's one of the most satisfying parts of a "normal" person's day (assuming they aren't fighting traffic or bad weather). I guess it makes sense though, if a "normal" American day consists of work, driving, eating, watching TV, and sleeping, then driving is the 2nd most challenging activity of the day!

So with the car being a major American representation of the self and source of flow, it's going to be tough to replace. Bikes may provide more satisfying experiences but if you're not already a bike enthusiast, it's hard to see bikes as cool and sexy as cars. Walking at least allows you to express your identity with your clothing, but it's not as satisfying to walk as to drive apparently. What other mode of transportation can provide Americans a way to show others how they want to be seen (cool, clean, sexy, powerful) while being an apparently enjoyable way to travel?

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Re: How to reclaim North American cities from cars?

Post by TopHatFox » Wed Dec 06, 2017 9:19 pm

Kick scooters!

No, just me?

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Re: How to reclaim North American cities from cars?

Post by theanimal » Wed Dec 06, 2017 9:26 pm

@RJ- Yes, but still open to bikes, pedestrians and skiing. Bikes are really prevalent here year round. Lots of fat bikers.

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Re: How to reclaim North American cities from cars?

Post by vexed87 » Thu Dec 07, 2017 6:11 am

@RJ, Not sure how roads are paid for in the US, but in the UK they are paid for with funding from central taxation. Road tax (i.e. tax levied on cars to contribute road building) was abolished in the 1930's here. So, we have a situation where everyone pays for the roads, and anyone who uses them more frequently is subsidised by those that use them less frequently. Technically the whole of society benefits from roads, yes even evangelical cyclists, they likely still buy their food, clothing, gadgets etc which is for the most part distributed by trucks on the roads, the vast majority of goods and services are dependent on them.

However spending on infrastructure provisions for cyclists is £1.38 per head, vs. the £15 billion announced last year for new and road improvement projects (£228 per head), yet 3% of all journeys are made by bicycle. So we have totally unfair and disproportionate spending on bicycle vs road infrastructure for current demand. Even a small increase in infrastructure spending for active transport would increase the bicycle modal share drastically, furthering the gap in spending. In some places, it makes sense for decentralised/localised construction of bike trails etc, but in urban environments this is next to impossible without taking space from the roads or closing entire carriageways, only the state has power to do this, and any independent works are swiftly reversed, you can imagine the Police's reaction to cyclist closing roads to motor traffic in protest. Local councils have responsibility to provide infrastructure, yet don't receive the funding from national government, nor take the issue seriously enough to demand it.

I know healthcare in the US isn't yet socialised, but you do have medicare. It's widely acknowledged that the NHS here in UK is in crisis due to austerity. Funding for healthcare is stagnant, or falling adjusted for inflation and rising demand from an increasingly obese and sickly population (preventable lifestyle diseases). All signs point to any money spent on cycling infrastructure would reduce air pollution, obesity, congestion etc so there's a net benefit to society. Spending more on appropriate infrastructure will actually yield net savings for our treasury on healthcare, road building (in theory, due to reduced demand for motorised traffic, although no doubt jevon's paradox also applies to falling congestion resulting in more people wanting to drive, but that's not the reason why people don't cycle in the first place). Yet still, health benefits alone mean it will save lives.

Reducing road capacity for motor vehicles in favour of active transport is unpopular for obvious reasons, the road lobby are powerful and the bicycle lobby groups small and poorly funded in comparison, yet despite this, majority of public support infrastructure works, but small and vocal NIMBYs seem to get all the concessions, and the few improvement schemes we get are watered down to the point that they prioritise motors and jeopardise the safety of cyclists (poor junction design, inconvenient, waiting for green lights as motor traffic flows freely in all directions), thus failing to make them attractive to the very people they were intended to encourage out on bikes in the first place.

As with most social issues as of late, profit and selfishness is placed before social good in our culture. Hence our predicament. We have a population who want try riding bicycles more often for transportation, but fear for their safety because the roads are not well policed, speeding and close passing is rife, and our justice system fails it's victims of road violence by handing out lax punishment to those that kill or maim behind the wheel. All this is happening because because cyclists don't belong on the road, which should be reserved for the 'serious business' of driving cars. Just like in the US, bikes are seen as just for fun or lycra clad sporting, so it's nearly always the victim's fault for being hit by a driver in their car, especially if they are not wearing high-viz/reflectives and a helmet. These issues are not unique to the UK and I see them being played out in most developed economies, and I think plays a larger part of the problem than infrastructure lobbyists want to admit, but both arguments are legitimate and I think a solution is required on both fronts to make any good progress. It need's to become a national transport priority and policy which reflects all issues, across the spectrum. Being a libertarian, I'm all for decentralised solutions, but they can't work when the state controls the budgets, writes the laws and doesn't permit modifications to the roads unless they go by the book (which, incidentally is made up as it goes along, but usually requires years of consultation, usually followed up by little in the way of action, citing funding constraints).

