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Making Transit Fun!

How to Entice Motorists from Their Cars (and onto their feet, a bike, or bus)

Darrin Nordahl

Washington | Covelo | London

Š 2012 Darrin Nordahl All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the publisher: Island Press, Suite 300, 1718 Connecticut Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20009 ISLAND PRESS is a trademark of the Center for Resource Economics.

I s l a n d Pr e s s E - s s e n t i a l s Pr o g r a m

Since 1984, Island Press has been working with innovative thinkers to stimulate, shape, and communicate essential ideas. As a nonprofit organization committed to advancing sustainability, we publish widely in the fields of ecosystem conservation and management, urban design and community development, energy, economics, environmental policy, and health. The Island Press E-ssentials Program is a series of electronic-only works that complement our book program. These timely examinations of important issues are intended to be readable in a couple of hours yet illuminate genuine complexity, and inspire readers to take action to foster a healthy planet.


Contents 1.

The Fun Theory


Seductive Transit


Extreme Makeover: Bus Edition


The Joy of Cycling


Walker’s Paradise

6. Door-to-Door 7.

Can We Afford Fun?

4. The Joy of Cycling I don’t ride my bike all over the place because it’s ecological or worthy. I mainly do it for the sense of freedom and exhilaration. —David Byrne

I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride it where I like. —Freddie Mercury

Cycling, by its very nature, is fun. That joy is first learned at childhood, when we discover that bicycling is perhaps the closest thing to flying. Never before have we traveled so fast using nothing but our own two legs for propulsion. The visceral thrill of speed, felt through the velocity of wind on our face, is an experience we 48

never forget. Even as parents, we insist our children learn to ride bikes, but not because we think someday bicycling will be useful for them to run errands in the city or get to work. We teach our kids to ride because we remember how joyful and liberating cycling can be. We remember how we soared on our bicycle, and we want our children to experience that same exhilaration of flight. Americans love cycling. But we ride our bikes for recreation on park green[1]

ways, nature trails, and waterfront paths. How do we get the majority of Americans, who already own bicycles and enjoy biking, to ride for urban transport? This is a different challenge than getting the majority of Americans to hop on the bus. Most people dislike riding buses but like riding bikes. The challenge is not to make the bicycle fun (because it already is), but to make bicycling for transportation fun. Even with scores of American cities happily designating bicycle routes with highly visible signs and lane markings, and a noticeable rise in urban biking interest, the percentage of bike commuters in the United States remains abysmal. Today, only 0.6 percent of American workers commute by bike. In Portland, Oregon, now considered the bicycling mecca of America, 5.8 percent of workers are bike commuters. Contrast that with Copenhagen, where a whopping 37 percent of [2]

people commute by bike, with a goal of 50 percent by 2015.


“Well, this is because of cultural differences,” you argue. “There is a meme of cycling and walking in Denmark—throughout Europe, really—that is just not prevalent here in America.” But Jan Gehl, a renowned Danish urban designer whose career has focused on improving cities for bicyclists and pedestrians, disagrees. Gehl notes that in the 1970s, Copenhagen was a car culture, similar to many U.S. cities. It wasn’t until Copenhagen invested in quality bicycle facilities that the culture of the Danes evolved from auto-centric to cycle-philic.


We in America recognize that cycling is great exercise and great fun, and many of us are interested in giving cycling for transportation a try. That is, we would be if it weren’t for those cars and trucks whizzing by. We have serious concerns about our personal safety when using the bike for transport. Even bicycle lanes do not provide enough assurance for many of those uncomfortable sharing the road with cars and trucks. It is our fear of biking on the street—a fear that can be overcome with the right bike facilities—that prevents most of us from commuting or running errands on a bicycle.


Figure 4.1: Graphic representing Portlanders’ attitudes toward urban cycling, as surveyed for the City’s Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030. The plan notes that “Interested but concerned residents would like to ride more, but are afraid because they do not feel safe near fast-moving traffic on busy streets, even when bike lanes exist.”

Robert Hurst, a veteran bicycle messenger, offers blunt perspectives of American biking in his book The Art of Cycling. Hurst asks, “Is cycling dangerous? Yes. Yes, it is. Deadly, no, but definitely dangerous.” Hurst admits such a statement is controversial, because any suggestion that cycling is dangerous “will scare noncyclists away from ever ditching their cars and trying a more healthy form of transport.” Hurst believes the primary goal of the cyclist should be to avoid injury. Other important goals—such as rediscovering the inherent joy of cycling—are dependent on safety. He argues cyclists need to practice vigilance: to always stay alert and to treat potential dangers as serious, all the time. “The vigilant cyclist does not trust green lights or stop signs or bike lanes painted on the street or any other artificial trappings of traffic engineering.” Hurst reminds us that in America, “Cycling is no stroll in the park.” But my question is, “How do we create environments so [5]


that urban biking is more akin to a stroll in the park?” The answer might lie in understanding what women want. A recent article in Scientific American noted that women are an “indicator species” for bike-friendly cities, principally because of their concerns for safety and practicality. Studies across disciplines as disparate as criminology and child-rearing have shown that women are more averse to risk than men. In the cycling arena, that risk aversion translates into increased demand for safe bike infrastructure as a prerequisite for riding. Women also do most of the child care and household shopping, which means these bike routes need to be organized around practical urban destinations to make a difference.


