Tuesday 18 June 2013

2 important lessons I learned from the Dutch Cycle Brunch.

The Dutch Cycle Brunch was very interesting and I learned 2 very significant lessons taking to the guys from Artgineering that I think are well worth sharing.

Lesson 1: Context.

I am extremely frustrated at the lack of basic quality of the cycling infrastructure in Vienna.  I have zero professional or education experience or interest in urban traffic planning but I realize that there are some fundamental problems with cycling infrastructure in Vienna that are being ignored deliberately. In The Netherlands they have gone through the process of developing solutions that actually work. I am very pleased that I am not the only one that sees the real issues clearly but at times it seams like no one in Vienna agrees with me and if they do they believe the solutions are not remotely politically realistic.

From my understanding Artgineering are trying to make better urban spaces that incorporate the bicycle as a modern form of mobility.  The technical issues are of no interest because they are known and clear.  What is often missing in infrastructure projects is attention to the spacial / social / experience  and other basic architectural factors.

When I meet Stefan it quickly became clear that we were not understanding each other at all.  He had no interest in the technical detail planning of cycle paths and I had no interest in the cultural or historical reliance of a space.  I just want to know how the hell normal people on bikes could get from this side of the junction to the other side without having a fight or an accident.  He wanted to know why would they want to go there anyway....  There was a definite clash of 2 worlds and totally different contexts.

So lesson 1 is know the context. The Dutch Consultants that come to Vienna and see strange behavior and interesting bike culture should realize that is because the cycling infrastructure is basically crap.  Cycle advocates that talk to Dutch consultants should realize that they really have no idea that there could be even a discussion about whether people want to cycling in the middle of a busy main road.

I am really grateful that Stefan took the time to talk me out of my frustration into trying to look at the bigger picture.  When he gave his presentation the light bulb went on and I understood lesson 2.

Lesson 2: Do not build the bike infrastructure purely in the image of a space efficient car.

In Stefan's presentation he showed an artists impression of a state of the art high speed cycle super highway that really was a super highway.  There was no possibility for cars or pedestrians to get in the way and there was no way you could be slowed. It had entry and and exit lanes and ramps.  I presume on busy sections you would have multiple lanes and maybe a barrier in the middle just like a car motorway.  I saw the artist impression and thought yes that is exactly what we need to reduce the conflict and make the bike network clear consistent and efficient.

However then the light bulb went on and I thought why the hell would I would to actually use the superhighway to cycle on and be disconnected from the world like I am in my car. Why not just get in the car and drive like all the other Zombies?

For the Dutch the technical understanding is known and it is easy for them to implement great quality mobility in urban spaces.  Their congested cities have invested in the bike and they use the CROW Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic as a guide.  If they really want to go one step better and make really great cities and Urban spaces then they need to look at the architecture and experience of traveling in the space.  This is cycling infrastructure the next steps and it seams that Artgineering at least are trying to get the Dutch to develop new ideas along these lines.

There is a world of difference between the Dutch standard technical level and the rest of the world.  There is such a divide that it is really hard to understand them. If Dutch consultants want to work in places like Vienna they need to go back 40 years with their level of discussion and try to press it forward fast.  If advocates, politicians or planners deal with Dutch consultants they have to realize that it takes time to understand.

Vehicular cyclists have failed miserably to integrate cylcing on the roads. The Dutch have used traffic engineering and developed good quality technical design to make cycling main stream.  The dammage that  Vechicular Cyling advocates still do needs to be eliminated and the Dutch model understood and implemented properly if cycling is to become main stream and cities are to benefit from it.  However we "Go Dutch"  advocates need to be careful that (if people ever actually listen to us) we do not use our understanding of quality car infrastructure to advocate building the same rubbish car experience on a  bike.  This is all very complicated and difficult to get right but I think we have to try.

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