I'm clearly pro-cycling and slightly jaded by the topic, having been knocked off my bike twice (in one day) but to any reasonable person the solution to lots of society's ills, including reducing taxation on us all is obvious. Reducing car dependency, traffic (benefits drivers too), air pollution and ill health is clearly possible simply by increasing accessibility of active transportation and enforcing/reforming road laws so motorists who are careless get what they deserve, making others think twice before acting in selfish and dangerous manners. As jacob mentioned above, it's just not going to make anyone big money via taxes/fees/licenses so it simply doesn't happen. I think it will take the next wave of oil shocks before anyone high up starts taking cycling seriously, possibly by which time there will be no money left to build new infrastructure. If average Joe is forced out his car, and car use collapses on a large scale as more are pushed into the have-nots of society, there may a sufficient number of cyclists to hit critical mass and take over cities once again, I just hope there will still be enough decent paved road left to enjoy riding road bicycles on. I sometimes fantasize about riding on nearly empty motorways one day in the 2020/30s, assuming they haven't reverted to gravel tracks due to severe reduction on infrastructure spending. :lol:

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Re: How to reclaim North American cities from cars?

Post by Farm_or » Thu Dec 07, 2017 8:47 am

I visited California last night, on the evening news. Sixteen! Lanes of traffic jammed to escape the wildfire. At least, this time they were not prominently single occupancy vehicles.

I think the typical consumer would like self driving cars so they can text, drink sugary substance and eat a donut during the commute. Too difficult to do any of those things on a bike. "Biking is for the little people. The drunks that lost their license."

We've got a long ways to go before cyclists can ride anywhere with respect from motorists like what is typical of most of Europe. The lack of respect is what gives cyclists the "tude". How many times I had things thrown at me or smart ass stunts to startle me by Jack asses in cars? And the idiots on the weekends pulling boat trailers? They were the worst!

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Re: How to reclaim North American cities from cars?

Post by chenda » Thu Dec 07, 2017 9:15 am

@vexed87 Not sure whereabouts you are but I find you can often minimise or avoid using roads if your willing to go off road. The network of rural footpaths, bridleways, RUPPs and BOATs is so extensive it's essentially a car free road network. Not always ideal but surfaces can be reasonable even in winter.

New developments seem to be getting better in incorporating bike routes and traffic calming measures; narrow, staggered roads and cul de sacs, children can play in the street. Amenities more thoughtfully located. It's moving in the right direction but delivery remains patchy.

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Re: How to reclaim North American cities from cars?

Post by Riggerjack » Thu Dec 07, 2017 10:59 am

@ vexed87

So, your complaint is that you are taxed, but your interests are not represented in the decision making process? Huh. Taxation, without representation, where have I heard that before? ;-D

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Re: How to reclaim North American cities from cars?

Post by distracted_at_work » Thu Dec 07, 2017 11:29 am

@RJ. You sound just like the guys in my office! I was going to agree with you that cycling is disproportionately funded... but then I looked at the city cost compared to our city budget and population. Bike infrastructure is left to municipalities so at least as a property tax payer, I am a contributor here. Our most controversial bike lanes (the roadside laneways) are used by 2.1% of the population (27600 / 1.2 mil people in one day) and they cost 5.5 mil out of a 5.8 bil budget. Keep in mind these are the summer numbers and I'm sure it's far far less in the Winter but still. That's not bad! Considering the vitriol slung at urban bike riders by the suburbanites, I'm actually surprised.

@Vexed87. I agree with nearly everything you said but I really really don't see an oil crash that ends the automobile in my lifetime. Every time the oil price goes up the industry adapts a new technology that unlocks new conventional reservoir. Or OPEC can just turn the taps back on and start drilling again. Or the oilsands can fire up a new project. Or a country can be invaded to produce the reserves (that's not a knock at the states just look at Venezuela right now).

