Monday, 11 April 2011

The truth about New York, and other unlikely places to look for inspiration...

For some time, I've wondered why it is that British politicians and commentators look so very often across the Atlantic to the United States for inspiration, when they could more profitably take a much shorter journey across the North Sea to the Netherlands or other European nations to find better solutions for their problems. This is particularly true when it comes to cycling.

A great example of this appeared recently in the "bike blog" of The Guardian newspaper in Britain, with the rather hyperbolic headline of "How one New York bike lane could affect the future of cycling worldwide".

Cyclists in the USA, and at this time particularly in New York face many problems. I'd of course like to see them resolved. But my question in this post is about why it is that a British newspaper would make such a remark. Is New York really so significant in cycling terms ?

The last figures I saw for the cycling rate of the city suggest that just 0.6% of commutes in the city are by bike (and that this small number is enough to put it in sixth place amongst larger American cities). Only around one-fifth of all journeys made are for commuting purposes. However, commuting figures are often quoted for cycling because commuters are by definition adults of working age - a relatively easy group to attract to cycling. By concerning ourselves only with commuters we don't have to concern ourselves with the more tricky demographic groups - including children, parents accompanying children and older people. Commuting figures are usually the highest figures for utility cycling that you can quote, and it makes it easier to claim a larger modal share than is real when the entire population and all reasons for journeys are discussed.

In this case let's be generous and assume for the sake of simplicity that 0.6% of all journeys by everyone are by bike in New York. The city has a population of around 8.4 million, and it's normal for people to make an average of around 2.5 journeys per day. Therefore, about 21 million journeys will be made per day in New York. Taking our generous estimate of cycle usage, we can assume that there are around 125000 journeys made per day by bike in the city. If this blog was into baffling with large numbers, I'd perhaps stop there and report the huge number of cyclists. However, that's not really very helpful.

Even compared with London, where The Guardian is based, this isn't actually impressive at all. London's population is a little smaller than New York's, but Londoners reportedly use bikes for roughly 500000 journeys per day (only a small minority of these journeys, around 13000, are made on bikes which are part of the much hyped, incredibly expensive bike share scheme).

In comparison with cities in the Netherlands, the number of trips made by bike in New York is roughly equal to a city with a population of around 150000 people and a merely average cycling rate. Higher cycling rate cities do better, of course. Assen, where we now live, is a tiny place with just 65000 people. However, they make over 70000 cycle journeys each day, which is a remarkably high proportion of our generous estimate for New York. The world's highest cycling rate is in Groningen, where a population of 190000 makes over 300000 journeys per day. Easily more than double the numbers made by New Yorkers.

Other American cities are similar. Even the much lauded Portland has only a 4.7% commuting rate. That's around 1/6th the cycling modal share of an average Dutch city. No place in the Netherlands has such a low modal share as Portland, yet Portland is also frequently an inspiration to some people in the UK.

Cycling infrastructure in the Netherlands is built to cope with far higher levels of usage and by a far wider demographic than many outside observers realise.

But this blog post isn't really about New York or Portland or even about infrastructure. Rather, I'm interested in the British media's obsession with everything from America, and their apparently unquestioning belief of any hype or "cheerleading" which they hear. If you consistently look in the wrong direction, then you consistently end up with the wrong answers. That is, unfortunately, precisely what keeps happening in the UK, where it appears that many people stand with their backs to Europe and gaze longingly across the North Atlantic for inspiration for ways to solve any given problem.

That The Guardian should write about cycling in New York in the article that I linked to is not at all unusual. The Guardian actually writes an awful lot about cycling in New York. In fact, search the newspaper for "New York cycling" and you get 10000 hits. Search for "Copenhagen cycling" (another place known for hype) and you get 2100 hits, "Portland cycling" gets 150 hits (all these numbers were correct at the time of writing this post. Google's indexes and the Guardian's content both change, but when checked a couple of years later the numbers were still similar)

And does the Guardian also write about Groningen, the place which has the highest cycling rate in the world ? Well, search for "Groningen cycling" and you find a mere 29 hits, more than one of which are due to the comments I used to make beneath "bike blog" articles before seeing how utterly pointless it was to bother with them.

