Saturday, November 7, 2009

Bikes & Cars & Cities

In Los Angeles, a doctor has been found guilty of reckless driving, battery, assault with a deadly weapon (his car), and "mayhem," and could face ten years in prison, for braking in front of two bicyclists.  Here's the story (with video) on the verdict.  The LA Times article from just before the verdict indicates that the case has drawn national attention from the cycling community: 

For the last three weeks, the assault trial of Dr. Christopher Thompson has drawn the attention of cyclists nationwide but has especially galvanized the swelling ranks of Los Angeles' tight-knit cycling community, whose members have long felt like second-class citizens in a city in love with its cars.

The case is being tried at a time when more people are turning to two wheels for commuting and recreation. Cyclists are asserting their rights as never before. In Los Angeles, advocates are pushing for more bike lanes and other road improvements, a cyclists' bill of rights and more protection from police.

At a time when there seems to be more and more momentum against automobile dependence and in favor of personal ambulation in the city for health, environmental, and civic reasons, cycling activists are pushing for more laws and policies to promote bike lanes and bike-friendly development.  Vancouver seems to have found some success with a bridge bike lane, as reported by the Vancouver Sun:

The Burrard Bridge bicycle lane trial has been a success with cyclists, pedestrians and drivers, according to a survey conducted this fall. That approval could result in bike lane access to be extended well past this February’s 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

It's not entirely clear from the article why the bike lane is a result of planning for the Olympics, but I presume it has something to do with pedestrian traffic for the events.  Meanwhile, though, in Paris, a much more utopian scheme to put the City of Light on two human-powered wheels seems to have stumbled.  The New York Times reports on the significant theft and vandalism that have hurt Paris's urban bike rental program in French Ideal of Bicycle-Sharing Meets Reality

PARIS — Just as Le Corbusier’s white cruciform towers once excited visions of the industrial-age city of the future, so Vélib’, Paris’s bicycle rental system, inspired a new urban ethos for the era of climate change.

Residents here can rent a sturdy bicycle from hundreds of public stations and pedal to their destinations, an inexpensive, healthy and low-carbon alternative to hopping in a car or bus.

But this latest French utopia has met a prosaic reality: Many of the specially designed bikes, which, when the system’s startup and maintenance expenses are included, cost $3,500 each, are showing up on black markets in Eastern Europe and northern Africa. Many others are being spirited away for urban joy rides, then ditched by roadsides, their wheels bent and tires stripped.

With 80 percent of the initial 20,600 bicycles stolen or damaged, the program’s organizers have had to hire several hundred people just to fix them. And along with the dent in the city-subsidized budget has been a blow to the Parisian psyche.

“The symbol of a fixed-up, eco-friendly city has become a new source for criminality,” Le Monde mourned in an editorial over the summer. “The Vélib’ was aimed at civilizing city travel. It has increased incivilities.”

Somewhere between utopia, land use regulation, and the market may lie the plan to increase bike friendliness.

Matt Festa

Environmental Law, Local Government, Transportation | Permalink

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