In the Netherlands and Germany, half of all urban cycling trips are made by women. Makes sense. After all, women comprise half the population. But in America, the gender split between urban cyclists is grossly lopsided: men outnumber women 3:1. Does this mean that American women are not as interested [7]

in bicycling as European women? No, because if you look at bicyclists on recreational bike paths, such as those in Central Park in New York City, the gender split is about even, as it should be. It is only on the streets, when cycling for transport, that we see the utter absence of females. A 2010 study of New York City’s cycling trends, headed by Dr. John Pucher, a professor at Rutgers University who has penned numerous papers and articles on urban cycling, found that 86 percent of NYC women have NEVER cycled for transport. What the study showed, however, is that as the number of trafficprotected and physically separated bicycle routes increased in the city, so did the number of female cyclists. Fully separated, bidirectional bike paths, like the Hud[8]

son River Greenway, is the type of facility where you will find the most women cyclists. Indeed, it is the type of bike facility where you will find the greatest diversity of cyclists, period: men and women, seniors and children. Greenways are fantastic outlets for Americans to exercise their love of cycling, and a fun way to explore the city. But they have limitations. For one, they require


far more space than on-street facilities. Greenways are great if they are conceived at the same time new neighborhoods are being built. But in the older, denser urban neighborhoods, where the streets are closely spaced and the parcels fully developed, securing the necessary real estate to retrofit a fully separated bike path is nearly impossible, not to mention prohibitively expensive. (One excellent exception is the Rails-to-Trails initiative, which utilizes abandoned railways to create new bike paths through cities.) Greenways are also multiuse recreational paths, meaning you find not only cyclists but dog-walkers, in-line skaters, moms with strollers, joggers, and a gaggle of kids running about. They are fantastic places to people watch and be part of your community, but because greenways attract crowds, they can be difficult for cyclists to navigate. And regrettably, greenways generally offer poor access to the innumerable goods, services, and civic institutions in the city, precisely because they are divorced from the street. While greenways are safe and fun, they may not be particularly useful for running errands. On the flip side, on-street bicycle infrastructure, marked by “Bike Route” or “Share the Road” signs, “sharrows,” or painted bike lanes provide fantastic ac[9]

cessibility for the cyclist, but offer no physical buffer against passing traffic. These facilities, while they remind motorists to be on the lookout for cyclists, do not give the cyclist a great sense of safety. On particularly busy streets, this sort of bicycle infrastructure is anything but fun; harried is more like it. Though there is no denying the good intention of erecting signs and painting lines to encourage bicycling, they are unfortunately ineffective in attracting the cautious cyclist, which represents the majority of Americans. But there is another type of bike facility—a hybrid of sorts, common in Europe but just now gaining a foothold in North America—that offers the cyclist great accessibility with peace of mind, even along the busiest of streets. That facility is known as the cycle track.

Strategy: Build a Network of Cycle Tracks Think of a cycle track as a cross between the best elements of a separated bicycle path (strong feelings of safety) and an on-street bicycle lane (great access to shops, eateries, the office and the like). Cycle tracks are essentially bicycle lanes that are


protected from vehicular traffic by some physical barrier. Those barriers can be parked cars, bike racks, bollards, curbs, concrete walls, planters, or trees. At intersections, where the barriers obviously cannot continue through, special lane markings, usually painted in bright colors, alert turning motorists of oncoming bikes. The traffic signals also offer protection to cyclists by giving them a green light a few seconds ahead of motorists. In short, cycle tracks provide the cyclist with an exclusive space to bike, distinct from the pedestrian sidewalk and the street, making cycling a much easier—and more enjoyable—experience.

Figure 4.2: A simple cycle track in Vancouver. A raised curb offers cyclists better separation and protection from passing cars.

If you travel to a few of the bicycle-friendliest cities in Europe (e.g., Berlin, Copenhagen, Malmö, and Amsterdam), you will find cycle tracks aplenty. Indeed, it is because of the extensive network of cycle tracks that these cities are so bike friendly. Noted New Urbanist Philip Langdon observes:


One of the reasons biking is so much safer in the Netherlands and Denmark is that the principal bicycle facilities in those two countries are cycle tracks—bike paths physically separated from motor vehicle traffic. . . . The 18,000 miles of cycle tracks in the Netherlands help to explain why 27 percent of Dutch trips are made on bicycles. (In that country, 55 percent of bike trips are made by women.) Dr. Pucher agrees. “I do indeed think that physically separate facilities are important to get a wider range of folks to bike, especially seniors, children, women, and ME, since I am quite risk averse and do not like cycling in heavy traffic.”


Until recently, the debate over whether cycle tracks actually attracted more cyclists was speculative. Enter Dr. Anne Lusk, a research fellow at Harvard’s School of Public Health. In a report published in the journal Injury Prevention, Dr. Lusk found that cycle tracks attracted 2.5 times as many cyclists as comparable onstreet bike routes, and reduced the risk of injury by 28 percent. Dr. Lusk also [11]

found that with the added safety of cycle tracks came delight. She notes that in the Netherlands, cycling is strongly associated with joy, compared to other forms of transportation. Besides the inherent pleasure of riding a bike, Dr. Lusk believes cycle tracks are fun because people can safely bike side-by-side, conversing as they pedal. Having the opportunity to bike through the bustling city, but feeling [12]

as safe as if you are strolling in the park, is what gives cycle tracks great appeal. On this side of the Atlantic, Montreal has long been a cycling leader, principally because of its hundreds of miles of these dedicated, protected bike lanes. Now, other North American cities bent on getting people on bikes in the street are giving cycle tracks a serious look. New York City is gaining international attention as a bicycle-progressive city, largely because of its commitment to cycle tracks. Since 2006, the city’s Department of Transportation has installed over 250 miles of bike lanes, some of that in cycle track. As more infrastructure is being planned in New York City, cycle tracks are considered first above any other bicycle facility. On the west coast, Eugene, Oregon, employed cycle tracks over fifteen years ago; Seattle is now considering constructing cycle tracks for a few of its streets;