There's surely something wrong with this picture. There's a saying about Journalism: "if your mother says she loves you, check it out.". Why is The Guardian, a "quality newspaper" not checking-out the stories that they tell about cycling ? Why are they not more skeptical of their sources, and ensuring sensible coverage of cycling ? The journalism on their "bike blog" often seems to consist of little more than reproducing press releases from whoever shouts loudest about their cycling "successes".

The Netherlands has a smaller population than the Metropolitan area of New York City (16 million vs 22 million) but there are vastly more cycle journeys here. A million cycle journeys per hour, in fact, during much of every week. It may not be easy to see what this compares with, but there's one simple comparison which is startling: The tiny population of this country make more journeys by bike than the whole of the USA, Britain and Australia put together.

When looking for examples of successful policy to copy, does it not make most sense to look where policies genuinely have been successful instead of looking to where proudly claimed successes are actually rather small and only visible relative to even smaller numbers of cyclists previously ?

When Americans visit Dutch cities, there is a reason why they are amazed and inspired. If journalists from the Guardian were to make the same journey, they'd see the same things. I have suggested this to them before, and indeed I also sent invitations to journalists with this and other newspapers in the UK over some years with trying to promote the idea of a Study Tour to them. I'm still waiting for a response.

Some numbers:
Yes, there are just 24000 bike commuters in the whole of New York City. Within the US, Portland leads for overall cycling rate. However, even here the figures are remarkably small in comparison with any Dutch city - including even those which consider themselves to have low rates of cycling. It's great that progress is being made in the USA, but it's very slow progress and other nations would be better off looking to the Netherlands for real examples of what really does work to promote cycling.

In the last week we've made four different posts which refer to the USA in one way or another. To make it easy to see all "USA" posts, you can select those posts by label.

Please don't get any silly idea that I dislike New York, New Yorkers, or Americans in general. How could I ? New York's and New Yorker's influence on western culture has been huge. I grew up listening to Talking Heads and Suzanne Vega, and watching films by Woody Allen. However, just as it would make no sense at all to ask the Dutch about running a successful mission to the moon, it makes no sense to ask Americans how to make cycling a normal part of everyone's lives. That goes double when you see that enlightened Americans are actually looking to the Netherlands. Once upon a time, America was the leading cycling nation, but at the moment cycling in the USA faces many problems. I'd like to see them resolved.

Do you want to see how different it could be ? Book a study tour and see how Dutch infrastructure has lead to the highest cycling modal share in the world.

32 comments:

reinout said...

I was in Heidelberg, Germany last week. Especially because I'm reading your blog, I noticed the plight of the cyclists there.

No Dutch cyclist would settle for what you're subjected to there. Half your journey is on the pedestrian path (no fun for pedestrians either, which I was when I visited Heidelberg). Weaving into and out of traffic. Waiting at pedestrian's lights. Stupid car-encouraging traffic light cycle times.

I don't ever walk through the red light in the Netherlands when I'm walking. But there in Heidelberg, I did several times. So stupid were the traffic light cycles. And the same idiocy was meted out to the cyclists...

Happy that I'm living in the Netherlands!

Duncan Watson said...

I am from NY and worked in NYC for years. Even though I biked to the train and then took the train to NYC, I was unable to ride in NYC. At the time no office building would even let me bring my bike into the building. Now don't get me wrong, the Empire State building had a bike room, but it was (and is) only accessible to bike cops.

Bike messengers have to leave their bikes at loading docks or locked to street signs. NYC is not a place to emulate for cycling. It has gotten better and they even passed some legislation regarding bikes in office buildings. But it is still unfriendly. I used to look into it and see if I could get a beater bike and lock it up at Penn Station and then outside my office building. But it just wasn't to be.

Now I commute to work by bike every day in the Seattle suburbs. I am much happier.

Glenn said...

