Friday, 8 September 2017

Where can people go?

Saw this great illustration of how much cars dominate our public places.

The caption is spot on - "cities feel a lot less welcoming when you highlight the areas pedestrians aren't supposed to go like this".

Was talking to a person last night who has lived overseas where human beings are cars share the road more equally.

I wonder if the difference is due to our culture of cars.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Faster than 300 cars

My wife and I left the game on our bikes. There are only two roads out of the South Pine Sports Complex and this was probably the biggest game ever held there.

Traffic to go home was at a standstill. The start of the dotted blue line is where we decided that wasn't for us. Part of the joy of being car free is never having to be in traffic jams. So we went on the grass path. It later became a concrete path, then a bikelane.

I reckon we passed 300 cars. Sometimes they moved slower than walking-pace. Mostly they didn't move at all.

At the red marker the queue meets a major road and each cycle the traffic lights allow about seven cars through.

So if we did pass 300 cars, the ones at the back of the queue would have waited for 43 cycles of traffic lights.

By this time, my wife and I had cycled to the train station and were most of the way home.

Sometimes people ask if I miss the "convenience" of a car.
Not if "convenience" means waiting for 43 cycles of the traffic lights.

PS. The map above shows the travel time assuming you are walking. This traffic was going much slower than walking pace, so I reckon the time was more like 40 minutes to 1 hour for that 1.7km.

Thursday, 13 October 2016


The council in my city is trying to reduce traffic congestion. In their latest newsletter to residents they boasted of the results over the last six months.

The morning peak average speed increased from 27.8 km/h to 28.9 km/h.

Whoop-de-do! For a 10 km commute, that means a daily saving of 49 seconds on a 22-minute journey. Barely noticeable.

Meanwhile I can go 25 km/h on my bicycle and fitter people go quicker than that. Hardly seems worth having a car, really.

Here's a congestion-busting idea. Leave the car at home. Often a bicycle is quicker (and more enjoyable). Or catch public transport and free up the roads for everyone.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

The day I got a death threat at work

I am fortunate. Part of my job is to promote sustainability and environmentally friendly activities. In a team meeting I mentioned the worldwide activity known as PARKing Day.

PARKing Day is one day a year where community groups and others temporarily transform a metered car space into an alternate use. Sometimes it's a mini-park, with fake grass and deck chairs. Sometimes it's a mini coffee shop. I've even seen a mini-golf set-up and an op-shop for second-hand clothing. It's a great way to highlight how much of our city is consumed by parking and how many other things could be done with that space if we were less car dependent. The activity is legal, paid for and has local council approval.

playing checkers on PARKing Day

In the meeting I gave the op-shop example. A colleague said that if she saw an op-shop in a car parking space, she'd drive over the shop and anyone in it. As a supporter of the event and possible attendee I tried to look for other ways to take this - other than as a threat on my life.

My colleague is not evil. As far as I know, she doesn't generally threaten to kill people. But that's part of the effect of spending time behind the wheel. When I had a car, driving in traffic could often make me quite agitated and sometimes aggressive towards other drivers. This was part of the reason I gave up driving.

If something turns you into an aggressive and hostile person, the sensible thing is to give up that thing. I choose my character, my faith and my humanity over having a car. Clearly not everyone is in a position to make that choice, so we get situations like this.

It seems when a person spends enough time behind the wheel, they view the car almost as an extension of theirself. They see a parking space as some sort of birthright that the rest of the world owes them. Wherever they go, even in the busy areas, they have an expectation that room must be made for them and for their two tonnes of metal.

Is this why we sometimes talk about car "addiction"? People acting like desperate drug addicts when they don't get their fix. Unable to imagine an existence without the thing they crave.

As humans we generally say that we love other people - or at least like them enough not to kill them. It seems that driving a car takes us far away from that ideal.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Repairing the bank balance

Some people can't even comprehend being car free. Others do get it, and are slightly jealous.

"Yeah. You must save heaps - not having to buy petrol," someone said to me recently.

Well yes I do but that's only a fraction of it. In a recent cleanout I found an old bank statement from my car-owning days.

Yes. Car repairs for $3033.62. Even ten years on, my first reaction is "Ouch!". It's one of the things we don't factor into the cost of having a car. But it's a real cost. On the bank statement it's very real.

My second reaction is gratitude in realising how many years I've avoided these unexpected surprises. Just another benefit of being car free.

