How to Make Biking Mainstream: Urban Planning Lessons from the Dutch

How to Make Biking Mainstream: Urban Planning Lessons from the Dutch by Jay Walljasper.

Another interesting article in Yes! Magazine.  The Netherlands have a story to tell when it comes to getting more people onto bikes and out of cars.

A commitment to biking is not uniquely imprinted in the Dutch DNA. It is the result of a conscious push to promote biking.

So it’s not easy but it is possible.  We just need the will to do it.

Some amazing stats in here:

In the Netherlands 27 % of all daily trips are made by bicycle. Doesn’t sound like much?  Compare it to the best of Europe: Denmark is 18 %, Germany 12 % and the U.S.? Try 1 %.  Oh dear…

Get on yer bike!

(Now where did I put my copy of ‘Learning how to Practice what you Preach in 10 easy steps…’)


And another thing… Pedestrian Thinking?

Following on from the last post – no wonder we have such a hard time convincing people to consider the creation of a walking city (note: a walking city includes our rollin’ brothers & sisters).

The word ‘pedestrian’ has become in our society a kind of insult, meaning: slow, stulted, non-creative, inefficient and a bit lame.  In other words not fast, not sexy, not cool.  Which is why I love the work of Living Streets Aotearoa. From their website:

We want more people walking and enjoying public spaces be they young or old, fast or slow, whether walking, sitting, commuting, shopping, between appointments, or out on the streets for exercise, for leisure or for pleasure.

Let’s take back our public spaces!

This is from the page I linked to in the previous post: the Traffic Transport & Road Safety Associates (Ireland) website.  But it was so compelling I just wanted to give it a post all to itself.  Here’s the link again:


Why Pedestrianise?
  • Improving Road Safety – reducing the potential for conflict between vulnerable road users like pedestrians and cyclists and motor vehicles creates a significant reduction in the number of accidents within the pedestrianised area.  In Odda in Norway accident reductions of over 80% were reported.
  • Improving Economic Vitality – most retailers, at least in town centres, appreciate that the number of people walking past their shop and not the number of people driving past their shop is key to getting people inside to spend money.  Pedestrians comparison shop, and research conducted in the United Kingdom reported increases in sales of upto 20% per year in the first few years following pedestrianisation. Research from 11 cities in Germany showed average rent increases of 50% after pedestrianisation. Chartered Surveyor Weekly reported that following the introduction of the footstreets concept in York, United Kingdom, a boom in retail sales was accompanied by rent increases of upto 400%.
  • Improving Social Interaction – increasing the amount that people meet, talk and interact, has been shown to have health benefits, but also creates a sense of community and a pride in the space or place.
  • Improving Health – in the same way that providing streets to drive on has been shown to increase traffic levels, providing a good walking environment has been shown to increase the number of people walking. Studies tend to show that the number of people walking within the immediate area will increase by over 50%.
  • Improving the environment – It is over 30 years since the OECD studied the link between environmental improvement and the removal of traffic.  Whilst some of the noted benefits such as reductions in Carbon Monoxide have now been addressed through the introduction of catalytic converters to vehicles, creating a modal shift from the car to walking reduces the level of CO2 helping the country to meet its emissions targets. Noise levels are also reduced by up to 15 decibels.


So, what kind of city do you want to live in?

I Feel Your Pain

Now here’s a thing.

Last week there was a press release and subsequent coverage in NZ newspapers (maybe on tele too but I don’t know cos I don’t have one) about a study and its results.  Named the ‘Commuter Pain Study’ – that in itself should give you an idea of the contents and import of this piece of research – surveying 8,192 motorists in 20 cities on six continents.  Apart from telling us what we probably already knew it has gone a step further and ranked international cities according to an ‘index’.  In NZ the survey covered 937 respondents aged 18-64 years distributed between Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.  The main points for Aotearoa that the study concluded with were:

– Almost three-quarters of NZ commuters use a car alone to get to work

I don't think this is the way to the beach, man.

– Resulting traffic congestion causing significant stress impacting health and productivity

– Increasing public transportation key to reducing stress caused by commuting

When it came to other solutions the study also had some facts:

Those commuters surveyed recognise that there is significant potential to reduce travel stress by improving public transportation (45 per cent), providing accurate and timely road conditions information (28 per cent) and introducing greater flexibility to work from home (29 per cent).

Now, the study which was commissioned by IBM and is more properly known as the IBM Global Commuter Pain Study also went as far as to say in the media release:

across all New Zealand cities drivers felt that much of this stress could be reduced by the greater use of technology in the management of traffic flows, sophisticated analytics of transport systems…

They don’t offer any actual data on how many or how they reached this conclusion and it didn’t seem to be in the survey index but I wonder if IBM have one or two ideas that might help?  But that’s another story…

Do NOT miss your exit...