@Jacob. @LuckyC. I'd agree with the assessment of cars being a boomer symbol of freedom that isn't really being translated to the millennials. Outside of the gearheads I know, the car is an expensive way to get from a to b.


The change, I think, will end up being some mix of individual action to fix obesity, social will from the bikers, cultural shift as the boomers die, cars growing too expensive due to stagnant wages, the environmental movement continuing to grow.... Bikes may not even be optimal solution. It very well could be a mix of bikes, kick-scooters, vespas and flying drones. I have no idea. I just want to be able to get around my city without the risk of being roadkill to a half-ton.

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Re: How to reclaim North American cities from cars?

Post by Riggerjack » Thu Dec 07, 2017 11:58 am

On a more serious note, there are all kinds of ways to deal with this.

My favorite is to buy up old RR lots. In Snohomish county, we made centennial trail this way. There are abandoned railroads all over the west. This is how we moved coal and logs from the hills to the mills, back in the day. Our coal is poor quality, so it was easy to abandon, and it was common to pull up the rails after an area was clear-cut, back when we were clear cutting old growth. Then the land follows the eventual bankruptcy proceedings when the company fails. Often it gets cut up, but it isn't wide enough to make legal access, so it is dormant, most of the time. Find it, buy it, pave it, done.

Or, another approach is to form a utility. Go through the state, buy Right Of Way access, make a trail, and sell access. This has enormous complications, and will require deep pockets, but if you believe in this, why not go be CEO of Bikelane, Inc? Come up with a business plan, get funding, and make it happen, sell stock, retire rich and righteous.

But of course all those take work and dedication. Which is why we most commonly hear complaints. Complaints take very little effort, and some folks find it comforting. It doesn't seem to fix anything, but that hasn't hurt its popularity any.

There are ways to get this done. That is not the same as volunteering to do it. As I said, I looked at the situation, and came to the conclusion that a motorcycle is probably the best solution for me. Not much safer than a bicycle, but more capable of mimicking car behavior. Then I saw how far electric bikes have come, and I'm researching this option.

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Re: How to reclaim North American cities from cars?

Post by Riggerjack » Thu Dec 07, 2017 12:31 pm

@RJ. You sound just like the guys in my office!
That was intentional. As I clarified later, I am relatively bike friendly, for a cager. But some topics here have a tendency to get general support, having as much to do with signaling as agreement. This causes me to have an urge to play devil's advocate. Because if there is no dissenting opinion, we get an echo chamber, and nobody considers the problem from a different perspective, and the subject is not developed.

We can all agree that we SHOULD ride bikes, and that SUVs are killing the planet, but agreement with each other doesn't address the interests of those who have other priorities, nor does it lead to alternative solutions. Both of those are NECESSARY for an actual, working solution.

I am not so self centered as to believe that we are really solving the world's problems here. But we are participating in solving the world's problems in the sense that the world is constantly changing, and how that change happens is related to the conversations about the problem. Better conversations lead to better solutions. Better solutions infect interested parties, as people here come up with a different solution, and then members here talk about the interesting idea they heard about in their other forums.

For instance, above, I suggested a bikelanes utility. Not because I think someone here would start such a thing. But because a bike rider here, may share the idea on their bike rider's forum, where it may reach a bike friendly silicone valley aggressive CEO wannabe, who may look at running with it.

Or not. Maybe it dies on the vine, and we just have to go through life with a better understanding of the people who disagree with us. That would suck, I guess.

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Re: How to reclaim North American cities from cars?

Post by distracted_at_work » Thu Dec 07, 2017 1:13 pm

Riggerjack wrote:
Thu Dec 07, 2017 12:31 pm
to go through life with a better understanding of the people who disagree with us.
And isn't this the most important part. The key to getting anywhere with any problem is understanding.

The rest of your comment reminds me of a quote by David Mitchell in Cloud Atlas:
My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops

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Re: How to reclaim North American cities from cars?

Post by enigmaT120 » Tue Dec 12, 2017 10:00 pm

I love motorcycles, but the DOT data of risk of death per mile traveled is several times higher for motorcyclists than for bicyclists. Something like 5 times higher. What's weird is that bicycling is safer than being a pedestrian, too.

Riggerjack wrote: " As I said, I looked at the situation, and came to the conclusion that a motorcycle is probably the best solution for me. Not much safer than a bicycle, but more capable of mimicking car behavior. Then I saw how far electric bikes have come, and I'm researching this option."

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