and Vancouver has recently installed cycles tracks on Dunsmuir and Hornby Streets as part of a two-year experiment. I had the pleasure to visit Vancouver in the spring of 2011, shortly after the cycle tracks were installed. I biked through Chinatown, Gastown, Yaletown, and Downtown, usually on signed bicycle routes and painted bicycle lanes. But it was only along the cycle tracks that I felt as safe as I did on the recreational path around Stanley Park. Not everyone is enamored with cycle tracks, however. In order to get the space necessary for an appropriate-width cycle track (a minimum of ten feet, but twelve is better), plus space for the physical barrier, something has to go. Usually, that means a travel lane, resulting in what transportation planners call a “road diet.” As you can imagine, removing travel lanes is incomprehensible to the average motorist, who believes this will only increase traffic on what is often perceived as already congested streets. But the results in New York City have proved otherwise. Even amid loud complaints from motorists (and even lawsuits), New York City’s DOT continues to build cycle tracks, because it knows the streets can handle the traffic, and that motorists have alternate routes, thanks to the city’s much lauded gridded street network. Along Prospect Park West, for example, a cycle track has replaced a lane of automobile traffic, without any additional congestion or travel delay. And motorist speeding, sidewalk bicycle riding, and injury crashes have dramatically declined.


While the benefits of cycle tracks are plenty, how they are constructed can have considerable sway in how they are perceived. In Vancouver, for example, merchants have criticized the cycle tracks’ aesthetics. It seems little effort was expended on the design, probably due to the experimental nature of the cycle tracks. Along some stretches of Dunsmuir Street, concrete Jersey barriers provide the physical protection between the travel lanes and bike paths—not quite the design detail that inspires. Along other stretches, large planter boxes provide a modest aesthetic improvement, though they look like an afterthought—a simple mitigation for the uncomely Jersey barriers.


Figure 4.3: Concrete Jersey walls provide a functional but ugly barrier between cyclists and motorists.


Figure 4.4: Planter boxes provide a more attractive barrier—though just barely.

The pinnacle of cycle track design might be found in a place hardly known for bicycling, but rather for its 200-mile-per-hour race cars. Indianapolis, a city ranked near the bottom of bicycle friendliness lists, is out to change its image as an auto-dependent community. Though cycling here lags far behind even other midwestern cities, Indianapolis is constructing bicycle infrastructure that has transportation planners and urban designers drooling. Their cycle tracks, overlaid on the city’s Cultural Trail, is an example of how striking and stately bicycling infrastructure can be: enriched paving with handsome pattern, lush landscaping, generous proportion, public art, smart-looking signage, and connectivity to the greatest cultural assets, goods, and services of Indianapolis. It is this diverse team of talented disciplines—engineers, landscape architects, urban designers, and artists—that have elevated the simple segregated bicycle lane into a true civic jewel. Indy’s cycle tracks will someday rival its racetracks in regard, I predict. They are truly something to behold, a lesson on the fine balance between functional utility and inspired beauty.


Figure 4.5: Perhaps the apogee of cycle track design: lush landscaping, enriched paving, and well-scaled storefronts provide a welcome atmosphere for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists in Indianapolis.

Cycle tracks provide the best enticement to bike in our urban centers. “Year by year the inhabitants of the city have been invited to bike more,” notes Jan Gehl, of his home city of Copenhagen. “The entire city is now served by an effective and convenient system of bike paths, separated by curbs from sidewalks and driving lanes. City intersections have bicycle crossings painted in blue and, together with special traffic lights for bicycles that turn green six seconds before cars are allowed to move forward, make it considerably safer to cycle around the city. In short a wholehearted invitation has been extended to cyclists, and the results are reflected clearly in its use.” The protected bike lanes that Gehl speaks of are the [14]

only on-street facilities that have real appeal to men, women, seniors, and perhaps most important, children. Only when we design bike facilities safe for a child will our childhood exuberance for bicycling return.


Strategy: Provide an Abundance of Hassle-Free Bike Parking Bike parking should be easy and worry-free. Nothing is more frustrating to the first-time cycling commuter, who finally decides, “Today will be the day I am going to try biking to work (or the grocery store),� than finding there is no place to lock up his or her beloved two-wheeled ride. For many, a bicycle is a big and proud investment. Leaving your bike somewhere where it is not readily seen or monitored can be nerve-wracking. People want assurance their bikes are safe. Bike parking should be as plentiful and convenient as car parking. Davis, California, long considered the best biking community in North America, provides a bike rack outside every storefront in the downtown. No need to walk half a block just to find a place to lock up your bike here. Even with all these bike racks along the sidewalk there is still plenty of room for other pedestrian niceties, such as street lighting, planters, trees, benches, and trash receptacles.

Figure 4.6: Modestly sized bicycle racks in downtown Davis, California, are placed outside every storefront.