Vested interests aside, it seems that the survey revealed some telling information about NZers dependence on private cars for commuting.  According to the study, 80 percent of drivers find aspects of their commute frustrating.  At least a quarter of respondents believe that traffic has negatively affected their health although this number varied regionally.

In the article based on this media release published by The Press (Christchurch) they immediately went out to get some vox pops on the findings.  Even though Christchurch has a public transport system that I would rate as very good several ‘people on the street’ described the buses as ‘just gross’ or unsatisfactory in a number of ways, therefore they continued to use their car to commute.  Apparently sitting in traffic literally idling money away, pumping poisonous gases into the air, and ‘negatively affecting their health’ by being a solo occupant of a motor car is preferable.

I feel like pointing out to those ‘buses are gross’ people that by commuting on the bus I not only save money, but I don’t have to find parking, I get to read or talk to friends, or do this, or experience this.

The study pointed out that only 10 per cent of NZers car-pool regularly.  Bizarre – if we doubled that we’d significantly reduce the cars on the road during the commute rush hours as well as halve (or better) our individual fuel and parking costs.  Auckland’s traffic problems would be majorly improved overnight.  And almost everyone’s wellbeing could be improved.


Among those who believe that traffic has negatively affected their health, increased stress (77 per cent) and anger (41 per cent) are the primary symptoms.  As many as 28 per cent of drivers believe that traffic has negatively affected their performance at work, university or school.

Many commuters feel that if their daily commute was reduced there are many other things they would do with their time including exercise (51 per cent), spend time with family (48 per cent) or sleep (30 per cent).

All that stress and anger and lost productivity – when you’d rather be exercising (playing), spending time with family & whanau (playing) or ‘sleeping’ (playing).  And it’s self-inflicted.

You poor things.

But what about the internet?

Family watching television, c. 1958

Family watching television, c. 1958

This little morsel was posted on Eat Smart Age Smart: (not a recommended website BTW)

Researchers found that how much time New Zealand children spend watching television is a better predictor of obesity than what they eat or how much they exercise. The study found that 41 percent of the children who were overweight by age 26 were those who had watched the most TV.

Well we’ve already been TV-free for more than 7 years.  But that was easy to give up…

My New Best Friend

Well, I’ve posted before about the joys of legging it, walking back to happiness yada yada yada.  I’ve also hinted at diminishing waistlines and heroics on the football field.

But what are the benefits of increased physical activity?  (oh dear, he’s setting us up for a boring post about health and wellbeing again…)

Not true.  This is about gadgets!

Well, it’s partly about gadgets.  OK, it’s about one gadget, but it’s pretty neat.  The gadget in question is a pedometer. (Oh, is that all? [yawn] click…)

Ahem.  I got all interested because A) I now had to walk (or bike) everywhere and B) I was keen to get fit for football.  It’s funny how righteous you can be when you don’t have any choice.  I’m now some sort of evangelical exercise advocate amongst my colleagues and friends as if I’ve always jogged up and down hills and cycled 20km per day.

So I’m a bit of a fraud, but hey, at least I’m being active.

I had seen pedometers of course and like most of us was mystified as to how it could actually work (I mean, how can it tell I’m walking and not lifting my legs on the spot?) well the answer is: it doesn’t because the effect on your body is almost the same.  Movement of any kind, even gentle movement is beneficial to the body and your general health.  The more the merrier though.  I had heard about this 10,000 steps business through various people and wondered what it was all about.  All I knew was that 10,000 steps was apparently a minimum target for maintaining good health and wellbeing.  But where did this come from?  Why the magic number?  Was this pedometer company marketing propaganda?  Nobody seemed to know the specifics.  But more on that later…

I needed to find out and the first thing I did was to get myself a pedometer.  Ah.

Well, I was fascinated.  I thought I must have been pretty close to doing 10,000 with the walks up and down the hill to the bus stop and then maybe throw in a stroll at lunchtime etc. etc.  Just how far was I walking every day?  One person did warn me that ten thou was a lot harder to achieve than you think – it’s a lot of steps.  Well, we’ll see – and so I got myself a new best friend.

Typically me, if I was going to buy one of these things I had to look at every possible option, work out the value and get to know the very best quality models blah blah blah.  Endless browsing on Trade Me ensued.  In the end just as I was to buy the very best (and most expensive) pedometer I could find (it measured heart rate, blood sugar, IQ, translated languages, calculated stock trends and did your homework for you) I had a sudden attack of common sense and bought the smallest half decent one I could find – it had occured to me that the lumpy, bulky, heavily-featured models would potentially be awkward and uncomfortable to wear all day – and I wanted to calculate every step I took including around the office and up and down the stairs.  I found one that was the size of a credit card and about 5mm thick.  It slipped right into my pocket and away we go.

