A fresh assault on car culture

That anarcho-pink rag The Wall Street Journal is using that phrase not in alarm, but as a challenge to join in, on bikes. This story is getting lots of play in the feeds I follow, but I can’t not link to it. Here’s my fair-use excerpt to leave something useful after the link expires in ten days:

Bike-friendly cities in Europe are launching a new attack on car culture. Can the U.S. catch up?

May 4, 2007; Page W1

COPENHAGEN – No one wears bike helmets here. … People bike while pregnant, carrying two cups of coffee, smoking, eating bananas. At the airport, there are parking spaces for bikes. … In Amsterdam, 40% of commuters get to work by bike. In Copenhagen, more than a third of workers pedal to their offices. … A major thrust is a host of aggressive new measures designed to shift bike commuting into higher gear, including increased prison time for bike thieves and the construction of new parking facilities that can hold up to 10,000 bikes. … Worried that immigrants might push car use up, both cities have started training programs to teach non-natives how to ride bikes and are stepping up bike training of children in schools. … The programs for non-natives target those who view biking as a lower form of transportation than cars. … Officials from some American cities have made pilgrimages to Amsterdam. But in the U.S., bike commuters face more challenges, including strong opposition from some small businesses, car owners and parking-garage owners to any proposals to remove parking, shrink driving lanes or reduce speed limits. Some argue that limiting car usage would hurt business. “We haven’t made the tough decisions yet,” says Sam Adams, city commissioner of Portland, Ore., who visited Amsterdam in 2005.

19 thoughts on “A fresh assault on car culture”

  • Mauricio Babilonia

    This link (obtained elsewhere) worked for me:


  • AllanF

    I love that, "bike while pregnant." How extraordinary. How scandalous!

    Well, I'm happy to say my wife's been BWP for years. Since 2003 or so. In fact just yesterday we were out on the tandem and now that I think about it, yep she was pregnant. In 2004 she BWP'ed to the Alice Awards on Sat and gave birth the following Thursday.

    (I guess I should admit there was a bit of a hiatus between her first and most recent BWP'ing. :-)

  • Ryan

    Quote: The programs for non-natives target those who view biking as a lower form of transportation than cars.

    That really is a big part of the problem, isn't it?

  • Scott

    Yeah, nearly everywhere in the world, cars are seen as a strictly superior mode of transportation by nearly everyone. In developing countries, the governments see motorization as an important step to becoming a developed nation, and the residents of those countries will buy cars just as soon as they can afford them.

  • Erik Sandblom

    Or even before they can afford them.

  • Murray

    "limiting car useage would hurt business" - encouraging car useage hurts so much more. I wonder if there is any evidence of this or if that is just an assumption of the petrol driven mob.

  • Erik Sandblom

    Murray, the articles says this: "Higher-end shops have already moved out of the city center because of measures to decrease car traffic, says Geert-Pieter Wagenmakers, an adviser to Amsterdam's Chamber of Commerce, and now shops in the outer ring of the city are vulnerable. Bikes parked all over the sidewalk are bad for business, he adds."

    This suggests that even in Amsterdam, many consumers feel that cycling is for those who can't afford to drive. These people feel it necessary to underline their wealth with overkill.

    I think driving is vulgar, but that's just me.

  • Ian Hopper

    Erik: I agree with you, driving is vulgar. Fancy luxury cars (and most cars)... are an incredible waste of money, but those who can best afford them could care less. It's all a mindset, and the media perpetuates it. Hell, there's even car ads in bicycle magazines!

  • DrK

    Its really just a mentality. We have got too used to our cars. Lets get used
    to our bikes again.


    http://www.bikesthatfold.com - All about folding bikes.

  • Martina

    It has been a while since I have been to Amsterdam (about 3 years!), but I found that it still has a really lovely shopping area directly down town, only accessible by foot or car.
    I know that some shops have to move outside of the city, since prime retail space in the middle of the city is limited, but I see that as a space, not a car problem!

  • Mauricio Babilonia

    This week, Kunstler wrote something like "car-crazy infrastructure for everyday life, and all the activities supporting it, [is what] most Americans now living regard as the natural and normal medium for human existence, as salt water is the natural and normal medium for squid."

    Indeed, driving is so ingrained in the psyche of most people that there's just no imagining life without the motor vehicle. Vulgar doesn't even begin to describe it. Let's try omnipresent, pervasive and inescapable on for size. The monotony has resulted in swarms of crappy, inattentive drivers, desensitized to the sheer violence, banality and ugliness of motoring.

    Today was one of those mercifully rare instances that required me to drive someplace on behalf of my employer. I won't miss it, not even just a little bit, it when I hop back on the bike tomorrow.