But what if the sidewalk is too narrow to install a bunch of bike racks? Or there are certain businesses (such as a movie theater or a really popular café) that have huge parking needs? Consider a bike corral. Bike corrals are a type of off-sidewalk, on-street parking facility. Essentially, a parking space that was once devoted to an automobile is turned over to bicycles. Such a facility has become quite popular in Portland, Oregon, and at last count, there were about seventy bike corrals throughout the city. Bike corrals have many advantages. They free up clutter on the sidewalk and make bicycling more visible to the motoring community (which can help entice motorists to give cycling a try). But the primary advantage of a bike corral is parking efficiency. Ten bicycles easily fit in the space occupied by one car. For business owners, this is a huge boon. For every automobile space converted to a bike corral, there is a tenfold increase in customer parking. CycleHoop, a UK-based bike rack manufacturer, created a playful design for its bike corrals to drive home the parking efficiency disparity between cars and bicycles. Bright-colored bike racks, the size and shape of automobiles, instantly converts one parking stall into a corral for ten bikes. “Besides the functional purpose they serve cyclists, the car-shaped racks convey a serious message in a humorous way,” explains CycleHoop. The design, which was originally commissioned by the London Festival of Architecture, “also works to shield cyclists by creating a protective barrier between flowing traffic and the parked bicycles.”



Figure 4.7: Playful bike corrals drive home the message that bicycles take up far less space on our streets than cars. (Image courtesy of Designer Anthony from Cyclehoop /

Strategy: Have Fun with Bike Rack Design CycleHoop proves that bike parking doesn’t have to be boring. If done well and installed in large quantity, bike racks could be a defining feature of the streetscape. That’s the attitude New York City took with its bicycle racks. In 2008, the City’s Department of Transportation launched an international design competition. The challenge was to develop a functional yet distinctive design, creating the definitive New York City bicycle rack. The winning design was by a team from Copenhagen (go figure). The design is simple yet elegant: a brushed stainless steel wheel, looking like an oversized bicycle rim, with a simple horizontal bar embossed with “NYC.” The rack is sturdy, weatherproof, functional, and quite classy, for a piece of infrastructure.


Figure 4.8: The winning entry for NYC’s international bike rack design competition. (Image source: CityRacks Design Competition website)

Inspired by the City’s initiative, David Byrne, former front man for the Talking Heads, submitted a few bike rack designs of his own. Byrne’s designs are based on an iconic representation of the particular street on which they are located. So, an oversized dollar sign graces the north sidewalk of Wall Street; a big red highheeled shoe was placed on a stretch of 5th Avenue known as “Ladies’ Mile”; and an abstract, curvilinear form was placed outside MoMA.


Figure 4.9: “The Olde Times Square,” one of David Byrne’s unique bicycle rack designs. This one is located on 44th Street near 7th Avenue, near the heart of Times Square. (Image source: NYC DOT)

Byrne’s racks attract smiles from all walks of life, and his racks are frequent subjects of tourist cameras. One artist drew chalk shadows on the sidewalk at the base of the racks, giving them an added depth, and transforming the whimsical shapes into honest pieces of sculpture. A pair of New Yorkers even filmed a short “rack-umentary,” where they traveled to all nine of Byrne’s racks to showcase their form and appeal. Never before has a piece of transit infrastructure brought so much delight to people.

Strategy: Develop Fun Marketing Campaigns Aimed at the Reticent Cyclist Bicycle advocacy should encapsulate the joy of biking, and the most effective way to do this is if the medium and message are fun as well. “If the advocacy is going


to be boring, then forget about it,” writes Byrne, in his book Bicycle Diaries. Byrne believes that how the message is conveyed is just as important as the message itself. During one event in New York City, Byrne helped raise bicycle awareness by incorporating bike-related entertainment. Byrne wonders “whether civic engagement, improvement, discussion, and action can be successfully combined with art and entertainment—if culture, humor, and politics can mix, and if making our city a better place to live can be fun.”


In the college town of Columbia, Missouri, the bike messages do not incorporate the breadth of media as in Byrne’s event, but the message is no less provocative. A poster hangs on the outside of a bus shelter in the downtown. It depicts a simple yet captivating cartoon of a smiling boy on a bike, soaring through a cloud-dotted blue sky. Above the boy’s head a question is posed: “Remember what it was like to fly?”


Figure 4.10: This playful poster reminds Columbia, Missouri, residents of the childlike pleasures of biking. (Image courtesy of the City of Columbia, Missouri; created by VANGEL

The company behind the inspirational prose, delightful imagery, and the catchy brand name (GetAbout Columbia) is VANGEL. The goals of the campaign are modest, principally: How can we get residents of Columbia to try walking and biking? The hook is joy. As VANGEL’s website notes, “Bright colors and whimsical illustrations were designed to reach the widest possible audience, [and] convey a sense of active fun.” Various posters were created, all with captions that capitalize on the persuasive feelings of positive emotion: “When people ride bikes, they feel 65

happier and healthier,” or “A little fresh air can improve your mood.” But the campaign doesn’t strive to get people to completely ditch their cars. VANGEL knows how challenging it is to get around without a car in many communities, even in college towns. The company’s strategy begins with modesty: “Maybe it’s time to give your car the day off,” and “When you leave your car at home and walk just once a week, you reduce your carbon footprint.” Columbia’s bike campaign has evolved to include other outreach media, such as community newsletters and even television commercials. The commercials, which animate the familiar characters found in the posters, marries an uplifting message with an uncannily catchy jingle (complete with an addictive Andy Griffith–style whistling accompaniment). It’s a cheerfully silly tune that evokes that innocent, youthful pleasure of cycling. The commercials are the type of advocacy that doesn’t sound like advocacy, because it brings an easy smile. And it is precisely the evocation of this joyful childhood feeling that makes the message so effective.

