CategoryInternational

ThinkBike – The opening ceremony

Cross-posted to Amsterdamize.

The Netherlands seems to have it all when it comes to people riding bikes: safety, facilities, normality, sensibility. But I’ve already written about that (and here, too), and since you’re reading this on Amsterdamized, you would have seen that in the 1,000+ photos Marc has published on Amsterdamize. The Netherlands hasn’t always had expertise about making it safe and easy for people of all ages to ride bikes. There was a period of time when bike use declined dramatically as the popularity of driving rose. In the three decades since the central and civic governments started acting to change this scenario, the country has learned a lot about what works.

Hans Voerknecht’s presentation shows bicycle use dropping (red line) from 1960-1975 and rising from 1975 to now.

The City of Chicago’s Bike 2015 Plan promotes two goals that echo the sentiments of almost all North American cities and the Netherlands:

  1. Increase the number of people riding bikes
  2. Decrease the number of injuries and fatalities.

People riding home from work on Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. Before stopping in Chicago, ThinkBike paid a visit to Toronto, Canada.

Regardless of what the press release claims as the role of the ThinkBike workshop, it seems to me an opportunity for the Netherlands government to share its expertise on achieving these goals (and possibly drum up some business or economic partnerships for the country). For more on bicycling conditions in the Netherlands, I urge you to read John Pucher’s excellent paper, “Making Cycling Irresistible” (PDF). The country’s four representatives (think tank, private consultancy, and municipal planning) also want to promote imaginative and innovative solutions for Chicago bicycling.

This post is about the “opening ceremony” on Thursday morning, which was open to the public. I took great notes during this part!

Previous write ups on ThinkBike from friends:

Before the four representatives got up to speak, there were introductions:

  • Geoffrey Baer, documentarian and from WTTW channel 11, introduced us to the two-day workshop. He told attendees that in Chicago there were once 88 bicycle manufacturers (Schwinn was founded here). There was once a mayor that ran on the platform that he was “not the champion cyclist, but the cyclist’s champion.” The mayor-to-be rode his bike 100 miles on the campaign trail.
  • Luann Hamilton*, Deputy Commissioner at Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), talked about how she got into bicycle planning in Chicago that I doubt many people had known. She started at CDOT as a transportation planner. For the first five years of being on the job, there was not a word or mention about bikes. But then she got a “blue note” from the mayor’s office asking about bike racks, specifically in front of the Board of Trade building. Now, many years later, CDOT has installed over 12,000 bike racks, more than any other American city.
  • Hans Heinsbroek, Consul General in Chicago, wanted to ensure everyone knew that the Dutch didn’t invent the bicycle, but a German named Karl Drais who created the velocipede. “The Dutch are merely responsible for putting the bicycle to vast use. [The Netherlands] is the birthplace and utopia of cycling.” More tidbits from Hans. Unflattering to the Dutch, Hans broke the ice by saying, “As you know, Dutch is not a language but a throat disease.” In any case, the Dutch know English very well.

Now it’s time for the Dutch experts to tell us about the good stuff.

Arjen Jaarsma, Balancia

Arjen talked little about bicycling. Instead he talked about eco-cities and sustainability. Because of this, I’ve moved my summary of his presentation to a different post.

Hans Voerknecht

Two parts of the Dutch bicycling philosophy are joy and safety. Hans wants us to think bigger than 1-2% ridership (expressed in portion of workers commuting by bike). The Bike 2015 Plan has a goal of 5%. Currently, Chicago has a 1.15% rate (workers 16 and older riding their bikes to work) according to the 2009 American Community Survey – slightly above the nation’s rate of 1%. In the whole of the Netherlands, the bike to work rate is 27%. We should aim for 10%.