First thing you have to do is set the pedometer for your own normal walking stride (or the stride you want measured – so if it’s for running you set it to your running stride) by counting your steps over precisely 10 metres.  This is just so the pedometer can calculate the distance you’re walking.  However the beauty of  ‘steps’ and therefore the beauty of the 10,000 steps campaign is that for each individual a step is a step is a step – it’s not about the distance, it’s about the movement.

Righto. Flushed with anticipation and righteousness I set out for work with my not-so-flexible friend.  Resisting the temptation to check it every 20 steps or so I arrived at the bus stop on Norwich Quay and duly checked my account so far – 1136 steps.  Oh dear.  That was a major chunk of my walking for the day, on a normal day.  I saw the magic 10,000 receding and waving into the distance over the hills and far away.

Resolving to ‘score’ as many steps as my little competitive virgo brain could conceive without actually exerting myself more than I had to, I considered reverse pick-pocketing one of Lyttelton’s many harrier hill runners as they trotted past like burnished leather mountain goats.  But no.  I just needed to know what a typical day looked like so I had a baseline to work on. Ho hum.  Everyone harbours secret ideas of their own super-ability – no-one likes being exposed for the average person they really are.  A few masochists blog about it.

Wearing the pedometer every day from as soon as I was dressed until I undressed at night, I measured the amount of movement I did in a typical and not-so-typical day. (oooo – tell us tell us!)

On average, a ‘good’ day for me, in and out of the office (but one that didn’t include football or cycling) could see me making somewhere between 6-7000 steps.

A ‘not-so-good’ day (one without extra activity and where I didn’t get to walk at lunchtime) where I was mostly desk-bound might see me do as little as 5500 steps.  (Hey 10,000 steps, wait up!! huff puff…)

According to the 10,000 steps campaign, a general assessment of levels of activity – between 5000 – 7000 steps is considered ‘low active’.  Anything less than 5000 is considered ‘sedentary’.  Oh dear indeed…

I will post shortly on the references for this information and the 10,000 steps campaign which originated in Australia I discovered.  Of course it did, that land of tanned and buff beach bunnies right?

Wrong.  Latest World Health Organisation statistics on prevalence of obesity peg Australia at 12th out of 192 nations for the prevalence of obesity in the population of males aged 15+ – about 75.7% of that population is considered overweight.  The female population is acquitting itself quite a bit better ranking Australia at 41st with 66.5% of that population considered overweight.  Perhaps that’s where their good reputation comes from…

And for all you kiwis feeling a little smug right now: here’s a little pin to pop your bubble…

New Zealand is right behind our ‘bigger’ cousins with females aged 15+ seeing NZ ranked 17th for overweight or obesity (74.2% of that population) and 14th for males aged 15+ with about 73.9% of the population considered overweight or obese.  (And our National government is concerned with ‘closing the gap with Australia’.  No thanks).

Elizabeth began to take an interest in my little step obsession.

“I wonder how many steps I do every day?  Especially those days when I take the Bobbin to Busy C’s – there and back twice in a day.”  Busy C’s is across the other side of Lyttelton and up quite a steep hill.

“Well, 10,000 steps is quite a lot to achieve in one day” I said sagely.

“Still I’d like to know how I’m doing.”

“Of course you do, dear.” So I gave her the pedometer.  How’d she do?  Well, you can see for yourself:

My new best friend and I aren’t talking at the moment.

Biggest threat to Big Oil? The Kids these days just aren’t that into you…

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while.  Borrowed the title above from an intriguing post over on Carfree USA which references an article on that bastion of environmentalism the Advertising Age.

It seems that in the US, less and less young people are driving cars.  At least that’s the inference drawn from the statistics of driver licensing there.  If you can assume that doesn’t mean more and more young people are driving illegally, it’s really rather interesting. The Ad Age posits a variety of theories for why this is from various industry big wigs including the competition brought by the digital age vying for the teen dollar i.e. ‘should I buy the latest ipod or that big ol’ chevy to take Peggy-Sue to the drive-in for to get ‘er in the back seat h’yuk yuk‘.  And my personal favourite: ‘blaming the environment’, yes that ol’ chestnut, the pesky, interfering environment ruining our swell oil-swilling (spilling?) party.

Whatever it is, it’s heartening.  I’m not big on prohibition of any kind, I don’t want to ‘ban’ cars.  I just like the idea of people using them less.  Just like I don’t want to ban McDonalds, I’d just love to see them go out of business because the kids stopped going there.

