March 12th, 2011

How to transform your city for cycling, without even getting involved

I have recently been involved in a little the ol' political activism. We sit around tables in pubs, exchange email addresses, introduce ourselves as non-lycra cyclists (as though that counts at all, and in any case my sweets, I own a whole draw full of Rapha), then boast about who we each know in seats of power. We do our bit of agitation, lament that no women came to any of our meetings, and in the end count the publication of some crappy new map, as a win.

Agitation agitates me, more than anybody in power. So let me present you with an alternative, "The Dr. Behooving recipe for utopia", if you will.

Identify the person in your city who speaks for public health expenditure: where I come from, that would be Nigel Lyons. Next, find the most powerful voice on climate change in your region. Where I live, I guess that's Greg Combet. You have one last person, and that is whoever takes the flack for your region's long commute times; this one is a hot potato they all pass around, so picking the right dude could be a bit tricky. For now I'll guess John Robertson. Write to each separately, describing the Portland experiment, and the dividends for health, the environment, and urban transit if they all get behind cycling. Nigel, you can go it alone with other preventative strategies, or you can get something done, with this alliance. Greg, you can try for years to get a carbon tax introduced, or you can build a model city right now. John, let's face it, you will never find money for more trains or buses, but separated cycle paths and some paint on the roads, cost next to nothing.

Explain your plan, to get them all in one room, talking about bicycle transit. At this point, you will have to let them know who you represent. But that part is easy. You have already seen how the offer of a free beer will bring all the local BUG (bicycle user group) presidents to the one table. 

The big meeting of big-wigs will go ahead—assuming your letter did not hint at your kookiness. You will resist coming dressed as a hippie. You will not arrive on some rusty old piece of shit, but as the kind of cyclist these leaders could imagine themselves being, to attract women, with trouser clips, polished silver hubs and a Brooks messenger bag. Got it? Hand them their discussion document, reiterating the Portland experiment—in case they've forgotten. Finish your 5 minute intro by saying they each have more to gain, actually, than you do, that lunch is on you, "enjoy", but now you are leaving. The discussion paper will have names they'll need to call, like Jan Gehl whoever, under the heading "Where to from here?"

I have to mention Japan

As major events are going down—9/11, wars, yesterday's sickening events in Japan—the job of indexing facts still needs to go on. A year from now, we might look back and learn. Train commuters stranded last night in Tokyo were queuing up to buy bikes, rather than walk as far as 20 or 30km back to their homes. I don't propose to reflect upon this. I'm just making a note.

A guy who tweets as "TokyoByBike" reports these new cyclists had to buy maps, to find their way home. When I lived in Singapore and took the train everywhere, that would have been me as well. Trains really do screw up your mind map. The cycling life is grounded in geography. You feel more empowered. It will be us and the cockroaches, post Armageddon! Um, unless architects have us all using those ECO Cycle underground bike parking dispensers, that I was lauding a few months ago. They're all out of action until further notice.
It has also occurred to my pea brain (and this is a trite thing to even mention right now) that those flat plains being destroyed by the tsunamis, are the landscapes where everyone cycles. These are the areas I would normally say we should consolidate, as part of a sustainable model of planning. I'm not sure what I think now.