Joy

How does joy fit in? “I’ve been driving. I don’t feel free siting in a cage in a traffic jam.” People of all ages bike in the Netherlands. Girls aged 12-16 cycle 7 kilometers daily! (The United States only tracks cycling rates to work for people 16 and older.) “My father is 83 years old; he’s not allowed to drive but he rides his bike.” [Read more about 8-80 criteria]

Safety

Perceived safety is secondary to joy in the Netherlands. (I would say if not already first priority in America, it should be. We can work on joy simultaneously.) How does one make a situation where riding a bike is perceived as a safe thing to do? (Please comment if you don’t understand these – as a transportation planner, this is firsthand knowledge for me.)

  • There cannot be a large speed difference between adjacent road users.
  • There must be forgiving situations.
  • There must be recognizable infrastructure.
  • There must be a legal system that protects vulnerable users. Drivers are 100% liable for collisions with children on bikes (because children cannot help but to behave unexpectedly and the driver should always be aware of this). For other collisions, drivers are at least 50% liable.
  • There must be continuation of the bikeway through the intersection.
  • Use color!

The bike lane continues through the intersection (denoted by white squares) while intersecting drivers must yield (denoted by shark teeth – the triangles). Photo by Daniel Sparing.

Hans explained the three road types in the country and how bicycle riders are accommodated.

  • Highway – No bikes are allowed here. This is like our interstate system, which has limited and controlled access. Bikes are almost always banned on these roads, but some states, like California, allow people to bike on interstates when no substitute road is available.
  • Distributor – On these roads, there are separated lanes. There are many ways to implement this. In the extreme, bike lanes appear to be American-style off-street trails 20 feet away from the main roadway. Or the bike lane occupies the same roadway as the main lanes but is somehow separated or segregated.
  • Access – These roads have mixed traffic, but people riding bikes always have priority. Think permanent traffic calming or the ultimate “complete street.” This may include the woonerf and the “bicycle street” (car drivers are not allowed to overtake bike riders).

Bike lane adjacent to, but separated from, a distributor road.

A woonerf, or shared space. Many “traffic calming” devices prioritize people on foot and on the bicycle. Photo by Joel Mann.

Hans also talked about transit, but I’ve moved that to the end of this article because the final speaker, Ruud, also talked about transit. Continue reading

Witness appeal

In London and Greater London (but not the City of London), when the Metropolitan Police want the public’s help in their investigations of incidents and crimes, including traffic collisions, they erect “Witness Appeal Signs” near the scene.

“We are appealing for witnesses.” Singapore also uses these signs.

It seems in 2009, though, the Metropolitan Police banned the use of the signs except for traffic collisions. Some research indicated that the public perceived that, due to the presence of the signs, crime in the neighborhood was increasing. The Daily Mail article quoted one officer to say:

“They were placed where the crimes actually happened, so were very much targeted at people who might have seen something. Now that source of information has been cut off…”

The signs are placed and designed in such a way to be seen by people walking, biking, and driving near the scene of the incident.

How effective is this small sign posted on a pole compared to a bright Witness Appeal Sign in London?

I suggest that American police departments, Chicago’s included, look into installing similar signs for the most severe traffic collisions, starting with a bilingual “witness appeal sign” for the hit & run crash in Pilsen that killed Martha Gonzalez.

How the Danish have fun on bikes

A cargo bike race occurs in Copenhagen each year. More than Danes compete. This year’s Danish Cargo Bike Championships was last Saturday, on June 26, 2010. You can read the rules in English on the official website.

It looks like a lot of fun. The modern incarnation was held first in 2009. Prior to last year’s race, there were competitions in the 20th century until 1960. View the race starting point on Google Maps, in Søren Kierkegaards Plads on the Copenhagen Harbor.

There’re races for three-wheeled bikes.

And there’re races for two-wheeled bikes. These two racers are riding Harry vs. Larry Bullitts. Harry vs. Larry was a sponsor for this year’s championships. You can buy Bullitts at Copenhagen Cyclery in Chicago, Illinois.

Racers have to carry car tires (see top photo) and if I were to race with my Yuba Mundo, I would need to practice at home. My Mundo doesn’t have a flatbed like the pictured bikes, which would make it easy to throw on an automobile tire.