Strategy: Implement Bike Sharing “I’m probably the only person riding a bike around town with a five-pound rack of lamb in my backpack,” says Sara Wilson, shifting her shoulders in discomfort, “and I don’t think I put it in there right.” Wilson is a member of Washington, [17]

D.C.’s new bike sharing program, an idea that has been successful in Europe and is now gaining popularity in North America. Toronto, Boston, Minneapolis, Denver, Chicago, and Montreal are a few other cities that have implemented bike sharing programs. But at the dawn of 2012, D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare is by far the largest in the country, with over 110 stations housing 1,100 bikes for the program’s 14,000 members. Though D.C.’s numbers are impressive, they are nothing compared to what New York City plans to unveil in the summer of 2012. To help fill the 250plus miles of bike lanes the city has constructed in recent years, NYC’s DOT will roll out 600 bike sharing stations, filled with 10,000 bicycles. It will be a shining example of an investment in bicycling infrastructure where an American city bests even the most cycle-friendly European communities. How is bike sharing fun? Well, it means commuters don’t have to stress over


their bikes or bike parking. “My favorite part is that I don’t have to worry about my bike getting stolen,” notes one user of D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare. And parking [18]

is hassle-free, as bike stations are ubiquitous. And with the development of cycle share apps, smart phone users can find out how many available bikes and parking slots are available at each docking station before they even arrive. But bike sharing is fun principally because it provides choice and convenience. Suppose you decide not to ride to work in the morning, maybe because it is raining. But come lunchtime, the clouds have parted, the sun is shining, and you and your coworkers want to try that new Thai bistro down the street with the outdoor patio. Why not grab a city bike and cycle down there? Or perhaps you don’t have an easy way to bike from your home to your office, but once there, cycling provides a great way to get to your daily meetings. Again, a bike sharing program can help. Bike shares also provide effective marketing. Seeing scores of brightly painted bikes pedaled down the street, or even parked en masse along the sidewalk, remind people of their transit choices. It is difficult to start something new without a bit of encouragement, and cycle share programs tell even the noncyclist, “Hey, you can do this.” Wilson admitted, “I’ve been scared of biking forever. Now my comfort level is creeping up. It’s an easy bike to ride. It handles the road well . . . and you can ride it wearing a business suit without any trouble.” As another user [19]

of Capital Bikeshare noted, “I kept seeing all of these red bikes zooming past me when I was walking to work, and it just sort of hit me on the head, ‘Why haven’t I signed up for Bikeshare yet?’”



Figure 4.11: Colorful bikes conspicuously placed—like these in downtown Minneapolis—are important to bike sharing programs, as they remind people of their transportation choices.

Strategy: Design Chic Bicycles and Cycle Wear Motate, according to Urban Dictionary—the popular Internet lexicon of subculture slang—means “to move from one place to another, with slickness and style.”


Style is an important consideration in every choice we make—be it fashion, electronics, or furniture—and there is a growing, global attitude that style even affects our choice in urban mobility. We don’t want to simply move from one place to another quickly and conveniently; we want to do so chicly. It is hard to motate on a beefy mountain bike while donning a bike helmet and spandex shorts—especially if you are female. The inability to move with slickness and style on a bike is one thing that is keeping women in Darlington, England, from cycling. “Cycling in Darlington was seen to be something done only by sweaty blokes in Lycra,” reports Cycling Mobility, a new international bicycle journal. Not only that, but most bicycles there are thick-tubed mountain bikes, which “are overwhelmingly masculine, even in pink paint.” What is missing in this fashion-forward town are the chic female cyclists in smart attire, pedaling cute “sit-up-and-beg Dutch bicycles, with coat protectors, chain guards, racks, hub gears, and lights powered by a dynamo.”


New York set out to prove that bicycles and haute couture can coexist. The theme of the city’s 2011 Fashion Week was Tour de Fashion, and organizers encouraged folks to borrow one of thirty designer-customized bicycles for the event. The event promoters touted that “each spiffed-up cruiser gaily reflects the personality of its modder: a rice-paper parasol and rear doggy basket for Lela Rose, an explosion of pink roses for Betsey Johnson, splatters of graffiti for Carlos Falchi.” Other designers were quick to catch on. Kate Spade, Missoni, and Ralph [23]

Lauren now offer designer label cycles for the couture conscious. But outside these few examples, bicycles and bike attire are seen by many as gauche. Without bikes and clothes that can reflect each person’s sense of style and individuality, cycling—like riding the bus—is often seen as transport for the hopelessly dowdy. Mia Birk, former bicycle program manager for the City of Portland, readily


admits that bike fashion is a deterrent to women cycling. Birk notes, “It’s an interesting paradox that the clothing revolution associated with the bicycle afforded women a quantum leap in basic freedom back in the 1880s. Today, the clothing associated with bicycling holds many women back.” In her engaging and insightful book Joyride, a personal account of Portland’s tumultuous journey to become the nation’s biking capital, Birk retells a conversation with the fashion editor for The Oregonian: “Mia,” she explains with a touch of disdain. “You are not going to convince me that lycra shorts are fashionable.” We’re at a somewhat swanky reception, and I’m sporting a flouncy, kneelength, linen black skirt and lacy pink chemise under a black/ white silk/wool cropped v-neck sweater with tiny pearl buttons. Caressing my feet are waterproof knee-high black suede boots. And yes, I did ride my bike to the event. “Heck no! I’m not even going to try!” In my world, fashion is about showing up at a meeting by bike, looking fabulous, without having to change a single thing. “Vivian, I’m with you: padded lycra shorts are not our friend. Not sexy. Not sassy. We look like we’re having a maxi-pad disaster.”


