Tuesday 31 July 2012

Telltales of UK's car centricism

There are many differences between Germany and the United Kingdom. Putting aside the abounding cycle tracks, paths and safe space for a moment... one difference - and most notably to me as a cyclist - is the way drivers are "looked after" by the system (the authorities and society at large).

The subliminally induced car centricism prevalent in the UK is extraordinary. Here are some hints.

Number plates in Germany are marked by area [http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liste_der_Kfz-Kennzeichen_in_Deutschland]. Braunschweig, my home town therefore is BS. Surrounding areas are Wolfenbüttel (home of Jägermeister) with WF; Wolfsburg (where Volkswagen have their big factory) is WOB and so on. Why is this important? You know whether someone is "ortsfremd" ie not from here - and you take extra care cuz they may not know the place and are prone to making funny manoeuvres. It's taught to new drivers in the driving lessons as something to specifically look out for. I addition, it's a technical plate and there's little way to personalise it. And: you can remember it easily.

UK? Pandemonium plates! And special people can get their special plates. (In some ways, I suppose that's good as you can remember them better if you wanted to make a complaint.)

Cycle path with door buffer
Example: German number plate, where BS = Braunschweig

Then there are other signs. The yellow sign at the entrance to a town or village doubles as a speed limitation sign. As a default, drivers are to proceed with a maximum of 50 kmh (30mph). Removes clutter, and is a clear signal: if there's a town there must be people and they deserve safety which lower speed provides.

UK? Clutter and uncertainty.

German car parking is more strict. "Parken in Fahrtrichtung rechts!" You are taught to park on the road side away from the driver (Germany on the right / hence UK to the left) - by failing to do so you can even attract a parking ticket! It would be seen as parking unsafely because when pulling out you would have to stick your bonnet into the road before you can see properly. Wham!

UK? Chaos prevails. Inconsiderate car parking enforcement nigh non-existent anyways. Free for all!

How about language? German's military "Fahrerflucht" (driver abscondence) is a lot harsher than our trivialised "hit and run". But then, German language is known for its technical correctness and accuracy so I won't bore you further.

Don't get me wrong! This takes nothing away from the fact that Germans love their cars. But maybe not as much as someone else's life.

So what's the verdict? Would you go for chaotic conflict or fastidious fairness?

Sunday 22 July 2012

Public space is for people

I recently visited Bremen, with its wonderful 'Das Viertel', a quarter close to the city centre with its very vibrant thriving streets, independent retailers, bars, pubs, restaurants, kindergartens, schools.

Everything is spilling out onto the streets.

My host kindly handed a brochure to me and I just had the time to leaf through it, when I was struck by an idea: I want to analyse all the pictures in this retailers and shopping guide.

The reason?

These photos are meant to be positively representative of 'Das Viertel'. In other words - these photos are 'selling' the street scape, its vibrancy, life and attraction to the readership. So that you are intruiged, inspired and immediately drawn to the place. You wanna go there, live there, be there.

Here it goes.

In the 120-page A5-sized brochure were fifteen photos showing public space (all listed below). In the analysis I have included photos of pure street scape representation. I have excluded photos that show individual buildings, a particular art work, an event or are simply an advert.

On the 'average' photo we have
  • 6.8 people, all (walking, cycling, sitting, etc)
  • 1.0 people on bikes
  • 3.1 bicycles
  • 1.5 cars, parked and moving
  • 0 drivers (visible through windscreen)
The tram is almost omni-present by its tracks and stops.

It's clear. The publisher and designers of the brochure
  • have put people first, with 6.8 people per picture this group receives the highest count, 1.0 of which have a bicycles with them. 
  • values bicycles way over cars (you see twice as many bikes). 
  • sees people on bikes are just that: people. Whereas people in cars are invisible, hidden. 

Not a surprise that cars don't really count in places that put people first! Even in a local shopping area like the 'Das Viertel'. But maybe the stress is on LOCAL.

I wonder whether their was a conscious effort made to send a certain message? Or is there something intrinsically human about this? If anything this seems a subliminal message. Were the publisher/designers aware?

Das Viertel page 4

Das Viertel page 5

Das Viertel page 11

Das Viertel page 13

Das Viertel page 19

Das Viertel page 25

Das Viertel page 29

Das Viertel page 33

Das Viertel page 70

Das Viertel page 81

Das Viertel page 88

Das Viertel page 95

Das Viertel page 108

Das Viertel page 109

Das Viertel page 119

Public space for its people.