It's all the fault of Cornelius Van Tromp during the Anglo-Dutch wars. Sailing up the Thames with a broom lashed to his masthead after he'd cleared the English fleet from the seas. Ever since then the English have had an inferiority complex about the Dutch. After all, the English had always considered themselves the rightful Lords of the Seas and Masters of the English Channel.


This came a hundred years or so after losing Calais in the 16th Century. That's probably when they started saying "The Wogs start at Calais" (which they pronounce Kalay).

So they're rather averse to looking across the North Sea or the Channel for examples to follow. Besides, by using the U.S. as an example for cycling, the bar is set suitably low. Face it, the English don't want an effective bicycle infrastructure any more than the U.S. does. Perhaps that's one of the defining characteristics of failed and failing empires, a reluctance to face the truth.

Glenn,
Marrowstone Island.
Washington State,
(former) U.S.A.

Clark said...

The media can be so insular and have such blinders on sometimes. This reminds me of the early '90s when the U.S. series NYPD Blue showed a man's bum and there was a big deal made about it. Meanwhile at the same time, Canadian TV quietly showed full male frontal nudity in early evening with nobody freaking out or even noticing outside the country.

We're in a different time now though with blogs like your's and websites meaning that if you have an interest in something, you no longer have to get your information from only the traditional empirical channels but can do a web search and discover all sorts of voices and sources from potentially anywhere.

For example your post about the NACTO recommending a bad intersection design and ignoring the well designed ones in the Netherlands has been discussed on the internal Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition mailing list. We here in Vancouver hear about what's going on in New York but consider it to be where we were a few years ago and we look to Northern Europe to see where we might be heading. Next year we host the VeloCity conference so we imagine that we'll learn all sorts of things and others will learn from us.

Thank you for your blog. It's a favourite of mine.

Alicia said...

It's not the 'significance', it's the controversy that appeals to the newspaper... And the opponents to that particular NYC bicycle lane have hired an excellent PR company to help them with their lawsuit. They are very well connected (wealthy, politics, etc.) and they want attention for their minority opinion. And they got it.
I do hope the city planners will look to the Netherlands for inspiration. For instance, that controversial bike lane is too narrow, they should make it wider!

ndru said...

It would seem that for the British and Americans, cycling is something you do in NL. It seems like it's always been there, and thus cannot be replicated anywhere else. I think this is why journalists, though misguided, tend to look to NY as a city that's overcoming great difficulties. Which is not too bad, since in reality even though London has greater cycling figures it's really because it's a much older city, with smaller streets. There's obviously much work to do both in L and NYC but the trend is generally positive I would say. It's baby steps I'm afraid.

Richard Grassick said...

Why do so-called reputable journalists make such basic errors of judgement? The question is as old as journalism itself, and the answers have been, and are still being, well-documented. Have a look at the work of Glasgow Media Group, for example, or that seminal work The First Casualty.

I taught trades unionists and others in the 1970's how to deal with "bias in the media", and developed a critique of the bias in photojournalism. The way the Guardian deals with cycling today is little different, with one caveat. Journalists are expected to churn out much more copy than they did then. So they are even more susceptible to the "quick story" from a PR company. The interest in the NY story was all about controversy and, as Alicia explains, it was stirred up by a PR company working on behalf of a small group of opponents of a bike lane.

We had an interesting experience when we released our film Beauty and the Bike at the end of 2009. We were offered the free services of a PR company by a local "green" business that liked the project. Inevitably the PR company "sexed up" the fashion side of the story, and played down the critique about poor cycling policy. Before we knew it, The Guardian's Bike Blog ran a story saying how Beauty and the Bike focussed on fashion rather than infrastructure - the complete opposite of the truth.

Also keep in mind, David, how linguistically insular the Brits are - most British journalists would miss a wikileak about the UK Prime Minister having ugandan relations with the queen if it was written in dutch. Here in Bremen, and you in Assen, we are very used to documents being sourced in multiple languages.

But as Clark also points out, the world is changing, and thankfully blogs like yours are becoming the true source of "best practice". The Guardian and their like will always have the money to shout loud. But our task is to find ways in which we - the grass roots thinkers as it were - can work together to create Critical Mass online as well as on the streets.