PS. Other car costs include depreciation (buying a car for $20k and selling it for $10k), lost interest (that $20k could have been in the bank earning interest), car registration, car insurance, car repairs and car maintenance. Depending on how you drive, there may also be speeding fines and parking tickets. So yes I save on fuel, but there's so much more than that.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Love cars, love traffic jams

Sure I've shown a picture like this before, but this one's different.

It's the first one I've seen that includes bicycles, buses and light rail.

Surely it's obvious to everyone that unless traffic jams are something we enjoy, then bicycles and public transport are by far the best options.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Where does "Jaywalking" come from?

I like this video about how cars took over the streets. Learn where the phrase jaywalking comes from and how clever marketing strategy from car makers changed the way we think.

The end line is classic... "Thank you for granting us passage, Metal Majesty."

Thursday, 24 September 2015

The poor woman

I've certainly felt like this at times. The smug pedestrian (or bike rider) cruising past a traffic jam.

Thursdays in my neighbourhood are particularly bad for drivers. Our city has late night shopping on Thursdays, so commuter traffic and shopping traffic add together.

In a logical world some of the regular drivers would work this out and take public transport on a Thursday - or ride or walk if it's a short distance. But people tend to stick to habits even if it means sitting in traffic for much longer than other forms of transport would take.

Of course the poor woman in the cartoon is also doing for for her physical and mental health.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Damn, these electric bikes (are great)

The topic of electric bikes came up at work today. One colleague mentioned how jealous she is of electric bikes as they pass her on the uphills.

Electric bike cartoon about riding uphill

I think this cartoon sums it up well. The rider of the electric bike is thinking "Damn, these electric bikes (are great)" while the other rider thinks "Damn these electric bikes (are making me jealous)."

Saturday, 11 April 2015

The Secret of Happiness

I've just read an article on Enrique Peñalosa, the former mayor of Bogotá, Colombia. "We might not be able to fix the economy. But we can design the city to give people dignity, to make them feel rich. The city can make them happier."

One experiment was to have a day of a total car ban. The 'car free' day was the first day in 4 years that nobody was killed in traffic. Hospital admissions were down, smog thinned, and people were feeling more optimistic about life. All from just one day without cars.

Why does better city design, and fewer cars, give such a boost to our happiness? The article had some stats on that - and it seems that we've over-valued the role of money in happiness.

  • The British got 40% richer from 1993 to 2012, but the rate of psychiatric disorders and neuroses grew.
  • Londoners are among the least happy people in the UK, despite the city being the richest region in the UK.
  • The more connected we are, the less likely we are to experience heart attacks, strokes, cancer and depression. Connected people sleep better at night. They live longer. They consistently report being happier.
  • People who endure more than a 45-minute commute were 40% more likely to divorce.
  • People who live in car‑dependent neighbourhoods are much less trusting of other people.
  • Longer commutes mean lower life-satisfaction. A person with a one-hour commute has to be paid 40% more money to be as satisfied with life as someone who walks to the office. For a single person, exchanging a long commute for a short walk to work has the same effect on happiness as finding a new love.

So why is driving so bad? So bad that being freed from it is the equivalent of falling in love - or getting a 40% pay rise?

"Driving in traffic is harrowing for both brain and body. The blood of people who drive in cities is a stew of stress hormones. The worse the traffic, the more your system is flooded with adrenaline and cortisol, the fight-or-flight juices that, in the short-term, get your heart pumping faster, dilate your air passages and help sharpen your alertness, but in the long-term can make you ill. Brain researchers found that peak-hour travellers suffered worse stress than fighter pilots or riot police facing mobs of angry protesters."

Apparently, it's the mobility of walking, running or riding that makes commuting enjoyable.

"We were born to move. Immobility is to the human body what rust is to the classic car. Stop moving long enough, and your muscles will atrophy. Bones will weaken. Blood will clot. You will find it harder to concentrate and solve problems. Immobility is not merely a state closer to death: it hastens it."

Cyclists report feeling "connected to the world around them" in a way that's not possible in a sealed vehicle. Their journeys are "sensual and kinesthetic".

So how did Bogotá's experiment go?

It made life better for almost everyone. Commuting times fell by a fifth. The streets were calmer. The accident rate halved, as did the murder rate, even as the country as a whole got more violent. There was better air quality. Bogotáns got healthier. The city experienced a spike in feelings of optimism. People believed that life was good and getting better.

To find out more, read the article, or get the book it comes from - "Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design" by Charles Montgomery.