Update on GIS information for Haiti

We all woke up this morning to see news that another earthquake has happened in Haiti, near the center of the first one eight days ago.

“The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) employed nearly 400 Haitians in cash-for-work activities to jump start the local economy and facilitate the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian assistance.”

This post is an update to my previous article about how GIS is used for disaster relief efforts. I recently came across a webpage on Harvard’s China Earthquake Geospatial Research Portal that lists copious, up-to-date, GIS-compatible data from organizations around the world. The portal began in response to the Sichuan, China, earthquake in May 2008.

Visit the Haiti GIS Data Portal now.

For new GIS students, this would be a great starting point for a class final project. The Portal is hosting the datasets as a public service and invites anyone with relevant data to submit it to the site operators for wider dissemination. Data comes from the United Nations, several universities, OpenStreetMap contributors, and the German Center for Air and Space Travel, among others.

“Petty Officer 3rd Class Cameron Croteau, a Damage Controlman aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Oak, carries an injured Haitian girl to an awaiting Coast Guard HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010. Coast Guard and Navy helicopters airlifted injured Haitians to a private hospital in Milot, Haiti. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandyn Hill.”

As I mentioned in the previous post, there are many photos on Flickr when you search for “haiti earthquake.” When I wrote the post on January 14, 2010, there were only about 300 photos, and now there are over 6,900. Only 1,200 have a Creative Commons license, though (both of the photos above have a Creative Commons license). It seems that the United States Military, the United Nations, and major relief organizations are providing the majority of photos. And they’re uploading them fast. The number of photos on Flickr jumped by 50 from when I started this paragraph.

How GIS helps earthquake relief efforts for Haiti

While Geographic Information systems software can definitely produce pretty maps, its power lies in analyzing data and plotting or comparing sensory or observed data to spatial data (like roads or terrain). The earthquake in Haiti rocked the capital city, Port-au-Prince with a shock of magnitude 7.0 on Tuesday, January 12, 2010.

A photo from a United States military flyover shows damage in the Port of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo taken by Petty Officer 2nd Class Sondra-Kay Kneen and uploaded by Chuck Simmins.

There are several applications for GIS to help with earthquake response, and two blog posts that appeared this morning shed light on how.

The first article came from ESRI, the California-based makers of ArcGIS, the most used GIS application. The article linked to a user-built map on their ArcGIS Online service showing on Bing maps where the earthquake and its aftershocks struck (the map sits behind a registration wall). ESRI even has a disaster response team that helps organizations get their response projects off the ground quickly.

Infrastructurist posted the second article, showing some before and after satellite imagery of Haiti, provided by Google and GeoEye.

So what can GIS do? From ESRI’s list, “GIS for Disaster Response“:

  • Rapid identification of potential shelter/housing locations (schools, libraries, churches, public buildings) appropriate for supporting affected populations.
  • Determine how many tents will be needed based on the location of populations affected by the disaster.
  • Analyze areas where large numbers of refugees can establish camps out of harm’s way that are accessible for supply delivery and have access to water and other resources necessary to support large numbers of people.
  • Many more examples.

Want more information? Here’s where to get it:

Burj Dubai quickly renamed Burj Khalifa, then opened

The world’s tallest [man-made anything] opened on Monday.

Fireworks erupted from many floors of the building, but some appeared as if they came from tubes that stretched the entire height (these were probably stroboscope lights). Watch the show on YouTube.

Known for years as Dubai Tower (burj in Arabic means tower), the developers, possibly under pressure from Dubai central government, changed the name to Burj Khalifa the day before its grand opening on Monday, January 4, 2010.

Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan is the president of the United Arab Emirates, and the emir of Abu Dhabi. In December 2009, Abu Dhabi “donated” $10 billion to Dubai to help pay off loans undertaken by the state-owned Dubai World.

Interestingly, though, Dubai World does not own and did not develop the skyscraper. (Dubai World is best known for the Palm Islands.)