Anonymous said...

New York is certainly no place to emulate. But UK politicans looks to examples like New York for one important reason: they offer *cheap* solutions. The US likes their bike lanes and have been putting them in all over the place in the last 10 years. They work in some places, but in many places, are implemented without sufficient thought for junctions or non-standard bikes.

That said, commuting numbers in the USA are misleading because they use census numbers. Commuting mode is recorde for a sample of US residents, then extrapolated to produce the percentage of people who commute by bicycle. The US census does not count student commuters or transient populations. Nor does it count people who use bikes for work. In Madison, Wisconsin, for example, University Avenue sees as many as 10,000 bicycles in one day by cycle count(in a city of just over 200,000), but using cencus numbers, there are only 3772 cycle commuters in the whole city.

http://www.hhh.umn.edu/centers/slp/pdf/bicycling_facilities.pdf

Jim said...

The Guardian certainly is overly obsessed with things American. But I do think the story about the Prospect Park West bike lane is an important one from the point of view of, say, London, because it is about what happens when a car-dominated city tries to actually become more cycle-friendly. It's all very well pointing out that Dutch towns and cities already are cycle-friendly, but it doesn't tell us very much about how to get there from a situation of complete car dominance. If it was as simple as building bike lanes and everyone loving them then that would be great, but it isn't - taking road space away from cars is going to be really controversial, and the PPW bike lane story demonstrates this. If it was easy to get from car-dominated cities to cycle-friendly ones, I like to think we'd already have done it.

James D. Schwartz said...

Journalists in London don't look to New York because of their established bicycle culture. They see New York as similar to themselves in both size and in lack of comfort for people on bicycles. When they see something positive happening in New York, it encourages them because, "if things can change in bicycle-unfriendly New York, then why can't we do it too?".

I think the mainstream thinks NL is just too far ahead of the rest of the world, so they look for incremental changes from other similar countries/cities.

Another reason I think people look for any inspiration from NYC is because the sheer weight that NYC has on influencing the world.

Having said that, I was just in New York a few weeks ago and although there are positive things happening in that city, it is by no means a bicycle-friendly city. Riding in my city (Toronto) is far better than riding in NYC. Same goes for Montreal (where I am currently).

And neither Toronto or Montreal come anywhere near the comfort and culture that NL has established.

Neil said...

I think one reason for looking at car centric countries is that it is easier to understand the existing infrastructure and the steps they are taking. Whereas looking at the Netherlands is far more alien and requires more work to figure how to map that to UK (or wherever).

David Hembrow said...

Jim, James, Neil: I can see why they could make such an elementary mistake... but it's very definitely a mistake.

You could apply the same "logic" to any other field. I've got no experience in launching rockets to reach the moon but would like to be able to do so. Would it be better that I look for advise to our neighbour who let off a few fireworks at New Year, as both of us are starting from a position of knowing nearly nothing, or would it be better to go directly to NASA and find out from the experts ?

If you want to know how the Dutch got from where they were to where they are now, you only have to look. Many city streets in the Netherlands in the 1960s and 1970s looked just like roads in the UK do now, and comparisons can easily be made between British and Dutch streets. It only takes a little research to find many examples.

That's how a transformation is achieved.

mark said...

One reason I think the Grauniad has concentrated on NYC is that the paper has relocated many of its staff there, including Matt Seaton who is one of their major bike commentators. It's probably easier for their journalists to write `in-depth' pieces about NYC (and London) than about the Netherlands or Denmark. If this is the case then it's another example of why people turn to alternative sources for their news and views. I wonder, David, whether you have submitted anything into the Gaurdian-or other papers?-as there have been requests on their blog for submissions.

Having said all that, and acknowledging that the headline for the NYC bike lane piece was hyperbole, and that there should be much more attention paid to the Netherlands, I think the legal battle surrounding the Prospect Park West lane is instructive as the sort of response there may be in parts of GB if Dutch-style infrastructure starts being built. In fact there have been some residents of the wealthier parts of London using legal measures to block cycle-hire stations.

Jim said...

