29 April 2010

Cycling and Walking and all that Jazz-Funk

I know that my legions of followers are probably wondering why I've been slacking on the posts lately, and the fact is that I've just been a slacker. Combined with other facts of life getting in the way of being able to sit down and create something reasonable that people might actually want to read. But I've had some things on my mind lately that I figured I would share.

First, bikes. A subject usually on my mind, especially when I am riding around on mine. Tom Vanderbilt and others often cite a study by the public health advocate Peter L. Jacobsen (link opens a pdf) which posits that the more pedestrians and cyclists on the streets, the more the rate of serious injuries declines. The theory is that when motorists are exposed to other users of the street more often they become more aware of them as a regular part of traffic. This explains why Manhattan, for example, has relatively few pedestrian fatalities even with a higher-than-average volume of pedestrians, or why Amsterdam has hardly any bicycle fatalities even though nobody wears helmets. Various subsequent studies seem to have reinforced this, and it's not too surprising to me. During my GIS internship at the Active Transportation Alliance last year, I made dozens of maps of the city plotting crashes between 2005 and 2008. Without strong data on the number of people cycling to draw from, I could only make some inferences based on the observation that more bikes were on the road each year, but the number of fatalities and serious injuries declined each year and I suspect that trend has continued.

Here in Chicago, just a short time into the mass-cycling season (I ride throughout most of the winter, but can understand why some folks wouldn't want to) I've been surprised not only by the number of bikes on the road, but by the people riding them. It's not just for pasty hipsters and dudes in spandex anymore! I mean, it never was, but there's a visible shift taking place. In my purely unscientific study of observing people on bikes in the neighborhoods that I am usually in, I have noticed a greater diversity of ethnicities, gender and ages on the streets. Often a problem for bicycle advocacy among immigrant and minority communities has been the assumption that riding a bike is for people who can't afford a car, that here in America people drive cars, and once you buy a car, you have arrived. The presence of more people of color and women on bikes is a very encouraging sign to me...but once transportation cycling finally goes mainstream, expect the hipsters to ditch their fixies in favor of SUVs.

Speaking of the Active Transportation Alliance, some kudos are in order. The Illinois State Senate passed a must-stop for pedestrians ordinance. I played a VERY small role in their efforts during last year's legislative session before the bill stalled, so I'm very glad to hear this news.

And finally, to round this post out and make it fit the random title I assigned it, some pedestrian-themed jazz-funk...

...and hey, some shameless self-promotion, why not? Man does not live by transportation planning and urban design alone. To hear some similar-type jams (though not this particular one, since I don't have the record), walk or bike down to Logan Square's Burlington Bar on Tuesday May 4, for the latest installment of my DJ night Listen Here!

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