Find more photos in the Flickr group, Burj Dubai. The replacement group, Burj Khalifa, just started and has six photos as of this writing. And, as usual, the article on Wikipedia is a great place to learn more.

The snow debate: Who should clear sidewalks?

A couple of days ago (I think it was Friday night, December 18, 2009), a storm dumped several feet of snow in the northeast United States, covering New York City, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The storm was so eventful that Metro (Washington, D.C.) stored many of its trains in the subway tunnels to avoid getting them covered in heavy snow, and applied “heater tape” to the third rails to keep them from getting new ice after two passes from plows and deicing trains. [This information comes from the linked Metro press release on December 19, 2009.]

Now Streetsblog NYC is hosting the debate about snow removal from sidewalks. Why doesn’t anyone do it, and who should do it? Images of unplowed sidewalks and pedestrians walking in clean and clear streets bring up issues about priorities in street design and maintenance.

Many municipalities have ordinances requiring the property owner to remove snow from the sidewalk (Chicago even specifies a time frame in which the work must be completed; at my last apartment, I shoveled the snow from the sidewalk and porches for a deduction in rent). Many people report how these laws pass through the winter without enforcement.

My bike waits for me on unplowed sidewalk in front of my school. I live in Chicago, Illinois, not the east coast.

A plow removes snow from a bike lane in Copenhagen, Denmark. Is this something we can bring to our bike lanes and sidewalks in the United States?

The Joseph Stalin locomotive

Last night in my final class of Transportation Management my teacher pointed out the wallpaper photo on the computer we used to give slideshow presentations. The train is notable because of its nickname, “Little Joe.”

The amazing Illinois Railway Museum in Union, Illinois, has a Little Joe the Chicago, South Shore & South Bend converted to Standard Gauge (4 feet, 8.5 inches). The unit is operational.

Long story short: General Electric (GE) built twenty electric locomotives to fulfill an order the Soviet Union made in 1946. The Cold War “happened” and GE couldn’t ship them out. The engines were built for a 5-foot gauge track. Two American railroads (Milwaukee Road and South Shore) and a Brasilian railroad bought up the stock.

Little Joe is named after Joseph Stalin, Generalissimo of the Soviet Union at the time.

The Wikipedia entry on the Little Joe locomotive doesn’t mention the relationship, but High Iron Illustrations, an aviation and railfan art store, confirms my teacher’s story. The Illinois Railway Museum has more on its history, after the jump. Continue reading

Traffic: It never ends

Automobile congestion on the Kennedy Expressway* (I-90/94), taken from the L tracks above Lake Street in Chicago, Illinois.

Other things that never end (a roundup of sorts):

Google Maps, the dynamic GIS system

Earlier this year, Google Maps added a feature to the common maps interface that allows users to identify problems* with map data or presentation. Click on the “Report A Problem” link in the lower right corner of the current map view. Then drag the marker on top of the error, categorize it, then write a description of the problem.

I reported several problems soon after the feature was released. I checked up on the results of one problem I reported. The situation was the lakefront multi-use path along Lake Michigan in Chicago, Illinois. The screenshots below show the map before I reported the problem and the repaired map.

With this addition, Google Maps seems to be encroaching on the territory of Open Street Map (OSM) that uses ONLY public domain (not the same as free) and user-contributed data. But the data users contribute to Google Maps (in the form of reporting problems on the map) become the property of Google and its data providers.

From the OSM Wiki, “The copyright of the whole data set is scattered among all contributors. Some contributors release their contributions to the public domain.” Readers interested in learning more about maps in the public domain should read this Guardian article about the UK’s Ordnance Survey heavy grip on its data.

Disclaimer: I felt prompted to write this post because James Fee on his blog often (1st) writes (2nd) about the (low) quality of the data Google puts in its Maps.

*Users have long been able to report problems, but never in such an easy way or one that tracks reports and notifies the user when Google fixes the error.

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