I agree with Mark. I don't think the article was claiming that New York is a wonderful example of a cycle-friendly city, but that the controversy in New York illustrates what might happen if and when London tries to put in segregated bike lanes on busy streets. I fully expect people to scream blue murder in 'culture war' terms in London, just as they have in New York. I don't know what happened in the Netherlands in the 1970s, but seeing as how cycling rates in the NL never sank anywhere close to as low as they are in the UK now I suspect that the controversy was considerably less intense.

Jim said...

Sorry, just an additional point: Journalists often prefer to 'report the argument' rather than get into an analysis of who is right and wrong. This is very regrettable, and in many cases deeply pernicious, but in this case I think the controversy is itself interesting and important for the future of cycling in very large, very dense cities which currently have car-dominated streets.

Michael D said...

David, you view this as a technical issue of where to look for good solutions to cycling infrastructure. But that's really not the issue as I see it. I think the issue is political, and the politics of cycling infrastructure in New York City are very similar to those politics elsewhere in North America and presumably the UK.

North America looks to the Prospect Park West bike lanes not because it's best-practice cycling infrastructure, but because it's a good cycling facility that required taking away general traffic lanes in a place where road capacity is scarce. And despite the fact that most people in NYC and Brooklyn in particular don't own a car, the opposition to it has been massive (mostly from rich politicians, it seems).

What I'm looking for is to see New York City put in that infrastructure, demonstrate all its positive aspects -- increasing number of people cycling, reducing speeding without decreasing traffic flow -- and, importantly, get the community to back it and ensure it remains permanent. That is the kind of story that can really help efforts in other cities stuck with North-American-style car-oriented planning and politics.

Anonymous said...

I have travelled around a lot, and have started noticing that English-speaking people tend to regard the "Anglo-Saxic" world as the only one that exists.

Meeting people how claim to be worldtravellers because they visited: the UK, South-Africa, (sometimes) India, Australia, New Zealand and the USA, has made me realise that there is a significant part of the UK population that assumes that only the English speaking world has evolved or is even worth visiting.

My girlfriend who studied in NY, was asked (this is true!) whether we had toiletpaper in Belgium. When Obama wants to talk about politics, he doesn't call Herman Van Rompuy, but David Cameron. Why? According to me because he, instinctivly, assumes that the UK is the leader of the EU, while in all fairness, it is after Italy probably the most useless country in the EU. (In terms of efficiently working together, not in any other way ;-) ).

David Hembrow said...

Mark: That the Guardian should relocate journalists to New York is itself rather suspect. People used to complain that it had lost its way due to moving from Manchester to London. But now we have a "British" newspaper which is largely written from a different country. Would any other nation think this to be reasonable ?

No, I've not submitted anything. I've tried several times to make contact with the people there who write about cycling, but only received one (very short) response. They did link to this blog once

Jim: It's not wrong to cover the issue of this cycle lane. But why are so obsessed with New York ?

10000 hits for "New York cycling" vs. 29 for "Groningen cycling". At best, this is extremely disproportionate. Why would anyone who is interested in cycling concentrate so much on somewhere which is pretty irrelevant so far as cycling is concerned.

All aspects of cycling in New York are already covered in great detail by the Guardian. Perhaps at some point in the future they'll notice the Netherlands.

Yes, there's a possibility that similar battles could be fought in the UK. But to then describe it as possibly affecting "the future of cycling worldwide" when you're considering actually just two cities which are bit-players in cycling ? That's hyperbole.

Michael: I view it as indicative of how politically close the UK has become to the USA. In many matters the UK now behaves more or less the 51st state.

It's not just cycling. In international politics, the UK is almost always aligned closer to the USA than other European nations and puts pressure on other European nations to do the same.

They also look to the USA for guidance in how to tackle all sorts of other issues, such as levels of drug abuse, violence crime, teenage pregnancy, the rate of incarceration, the education system, even unemployment, government debt and how to run the health service (the the extent that the country needs an American to tell them not to do this).

This is crazy. In all these things, as well as in cycling, the UK would be much better off looking over here. However, all this is missed because British media and politicians alike spend so much time gazing westwards to the USA and seem unable to turn their heads in the opposite direction towards their nearest neighbours.