Women as well as men pooh-pooh biking for many reasons, but one is the cultural mandate in North America that they sit astride masculine racing bikes, wearing spandex shorts with yellow jerseys, pretending they are Lance Armstrong biking to the office or grocery store. Today’s urban cyclists want to arrive at their destination dressed to impress, ready to work, shop, or party. And this attitude has become quite prevalent around the world. Mikael Colville-Andersen, a Danish film director and journalist, began posting photos of Copenhagen’s cycling culture on his blog Cycle Chic. But it was one photo in particular, dubbed “The Photo That Launched A Million Bicycles,” that caught the eye of fashionistas by storm: a young woman, dressed smartly


in a black belted walker, wool plaid skirt, knee-high leather boots, and a stylish leather satchel, astride an equally stylish bicycle. Today, there are over fifty Cycle Chic sister websites across the globe, including (at the time of this writing) six in the United States. Each blog houses images reflecting the movement’s mantra of “Style over Speed.” And each blog is required to display the Cycle Chic manifesto, a list of tenets pledging to ride responsibly but with elegance and grace. Fashion and style—for both the rider and the bike—dominate the public declaration. “I will choose a bike that reflects my personality and style,” and “I will endeavor to ensure the total value of my clothes always exceeds that of my bike,” are two tenets that demonstrate how serious cycling fashion is for some. But it is perhaps the manifesto’s final tenet that is the most telling of this new fashion-forward cycling culture: “I will refrain from wearing and owning any form of cycle-wear.”


At least one major clothing label has answered the challenge to design cyclewear that’s chic. Levi’s rolled out a new line of jeans in the summer of 2011, dubbed “the Commuter.” These jeans, based on their superpopular 511 skinnyfit, are aimed squarely at the urban cyclist, sporting features such as a utility waistband that holds a U-lock, and a higher waistband to ensure against the everembarrassing crack attack when cyclists are hunched over the handlebars. The denim incorporates state-of-the-art fabric technology that repels grease and water, while offering antimicrobial protection against odor. The material also has a light stretch, providing additional comfort for those flexing quadriceps and deep knee bends. (Shhh! The stretch comes from blending in a wee bit of spandex.) The inside seams are sewn with reflective tape, so that when the cuffs are rolled up (as cyclists routinely do to prevent them from getting caught in the chain) motorists’ headlights illuminate the legs of the evening pedaler. These jeans, while providing comfort and utility, are also quite good looking, and may prompt those Cycle Chic groups to rethink that last declaration in their manifesto. While bicyclists and fashionistas spar over padded shorts versus skirts, and heels versus clip-in shoes, the one article of clothing that really riles folks is the headwear. Which brings us to another important strategy.


Strategy: Design Fashionable Helmets Another of the more common excuses people have for dismissing cycling as transportation—especially among women—is the requirement to wear a helmet. I know many women who refuse to wear a helmet because they feel they look goofy. Not only that, but helmets can ruin an otherwise perfect hair day. Some women eschew cycling altogether because of mandatory helmet laws. There is no doubt many feel helmets are terribly un-cool. Their design lacks the fashion flexibility of a smart accessory, like a handbag or a belt. Helmets should be just as stylish as the clothes we wear and the bikes we ride. If we want people to bike to their office, or cafés or clubs, bike helmets have to be fashion friendly. I asked Claudia Schulz, an extremely talented milliner in Vancouver, about the fashion potential for bike helmets. Claudia’s snug-fitting cloche designs are, in many ways, perfectly adaptable for fashionable female helmets. Her philosophy— to design “wearable, functional hats for every day use, with minimal accessories”—seems especially appropriate for better bike fashion.

Figure 4.12: Claudia Schulz’s simply adorned cloche hats could be great models for fashion-friendly bike helmets. (Images courtesy of Claudia Schulz

Claudia told me “women want to be more fashionable riding a bicycle with fashionable accessories, and I have to admit I’m one of them.” She notes that in


Berlin, where she is from, nobody wears helmets when cycling. “When I came to Canada ten years ago,” Claudia recalled, “I thought it was ridiculous to wear helmets. In fact, whenever I could get rid of the thing I did . . . I felt like a cone head wearing a helmet.” Claudia said she would love to see more consideration for bike fashion. In Berlin “women cycle in their dresses and business outfits, and it’s a pleasure to watch.” Claudia readily admits that cycling is much safer in Berlin, precisely because of the city’s extensive network of cycle tracks. Cyclists in Berlin, and throughout many European and Asian cities for that matter, feel completely comfortable forgoing the helmet. But if helmets continue to be required, as they are in many North American communities, Claudia agrees there should be better helmet design. “If women are fashion forward, they might want to see the functional, designed helmet, and there might be a market for it.” Until those fashionable helmets emerge, Claudia—like many other women who cycle—are stuck with headwear that does little to show off what could be a smart cycling ensemble. “Now,” Claudia laments, “I have to wear a helmet just to be a model to my son.”


Yves Béhar, the extremely provocative and talented industrial designer, has embraced the challenge of designing fashionable bicycle helmets. Béhar’s prototype is a modular design, consisting of a hard inner-shell with interchangeable outer skins. A woolen skin with earflaps can be used for winter, for example, or a lighter, porous skin for summer. The idea is that fashion designers can create various hip and chic helmet covers (similar to the popular smart phone covers) so that it is quite easy to complement your ensemble simply by choosing the appropriate skin. Different colors, materials, and styles of the outer fabric provide fashion flexibility, and the NYC branding gives distinction to the city. Though Béhar’s design is not nearly as stylish as Claudia Schulz’s cloche hats, they are a big step toward embracing fashion and its influence over a person’s choice to bike.