Frantically soaking up some Cycling Culture

I am overdosing on comfortable cycling! You gotta take it whilst you can! I'm like a little squirrel gathering nuts for the winter. Yes, you may have guessed it. I am currently on the Continent, seriously soaking up some compelling Cycling Culture. With loads of public space, people milling about, bicycles, trams, you never feel alone. And I can confirm to you, all this makes for a much happier healthier environment allround.

I am visiting Bremen and Braunschweig. Both cities are home of a cycling modal share of 20-25%. Newcastle take note! How can you learn from these cities? Shift gear! Listen. Learn. They really do know how to divide it more fairly here; and know that without the bicycle it ain't gonna happen. Nothing is going to shift.

We made the acquaintance of a cycle-friendly roundabout. Once you are on it, you are on it. You can spend your whole holidays there, cycling in cycles if you wish... no escape from its soothing safety! The priorities are right and make for a convenient crossing.

We also met a few Fahrradstraßen. Road space where bicycles are pronounced king! A very scary concept for UK people indeed, I know. Public squares are so much nicer too. And people feel they belong, and stick up for their neighbourhood, and demand better conditions; they are organised, active and involved citizens.

Cycle paths are instrumental for the functionality of safe and direct routes. Directional (not mode-specific) traffic lights make for an integrated caring road system. As are calm neighbourhood streets providing cut-throughs and route choice to people on foot as well as bike.

It's a level playing field. It's populated by people, and listening and caring authorities seeing the bigger picture. Here you can gloriously glide along and at a good speed too, rather than frantically checking, constantly looking over every shoulder, twice, thrice, nervously, to see whether someone is there, could be there. Someone who's intent on ignoring you, because you don't exist. And "don't worry you ARE happy" is the advice from the UK to its struggling cyclists.

What all this is telling me? We have a long and arduous way to go. The UK has to at least start playing catch-up with a positive agenda for the future
  • START squeezing space for vehicles and car use 
  • START catering for PEOPLE. 
 Prolly not something the kingdom feels too comfortable about.

Friday 13 July 2012

Fish on a bicycle

As much as I love you all, I am packing my bags. Off to the mystical Land of the Free for a fabulous fortnight. Where 'cyclists' are people. Allowed to travel freely and safely on endless space and supported by society and the system.

Because - when everyone is a cyclist - no-one really is.

I am gone, fishing for these compliments.

"Gone fishing" on a bicycle.

Walking on air,

So please accept my out-of-office message:

Gone Fishing

Saturday 7 July 2012

Arms race

Have you notice the arms race on our roads?
  1. Walking - takes too long, too many cars in the way, playing in the streets, nah, not allowed!
  2. Cycling - too dangerous, I might get wet, look silly etc etc
  3. Car - good, safe
  4. Bigger car - even gooder and safer, bigger is better - doubles as status symbol too, the Jones' will envy me, yay! Might is right!
Legs and brains are not required for the road's arms race. Where will this cold war end?

Inspired by The Energy Glut - The Politics of Fatness in an Overheating World - read more

Road Arms Race

Car demon, often #driverless

This is what a car looks like to me.

Car demon
It's a thing that's out there to get me. Every day.

Apparently they contain something called 'a driver'. I try very hard to make eye contact with these elusive creatures (are they human?), but these folks seem to typically stare blankly into mid distance. Maybe there's an explanation, and these 'drivers' suffer from this motion blindness thing?

This one is a gud'un too. Vividly hammers home the inadequacy of the human brain to see objectively. Dare to stare at it and see what happens.

And these 'drivers' - with their severely diminished capability, help of their guardian demon and a supportive motoring society with an excessively glorifying car culture - are often the only witnesses when it comes to a cyclist or pedestrian death.

Ouch. It hurts.

Friday 6 July 2012

Abandon all hope ye faithful

After decades of asking the motorist to share (and care, haha), continuing car dependence and no real bouncy stats about biking numbers*, isn't it time for a new approach?

I have seen enough depressing cyclists. They are good at popping up in meetings and scupper plans to improve cycling conditions. "I am ok to share the road! You just need confidence!" - "We won't get much anyways. Just ask for a little, then you may at least get something."

They are talking to themselves. I am not one of them. I am not a cyclist. It's all these years of indoctrination that we aren't worth much, there isn't enough space... combine that with the  'progress' of incremental change... this is the Piecemeal pedal pickle we are in today.

I can't hear their patronising drivel any more. I tell you this much. It is them who require to find the confidence.

The confidence to ask for more.

More campaigning confidence. More influence. More space. More people cycling.

To really halt the car rise and stop the waking and cycling decline, we need to reach out and listen to what 'normal people' tell us.

"It's dangerous! There's no bike lane!"

For God's sake, given them one.

* Yes, the numbers may be slightly up. Oil prices are too.