  • Mikael

    Cities in Australia and even in New York are now talking about Copenhagenizing - meaning building bike lanes and bike paths for daily use - not just weekend use. Melbourne is building "Copenhagen" Bike Lanes. Even cities like Charlotte, USA are pushing for bicycle advocacy.

    The times they are a'changing. Here in Copenhagen, it's just a normal part of life. I hope that other cities will invest in the necessary infrastructure and development of bike culture.


  • Bruce Wilson

    I should also mention that there are a considerable number of cycling advocates who are against bike lanes. For example: http://pedalingprince.blogspot.com/2007/05/dangers-of-bike-lanes.html

  • Mauricio Babilonia

    Perhaps "considerable number of cycling advocates" are against bike lanes, but there is an even larger number of us who are in favor of them. When they're done well, they work. Occasionally, as in the case John mentions on his blog, they fail. The problem with John's post is that it doesn't accurately depict the architecture of the intersection where that crash happened, and thus doesn't accurately describe the crash. His point about both parties needing to be more responsible is well-taken, but this particular case does not negate the benefits of bike paths or lanes in general.

    Living as I do in a place that has very good cycling infrastructure, I can wholeheartedly say that I'd rather live with it than without it.

    The effort that Mikael mentions above to mimic Copenhagen's transportation infrastructure exists as an organized effort in the U.S. too. It's called Complete Streets, and it could always use a little more popular support... (hint, hint.)

  • Bruce Wilson

    I haven't the expertise to say which side is right; I just thought that both sides should be presented.

  • Chuck Strawser
    Chuck Strawser July 13, 2007 at 4:15 pm

    Ah, I do have the expertise to comment upon the "the case John mentions in his blog" (full disclosure, I am a friend and neighbor, but not a coworker, of Maurice).

    I am also a professional advocate for bicycle transportation for the last six years, a Masters of Science in Urban Planning, and a resident of the neighborhood in which the crash occured (as described in The Capital Times, one of Madison's daily newspapers).

    The Capital Times erroneously described the facility the cyclist was riding upon as a bike lane. It is not a bike lane, it is a bike path (a facility separated from the street itself, usually by distance, sometimes by physical barriers), also sometimes called a bike trail).
    Furthermore, it is (in that particular location, anyway), a very poorly designed bike path, as it is nearly immediately adjacent to the roadway, which of course creates dangerous conflict points at every cross street.
    Those of us in the business call those sidepaths, and they are generally to be avoided (unless there are no or very few cross streets, as in the case of one local sidepath situated between an arterial and a lake).
    See the League of Illinois Bicyclists' excellent worksheet on scoring sidepath designs for suitability:

    this is the same design principle that leads traffic engineers to, e.g., detour frontage roads away from the limited access highways they are adjacent to at the cross streets, and to prohibit or discourage curb cuts (drieways) in close proximity to intersections.

    If the facility in question had actually been a bike LANE instead of a sidepath, the driver of the truck that (failed to yield as it) turned right into the cyclist's path would have had a much harder time making the argument that he failed to see the cyclist, since he would have had to pass the cyclist in order to cut him off.

    This crash is not, as the blogger asserts, evidence that bicycle lanes are all bad. It IS evidence that this particular bicycle facility (which, again, isn't a lane at all) is very poorly designed.

    Unfortunately, there isn't really anyplace else for this sidepath to go in this location, so it isn't likely to be redesigned anytime soon to increase the distance of the sidepath from the adjacent roadway.

    Perhaps a better solution is to eliminate the adjacent roadway altogether, as it was originally built as a (one-way, afternoon/outbound) means to allow commuter (motor vehicle) traffic to bypass a local business district. Of course, that was one of the factors in the subsequent death of the local business district. The recent resurgence of this business district would be encouraged if the motor vehicle traffic once again drove past it on the drivers' way out of the city into the burbs where they park there cars. This is not as outrageous as it sounds, and I am not the only one with this idea: http://www.goodbye-eastwood.org/

    Finally, while it is true that there are advocates that are against bike lanes (indeed, some are against any facility specific to bicycles at all), having attended three biannual international conferences of professional bicycle and pedestrian advocates and presented at one, I would hazard the guess that the ranks of advocates who are in favor of WELL DESIGNED bicycle facilities far outnumbers those who are against them. Of course, that doesn't necessarily make us right; it merely makes us more popular, literally.


    Chuck Strawser
    Project Coordinator
    Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin

    p.s. I am currently on leave from BFW and probably won't respond to messages sent to my work address in a timely manner. Posting from my personal address

  • Bruce Wilson


    Thanks for your explication and elucidation.

  • Bruce Wilson

    Another link that might be of interest:


  • Erik Sandblom

    Now the Wall Street Journal is telling you to sell your car. It costs too much and you don't need one anyway.

    A Real Auto Bailout: Escape Your Car

    Next they'll be telling layed off auto workers to move to Cuba to get better health care.

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