Figure 4.13: The NYC bike helmet, a fashion-flexible accessory designed by Yves Béhar and his crew at fuseproject. (Image courtesy of fuseproject) 72

While smarter looking helmets are a good idea, David Byrne believes they should be an interim step toward better integrated urban biking. Wearing helmets implies biking is dangerous, (which it is, Byrne concedes, in cities like New York and London). But in other cities like Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Berlin, and Reggio Emilia in Italy, the bike paths and lanes are so safe the riders don’t feel the need to protect themselves. Cyclists in these places—kids, young creative types, businesspeople, seniors—also tend to ride upright with an elegant bearing; they’re well dressed, and even sexy. It’s a different attitude than the New York City head-down-into-battle approach. . . . So, while we might need a cool, stylish helmet to be available right now, for everyone in a more perfect world it might be optional.


Even if biking in North America does become as commonplace as it is in Europe and Asia (and made safer with extensive networks of cycle tracks), many will continue to argue helmets should be worn. Sure, the helmet is a fashion faux pas, but it helps prevent serious brain trauma in case of an accident. “Helmets for bicyclists—like seatbelts for motorists—save lives and reduce taxpayer burden, and should therefore be mandatory,” so the argument goes. But bicycle helmet laws are an impediment to cycling, including bike-share programs. What’s great about bike sharing is the utter convenience: if you suddenly find yourself having to attend a 4:00 p.m. meeting in a congested downtown, biking may be the fastest travel option. Except people don’t carry helmets around wherever they go. And if helmets continue to deter would-be cyclists, those people lose all the health benefits of cycling, and may choose to engage in an even more dangerous activity, where the risk of serious injury or death is much greater: driving. This is the exact sentiment of the majority of doctors, according to a recent finding published in the British Medical Journal. Over two-thirds of doctors opposed compulsory helmet laws because, as one doctor argued, “The evidence that cycling helmets work to reduce injury is not conclusive. What has, however, been shown is


that laws that make wearing helmets compulsory decrease cycling activity. Cycling is a healthy activity and cyclists live longer on average than non-cyclists.”


Malmö, Sweden may have an answer that appeases both sides of the helmet debate. In this bike-friendly city across the Öresund Bridge from Copenhagen, a group of innovative product designers created the equivalent of a driver-side airbag for bicyclists. They devised a discreet yet stylish device that snaps around one’s neck, akin to a collar or scarf. A sensor inside the collar activates an airbag when it detects an unusually abrupt motion, such as when a cyclist is hit by a car or is violently hurled to the ground. The airbag, which completely engulfs the cranium, inflates in milliseconds. The designers also insist it is safer than a bicycle helmet. It may sound positively silly, but it is catching on. The cycling airbag allows the fashion-conscious to ride helmet-free, preserving stylish attire without guilt.

Strategy: Be Nice :-) Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: “As a driver I hate pedestrians, and as a pedestrian I hate drivers, but no matter what the mode of transportation, I always hate cyclists.” This spiteful admission is mostly humorous hyperbole, but like all great jokes, it is embedded with a grain of truth. There are many reasons pedestrians and motorists find bicyclists annoying (e.g., when cyclists blow through stop signs, pass pedestrians too quickly or too closely, or exhibit similar rude behavior). When Copenhageners were asked, “What would make you feel safer and persuade you to cycle more?” the overwhelming response among noncyclists was “Better cyclist manners.”


The survey then asked what could cyclists do to be less annoying, and Copenhageners cited behavioral improvements such as obeying red lights, using the bike bell and hand signals, keeping to the right, and “for heaven’s sake, stop talking on your cell phone.” The suggestions to be nicer and more courteous to your fellow citizens certainly go a long way toward happier, more joyful biking. Such rude behavior is prevalent in North America as well. To help improve cyclist manners, New York City launched a “Give Respect, Get Respect” campaign in 2003. The campaign was also multilingual, as much of the bicycle delivery workforce are


Spanish- and Chinese-speaking cyclists. But the question should be asked, why do cyclists exhibit such rude behavior in the first place? Even when cyclists are nice and respectable, why do motorists and pedestrians harbor such ill feelings toward them? I believe a large reason lies precisely with this lack of a clear, defined space for cyclists. Many motorists feel that cyclists don’t belong on the street, or else they take up an unreasonable amount of space in the travel lane. And most novice cyclists are afraid to bike on the street, so they bike on the sidewalk instead. This angers pedestrians (and rightfully so) because quick-moving bikes pose a serious collision risk with rambling children, or adults coming out of storefronts. Cyclists are the Rodney Dangerfields of transportation: they get no respect. They are not welcome in the street or on the sidewalk. Without a clear and respected place for cyclists to call their own, cycling can be an aggravating experience. And it is hard to be nice when no one likes you. I conclude with where I began: advocating for cycle tracks. “Walkers and bicyclists need their own space,” argues one member of a bicycle alliance group in Washington. This is where cycle tracks can help. They provide clearly demar[30]

cated space for cyclists, their own private Idaho separate from both the sidewalk and the street. In New York and Vancouver, biking on some sidewalks was rampant—that is, until cycle tracks were installed. Both cities have witnessed an 80 percent decrease in sidewalk cycling since their respective cycle tracks have been installed. Now, pedestrians and cyclists, it is observed, are nicer to one another. [31]

As long as everyone has his or her space, and that space is respected, we can all move about amicably. Skip to bottom of Endnotes.