Anonymous: You're absolutely right. The level of ignorance about what goes on outside of English speaking countries is embarrassing.

Anothernameinthewall said...

"....cycling rate which is far lower than even the lowest city in the Netherlands and on a par with, at best, an average Dutch city with a sixth of the population of Portland."

Am I missing something here? Are Dutch cities not also Netherland cities?

David Hembrow said...

Anothernameinthewall: "The word Dutch is used to refer to the people, the language, and anything pertaining to the Netherlands."

ben said...

Ha! The picture on the Guardian shows a door zone bicycle lane with a huge rape-van taking up half the lane and coming up fast.

Brush-Head said...

Hi - I'd just like to vary the topic a little. About 7 years ago my wife & I visited NYC on holiday. Apart from the fact that since 9/11 NYC citizens have become a lot more helpful, we went on a couple of organised cycling trips in Manhattan. One went out to Brooklyn & we cycled back over the Brooklyn Bridge, the other went through amongst other locations, Central Park & Harlem. In the main this was on roads being shared with car drivers, who almost without exception drove with courteousnesses. We even took the bikes on the subway!
It was a really enjoyable experience & one we would like to repeat, if we can face the rigmarole of getting into the US!
I just thought I'd relate our experience as not totally anti-cyclist in NYC.

Peter said...

it's the fact that New York City is...New York City. and The Netherlands is...just another place in the world that is _not_ New York City.

London and NYC are the two financial capitals of the world. They are mega-cities. Their influence extends far beyond their physical borders. This is why 'the fate of the bike in the world' rests on the fate of the PPW bike lane. (Allegedly.)

SteveL said...

I'm actually in the US right now (California), and there are actually some people cycling around. Not just poor people, not just MAMIL-roadies, but people cycling to work. Someone I know who wouldn't cycle in bristol is now out and about on an electric bicycle. The hotel I'm staying in has three bike racks outside.

By EU standards its still appallingly under-represented when most roads are 4-lanes wide and its scary as a pedestrian as you can never trust anyone to stop for you, but compared to ten years ago, bicycles are in use, even if they aren't welcome.

The car/bike split in the US is a cultural change -and it's one the UK has to come to terms with too.

Anonymous said...

The issue is clearly political. No one is disputing the pre-eminence of Dutch bicycle engineering. The point is that most of the world did not take the pro-bicycle steps that the Dutch did in the 70s. In fact, most of the world created and expanded auto-centric engineering, embedding it into society even further. What New York is doing is challenging the dominance of car culture that much of the world experiences, and implementing real bicycle facilities. It is not the precise design itself, it is the fact that the US is doing real Dutch-style bike lanes. If New York can succeed, than it could serve as a political impetus to cities around the world. While Amsterdam will still be there with the shining example of what bicycling can be, the political battles there were fought a long time ago and don't really resonate very well in cities facing such battles right now.

Neil said...

@Anothernameinthewall - I think you mis-parsed that sentence (I did on first read too).

That last part needs to be kept together as "an-average-Dutch-city-with-a-sixth-of-the-population-of-Portland"

i.e. saying that Portland is about a sixth of the cycling rate of an average NL city.

not "on a par with, at best, an average Dutch city"

David Hembrow said...

Neil: Thank-you for pointing that out. I've changed the wording of that sentence, hopefully making it clearer.

Anonymous said...

In the field of urban planning NYC has historically been extraordinarily influential. This is why what happens NYC matters.

What established Jane Jacobs reputation was her battles with Robert Moses and her publication of the "Life and Death of Great American Cities" largely describes here battles with Moses.

Robert Moses had been trying to adapt NYC for age of car culture. At the time, he was strongly influenced by Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright's writings about Broadacre_City.

Jane Jacobs successful battles with Moses probably prevented New York City from deteriorating the way Detroit, Cleveland, St Louis or Kansas City did as a consequence those other cities embracing motordom, where widespread motordom led to white flight and collapse of the urban core.

