Cycling Paradise

Can you imagine being able to bicycle to work with your 8-year-old-child and doing so safely? Or perhaps being able to cut short your 10-minute commute by car to 8 minutes via bicycle?

Or how about incorporating your daily workout in your commute so you can stay slim and young looking well past the age of 50?

Being able to do these things is a partial definition of cycling paradise, and such conditions exist in some parts of the world–but not in the United States.

Markenlei, a 45-year-old videographer offers a glimpse of what that paradise mightlook like in his video compilation of cycling in the Netherlands.

So our “videos of the week” award goes to Markenlei’s postings on YouTube, thanks to SteveFaust of the Five Borough Bike Club who was emailed the link from Dr. Anne Lusk, a health researcher at Harvard University.

One video shows 21 minutes of a commuter corner in Utrect, Netherlands, a town of 300,000 people. The corner shows thousands of cyclists, some wearing suits with ties, others–like young school children, riding to school. They are dressed down, and up.

One woman is casually smoking a cigarette while she rides, another man is on his cellphone. Scooters coming off the sidewalk mingle easily with the bike traffic, and pedestrians cross the flow easily –after all, no one is going too fast to stop.

Lusk, who is a researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health said that the average speed of cyclists on shared roadways in the Netherlands is about 18.6 mph, and when combined with rigorous walking does help cyclists stay slim in the country.  “Therefore, having highly-frequented-by-all bicycle facilities better helps to control weight,” she wrote in an email.

Lusk’s study showed that a focus on building wide sidewalks did not help keep people as healthy as building bicycling infrastructure, since slow walking does not control weight gain as much as cycling and fast walking.

The study which Lusk presented recently at the New England Bike Summit was based on 18,414 female nurses who were observed over a period of time.

In another video, a voice over starts out by saying some people think bike lanes are not safe. But in several countries, a well designed bike lane is safer.

The voice over tells us how to design safe four-way intersections for cyclists, for example. I have seen this type of intersection design in France, and rode through them as well. But in France, cyclists do not have the right of way. In the Netherlands, they do.

The diagram in the video shows how cyclists can make a normally dangerous right hand turn while using a protected bike lane that crosses the four different roadways leading to the intersection.

“It’s provisions like these that make cycling safer in the Netherlands than anywhere else in the world,” says the voiceover.

Another video shows how bike lanes in parts of the Netherlands, both old and new towns and developments, have been re-designed to offer riders a straight shot to their destination.

Thusly, bike lanes will take the rider 2.3 kilometers to get to their destination, whereas if they were to drive a car to the same destination, the route would be 4.3 km because of the street layouts. The trip would also take longer by car.

The video also shows us how the Netherlands have changed their streets over 20 years to accomplish cycling paradise.

For one, they have converted major streets to cyclist and mass transit streets only. Good candidates for that in New York City would be Fifth Avenue, West End Avenue, Third Avenue and Central Park West.

Then they added car blocks to many of the small side streets that cars would normally drive on, but allow cyclists to take them–making it easier for cyclists to get around in a protected way.  The street changes added a tremendous incentive for people to use their bicycles–easier use, faster trip, and safer.

A fourth video--out of scores that are up there–shows how cyclists can ride safely in the dark and in the rain because of their separate bike lanes.

Cycling paradise. The United States is perhaps the biggest and most wealthy nation in the world–China may be surpassing us now. So why is it that we don’t have a similar cycling infrastructure? Even after the near failure of several of our largest auto manufacturers, our country still thinks the car is king.

We perhaps thought Obama would change all that, but it looks like we are still waiting. Bailouts for car companies vs. money for cycling infrastructure? Looks like no one in this administration is listening. And if they are, they aren’t acting quickly enough.

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