1. According to the National Bicycle Dealers Association, 20 million bicycles were sold in the United States in 2010 alone! NBDA, “2010—The NBDA Statpak: A Look at the Bicycle Industry’s Vital Statistics,” (last accessed March 22, 2012).


2. John Pucher, Ralph Bueler, and Mark Seinen, “Bicycling renaissance in North America? An update and re-appraisal of cycling trends and policies,” Transportation Research Part A, Vol. 45, November 2011: 451–475. 3. City of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, City of Cyclists: Bicycle Account 2010. Copenhagen: The Technical and Environmental Administration, May 2011. 4. Jan Gehl, Cities for People (Washington DC: Island Press, 2010), 10. 5. Robert Hurst, The Art of Cycling: A Guide to Bicycling in 21st-Century America (Guilford, CT: Falcon Guides, 2007), 69–71. 6. Linda Baker, “How to Get More Bicyclists on the Road,” Scientific American, October 16, 2009, (last accessed March 22, 2012). 7. Pucher et al. 8. John Pucher, Lewis Thorwaldson, Ralph Buehler, and Nicholas Klein, “Cycling in New York: Innovative Policies at the Urban Frontier,” World Transport Policy and Practice, Vol. 16, summer 2010. 9. Sharrow is a contraction of “SHARed ROadWay.” Like “Share the Road” signs, sharrows are a type of shared lane marking; but rather than being on a sign, the graphics are applied directly to the surface of the street. The chevrons, or arrows, in the sharrow help position the cyclist, since these are usually placed on streets too narrow for cars to pass cyclists in the presence of oncoming traffic. 10. E-mail to author, August 8, 2011. 11. Anne C. Lusk et al., “Risk of injury for bicycling on cycle tracks versus in the street,” Injury Prevention (February 2010), abstract#aff-8 (last accessed January 13, 2012). Also see Adam Voiland, “Research Bolsters Case for Cycle Tracks While AASHTO Updates Guide,” (April 27, 2011), (last accessed March 22, 2012). 12. (last accessed March 22, 2012). 13. NYC DOT, (last accessed March 22, 2012). 14. Gehl, 11. 15. Itir Sonuparlak, “1 Car = 10 Bicycles,” TheCityFix, July 20, 2011, blog/1-car-10-bicycles/ (last accessed March 22, 2012). 16. David Byrne, Bicycle Diaries (New York: Viking, 2009), 262. 17. Ashley Halsey III, “Spring brings growth of regional public bicycle program Capital Bikeshare,” The Washington Post, April 23, 2011, local/commuting/spring-brings-growth-of-regional-bike-sharing-program/2011/04/21/ AFFd8EXE_story.html (last accessed March 22, 2012). 18. Clarence Eckerson Jr., “The Phenomenal Success of Capital Bikeshare,” Streetfilms. org, August 2, 2011, (last accessed March 22, 2012).


19. Halsey III. 20. Eckerson Jr. 21. Urban Dictionary, (last accessed March 22, 2012). 22. Cycling Mobility, “Bicycling belles: Why policy makers should look to fashion to improve urban mobility,” Cycling Mobility, Vol. 1 (March 2011): 68. 23. Ecouterre, “New York Fashion Week,” (last accessed March 22, 2012). 24. Mia Birk, Joyride: Pedaling Toward A Healthier Planet (Portland, OR: Cadence Press, 2010), 136–137. 25. From the Cycle Chic manifesto: (last accessed March 22, 2012). 26. All quotes from an e-mail to author, August 9, 2011. 27. Byrne, 264. 28. Raf Sanchez, “Bicycle helmets should not be compulsory, say doctors,” The Telegraph, August 30, 2011, (last accessed March 22, 2012). 29. City of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, City of Cyclists: Bicycle Account 2010 (Copenhagen: The Technical and Environmental Administration, May 2011). 30. Hugo Kugiya, “New York’s bike lanes put Seattle’s ‘sharrows’ to shame,”, August 23, 2010, (last accessed March 22, 2012). 31. Philip Langdon, “Despite critics, Vancouver will keep its cycle tracks,” New Urban News, August 15, 2011, (last accessed March 22, 2012).


Making Transit Fun:

How to Entice Motorists from Their Cars (and onto their feet, a bike, or bus)

By Darrin Nordahl Electronic short available from: Island Press | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Apple Praise for Making Transit Fun! “[Nordahl’s] potent new e-book, Making Transit Fun!, has all the enthusiasm for buses, trains, and bike lanes that its title’s exclamation point implies. Can transit incorporate art? Yes! How about playground equipment? You bet. Even … sex? Oh yeah, baby.” —Grist

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Darrin Nordahl is an urban designer who writes and speaks about food and public transportation. He has degrees in landscape architecture and urban design from the University of California. Darrin is the author of My Kind of Transit and Public Produce, both available from Island Press.

“Nordahl’s book is a reminder that transit has only lost when it aims low. We should always be looking for joy, even on the bus.” —The Atlantic Cities “It’s a quick two-hour read full of well-researched examples and compelling arguments on the power of fun to affect our transportation experience.” —Next American City “This book is very well written with plenty of examples (mostly from North America and Europe) and photos showing what he’s talking about. It’s divided into seven chapters with bouncy titles such as Seductive Transit, the Joy of Cycling, and Walker’s Paradise.” —Carbusters “...worth checking out in its entirety.” —Kaid Benfield at NRDC’s Switchboard blog