Because it’s short I’m re-posting the whole post from Carfree USA (thanks guys!) here:

Certainly it’s hard to believe for anyone stuck in traffic on the way to O’Hare airport in Chicago, a bridge or tunnel into Manhattan, any freeway in Los Angeles, or the newly repaved four-lane highway to a suburban Walmart. But look around, and the people in the other cars are likely to be in their 40s or older.

In 1978, nearly half of 16-year-olds and three-quarters of 17-year-olds in the U.S. had their driver’s licenses, according to Department of Transportation data. By 2008, the most recent year data was available, only 31% of 16-year-olds and 49% of 17-year-olds had licenses, with the decline accelerating rapidly since 1998. Of course, many states have raised the minimum age for driver’s licenses or tightened restrictions; still, the downward trend holds true for 18- and 19-year-olds as well (see chart) and those in their 20s.

Here’s the link to the source article on the Advertising Age.

By the way, it’s been ten weeks and we’re surviving!

Although I am an ignoramus

… who knows nothing about cars, when I read the slip from the mechanic, listing the things that needed to be fixed for the car to pass her WOF, even I could tell that we were looking at a Significant Amount of Money.

Now our car is an old bird, but when we bought her four years ago, she was the mythical unicorn of the used car trade, one careful lady owner, garaged for years, impeccably cared for with an up to date maintenance log, under 100,000 kms on her clock, putty coloured, hand-knitted blanket on the back seat, all that and the seller only wanted $600 for her. She was the most bargain-like of bargains. I’ve never admitted this to Ciaran, but my winter boots that year cost more than the car did. Still, in all fairness, the boots are still going and the car is not.

So she’s been a sweetheart, comfortable and economical to run, and reasonable to maintain, until now. I believe the old dear has caught a bad case of crap-out-itis, an inevitable condition of her advanced years. Ciaran is an optimistic soul; I tend more towards the negative interpretation of the facts, so holding the WOF slip in my hand I was thinking, “this is the beginning of the end for the old girl, even if we fix up these things and keep her legal, who’s to say that six months later, there won’t be a whole other raft of problems to contend with?” Sure enough, when Ciaran called the mechanic the next day to ask for his advice, he concurred that he didn’t think it was worth doing the work on the car.

It was time for a new car. We gritted our teeth, leapt on our trusty steed Trade Me (think eBay if you’re outside of NZ) and galloped off into the murky depths of the used car section. We’d talked about buying a Toyota Prius for our next car, but we’d talked about this in a nebulous, four or five years down the track kinda way, and hadn’t yet started saving for it. It quickly became apparent that even the cheaper, older models of Prius were beyond our current resources.

So then we asked ourselves how much we wanted to spend. We counted our pennies. Just a week ago, we got back from a five week trip to Scotland. We are officially not very solvent. We did some sums. The results were depressing. It wasn’t going to buy us a lot of car. Maybe half a 1970s Toyota Starlet.

We considered loans, both from established financial institutions, which makes no sense financially, as any fool knows, and from the Imperial Bank of Kind Relations, which we are both a bit uncomfortable with, even though we are blessed to be surrounded by these kind and generous folk.

Eventually, we came to the conclusion that through a combination of the paltry funds we did have, a small, short term loan from Nice People and a bit of nefarious black market activity, we could probably scrape together $2,000. Back to Trade Me. It was about this point in the evening’s proceedings that I lost the will to live, got grumpy and went off to eat chocolate cake.

I can’t actually remember which of us came up with the truly radical idea that maybe we could consider living without a car for a while.

A quick note here; obviously we are both well aware that living without a car is not actually a fate worse than death, that several squillion of the world’s inhabitants do not have a 4WD parked in their garage, and that it’s only spoilt bastards like us in the decadent West that get so dependent on the automobile that the prospects of living without one causes us to gasp, and pale and beat our breasts. This, when you think about it, is as good a reason as any of the other many good reasons to get rid of your wheels.

But to put this tale briefly in its local context, we live in New Zealand, which has a population of just over 4.3 million people* and over 4 million vehicles registered for use on New Zealand roads**. Recent statistical studies quibble over whether NZ has the 2nd or 3rd highest per capita car ownership figures in the world. Either way, those figures paint a picture of a country that is deeply reliant on the car. We plan to explore the reasons for this here over the next months, so I won’t expand on this point here and now, other than to note that we’re planning to do something which is culturally unusual here.

*Statistics New Zealand, Tatauranga Aotearoa

**NZ Transport Agency, Waka Kotahi. This includes all types of vehicles registered for use on the roads in NZ.