In urban planning circles, intellectually, what happens in New York City has influenced everything else in the US. When NYC was going bankrupt in the 70's, that was when there was the strongest push to live in the suburbs. Similarly when NYC has been going through its own urban renewal, urban living in the US came back into fashion.

At the Universities right now, Jane Jacobs rules. Smart Growth, the desire to reign in motordom all stem from Jacobs writing back in 1961.

No one disputes that New York City is not at the cutting edge of bicycle planning design. But the fact that the transportation commissioner of New York City, Janette Sadik-Khan is someone who is considers urban bicycle infrastructure and planning important puts bicycle planning on the map of other cities worldwide.

As far back as 1980, Davis California managed to have more than 25% of all trips be by bike. But because Davis was a college town in California, it was still easy to dismiss bicycles still as a plaything of students in California and not a serious means of transportation. That people in China or the Netherlands were also riding around a lot on bicycles was seen as evidence of the poverty of Communist China and the backwardness of Europe respectively.

But now that a city as big and wealthy as New York City is building bicycle infrastructure. That will raise the profile of bicycles as transportation infrastructure.

The bigger unresolved problem worldwide isn't the technical problem of figuring out how to build proper bicycle infrastructure its the political problem of deciding to build high quality bicycle infrastructure at all. Once you create a constituency for bike infrastructure and grow that constituency the bike infrastructure will be improved. The problem has been globally as incomes have gone up, cycles were pushed out of the way to create more space for cars. The turning point is when that process get reversed and space is taken away from cars and redirected to bikes.

If that process can happen in NYC it can happen anywhere. Its not just some playing among college students in California or poor communists in China or some backward cultural practice of Europeans like wearing wooden shoes.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Corbusier
http://www.amazon.com/Death-American-Cities-Modern-Library/dp/0679600477
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Moses
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broadacre_City

aseasyasridingabike said...

"The turning point is when that process get reversed and space is taken away from cars and redirected to bikes. If that process can happen in NYC it can happen anywhere."

I think that's it, precisely. The focus is on New York because it is deeply interesting to see a highly car-centric city struggling to roll back some of that dominance. It's the battle itself that is is fascinating - I think it would be naive to expect that the relative amount of attention focused on a city by interested cycling parties to scale directly with the quality of the infrastructure, or the modal share.

The Netherlands have already won the war - not so exciting.

Frankas said...

In this case it is less the question of good promotion of cycling but of promoting themselves (as the USA)

I think concerning NYC and cycling in the US it is the question of quantity of cyclist, but
a) the fact the bicycle raises "even" in the USA;
b) that the USA is in many cases regarded as example ("lan d of milk and honey") and often "everything from the USA is good".
Professional management & communication is very much affected by the US- traditions.
The international English speaking elite looks very much to the US.
Well, maybe they didn't invent the bicycle, but I don't complain, when they promote it. Finally we have to "help" them to make the right decisions :-)

Ryan said...

I could be wrong, but I don't recall London looking at a bike share program until Montréal's Bixi was proven a success. This is despite cities such as Lyon, Paris, Barcelona etc. all having them in place and established before Montréal.

As for looking to NYC? NYC has looked to MTL for much of it's bicycle infrastructure.
I suppose NYC has more attention paid to it now because of the protests to the bike lanes. For the most part, people accept Montréal's bike lanes.

Quote from 2009:
extensive bike-path network. “We’re taking a look at how you developed your bicycle network with the two-way lanes," she said. "We’re looking at doing something like that."

http://tinyurl.com/monnrf

Invisible Man said...

The point about the Guardian bike blog is a little more mundane than you suggest, I think. Around the time you wrote this post, Matt Seaton, one of the most enthusiastic contributors to their bike blog, moved to New York to the Guardian's US editing operation. The Guardian has more unique users for its website in the US than in the UK. Matt was happy to write for the blog about cycling controversies in New York. It made the bike blog less focused on London. The Guardian bike blog is, as far as I know, typically written in the lunch hours of journalists who have other jobs. The Guardian bike blog now features no contributions from New York because Matt has left the Guardian for the New York Times.