reading the Evening Standard: some notes on transportation

So I finished the last book I had with me a few days prior, leaving me with not much to do for my flight back from Europe. I managed to find a copy of the Evening Standard, a London paper, which I think was free at the airport. Reading through some of the articles led me to want to blog a couple of things.

Page 4 (this is the July 8 issue) has two big articles on car transportation. One on London’s congestion charges, and another on how tons of people are signing up for car clubs. I wasn’t familiar with that term, but it is what I have known as carsharing, what companies like Zipcar do, and I’m a big fan of them. I was happily surprised to see just how fast people were joining up for City Car Club and Streetcar. I don’t know the stats, but these UK companies see far ahead in usage compared to those in North America.

Getting to page 12, I felt like the UK is sooo far ahead. Here we talk might talking about moving from driving to biking (well, I wish). In this article, Will Self talks about giving up biking in favour of walking. Now that’s where it’s at. Biking is great, but nothing really beats walking, overall. That page also includes another article on the congestion charge.

On page 26, there is an article about the Paris free cycle scheme, which has apparently lead to a 70% increase in cycle traffic (wow!) . The article title is actually about the increase in injuries and at least one death, yet they point out that the accident rate has declined by a fifth and that most accidents involve new riders. The way I see it, the program increases the number of bikers, so after it has been around for a while, the percentage of new bikers will go way down. I also think that this huge change in traffic patterns is the best way to do it. Some things evolve, but sometimes it is actually easier to have big changes happen all at once. If suddenly the number of bikers spikes way up, then drivers will be conscious of the change and consciously change their driving habits. The article also mentions that a certain number of bikes have been stolen or damaged; I hardly have time to do a comprehensive assessment (although someone must be doing one), but it seems to me that these must be minor costs compared to other savings and benefits from the scheme.

Speaking of biking, although I knew that the Europeans are way ahead of North Americans, it was very refreshing to see it in person. Of the countries I visited (mostly, but not all, eastern Europe), Germany was the most on top of things, with excellent dedicated bike lanes everywhere and tons of bike racks. It was great to see as many bikes as cars parked in front of restaurants.

Page 39 has an article (argh, can’t find a link to it) on why bicycle helmets should not be required by law. I always wear a helmet and chastise those who don’t, yet by the end of this article I was convinced. Apparently when helmets became required in Australia, the number of cyclists went down by a third, and the rate of accidents actually went up. Other statistics seem to support this as well. In general, I think that the fewer laws, the better. Beyond that, the points about bicycle usage, how riders with helmets tend to have more accidents, the low rate of accidents in general, convinced me. I will, of course, continue to wear a helmet myself, but am now firmly in favour of this not being required.

Regarding my comments on laws, more laws just make things more complicated, and often less flexible. Don’t make laws about internet privacy, make laws about privacy, and have them apply everywhere. In general, laws should be the last resort, ideally systems should be designed to make the preferred behaviour preferable to all parties.

I didn’t even mention the articles discussing safety on the rail network, comments on traffic, etc. This was presumably a random day’s newspaper. Transportation is a big issue.

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