Walking & Cycling

Most often we speak of pedestrians and bicyclists separately, but more and more their commonality is emphasized in the term “Bi-Ped” — the self-powered person. Long neglected, they are gaining respect. Planning for them has become central to the planning for the SMART rail system, and increasingly routine in the retrofitting of roads and highways originally designed for motor vehicles.

Saving time and losing space
A number of writers have explored the effect of motorization and increased travel speed on culture, nature, and equity, and the associated denigration of self propulsion. In his book, Transport for a Sustainable Future, John Whitelegg has a chapter on “time pollution”, containing a discourse on “the conquest of distance by the destruction of time”. Whitelegg points out that the acquisition of higher speed comes at the increasing destruction of useful space, because higher speed facilities create a safety conflict with low speed travelers, which must somehow be addressed: longer lengths between people for the safety of the users, and wider rights of way for devices to protect the bystanders, slower travelers and others that may wish to cross the facility or travel with its traffic.

The saving of time, which has been used extensively to justify construction of road projects, is an illusion, because in large measure the gain of time is traded by the individual to travel greater distances. Although this may in the short run produce some satisfaction for the individual, it leads to a scattering of many of the most important travel destinations as land uses gradually change. The scattering initially handicaps the Bi-Ped, and eventually erases any advantage attained by motorized travelers. In Sonoma County this process gradually engulfs the natural landscape that is one of its primary attractions.

Road justifying calculations of time saving are based on time saving for the motorist, and neglect the considerable time losses of others. Increases in speed almost always steal time from the non-motorist, and the inducement to travel more even results in one motorist making the other motorists worse off.

In his thirty years of studies of how people use space and time, Torsten Hagerstrand concluded that it is the ability to make contact with people that determines the success of a transport system or location. Access is what we really value, but the transportation system has been giving us mobility. Not mobility for all. Mobility in proportion to wealth, and reduced access for almost all.

Social speed
Whitelegg discusses the concept of “average social speed”, which is the distance covered by an individual in a year, divided by the accumulated time requirements of the specific mode of travel. In addition to the time actually spent in travel, other time requirements include things such as taking the car to the shop, time spent earning the money to pay for the car, insurance, repairs, etc. In other words, all of the time that wouldn’t be needed in the absence of travel by that mode. He credits Ivan Illich for the underlying idea, and a German author D. Siefried for the calculations comparing bicycle at 15 kph, car at 40 kph and car at 60 kph. When external costs are included, the average social speeds for these three examples are 14, 13 and 18 kph, respectively.

Health effects
Of late, the goals of the public health community and the Bi-Ped community have converged in promotions to increase walking and cycling. In a recent paper, “Promoting Safe Walking and Cycling to Improve Public Health: Lessons from the Netherlands and Germany”, John Pucher and Lewis Dijkstra examined the public health consequences of unsafe and inconvenient walking and bicycling conditions in American cities and suggested improvements based on successful policies in The Netherlands and Germany.

They found that, whereas walking and cycling account for less than a tenth of all urban trips in American cities, they account for a third of all trips in Germany and for half of trips in The Netherlands. American pedestrians and cyclists are much more likely to get killed than Dutch and German pedestrians and cyclists, both on a per-trip and per-km basis. They are also far more likely to be injured.

On the basis of Dutch and German experience, they proposed a wide range of measures to improve the safety of walking and cycling in American cities, both to reduce fatalities and injuries and to encourage more walking and cycling, thus providing much needed physical exercise for increasingly overweight Americans.

Safety in numbers
Another recent paper from the public health field answers the question of whether the public health goal of more walking and bicycling conflicts with another public health goal, reducing injuries. According to research by Peter L. Jacobsen, there isn’t a conflict, because as more people cycle and walk, the rate of injuries per participant goes down.

Motivations for change
In a paper presented early this year at the International Pedestrian Conference, Daniel Sauter builds on the platform constructed by Whitelegg for a discussion of a course of action which could overcome the obstacles facing the pedestrian.He would anchor the actions on three basic desires that people have – longings for freedom, for time and for dignity. These would be addressed respectively by encouraging accessibility for pedestrians, reversing the hierarchies in transport policies and acknowledgment of walking as a human right.