Cycling Cities are also Walking Cities

This is more of a challenge than a detailed blog post.

I have visited many different types of city around the world – ancient cities, modern cities, dense ones, sprawling ones, people friendly cities and those which are dominated by cars.

I’ve also seen that a city can have a very high public transport usage rate, yet still be dominated by cars, or simply still have a very low cycling rate.

But the one type of city I have never found is one which caters well for cycling (let’s define that at 10% or above for commuter trips), but which is also awful for walking.

I’m not suggesting that cycling cities are perfect for walking – of couse nowhwere is perfect, but I would certainly suggest that if there are difficulties with walking, these will almost certainly be down to the way pedestrians interact with cars, rather than with bikes.

Again, large junctions which need to move lots of people through them are never going to be perfect for everyone. Adding a cycle phase to any lights means the overall number of phases goes up – even if the total waiting time can still come down as more people switch from driving to cycling or walking.

So the challenge is still there – I don’t think you can have a city that is really bad for walking, but which has a high cycling rate. If there is one, let’s hear about it, and let’s talk about what the problems are.

Why do cyclists wear lycra?

The truth is – it simply shouldn’t matter. If it works for them (or us), why should it bother you?

Some drivers wear lycra, or other silly clothes.

Some pedestrians, especially runners, wear lycra, or other silly clothes.

If this is still a problem for you, then we hope you can get over it.

Some cyclists wear “normal” clothes, because they are practical for the trips they are making. Others wear road cycling gear, some of which is made from lycra, because it’s practical for faster sports cycling. That’s really all there is to it!

It really really doesn’t matter what you wear. The same goes for safety gear, unless it’s actually proven to be beneficial, which car seat belts are.

All that matters when you are out and about is that you respect others and drive, walk or ride safely. If you can’t do this, please stay at home in your trackies, your pyjamas, or whatever else you want to wear at home. Nobody cares!

 

Is it Lego or Legos?

Well, for starters, this post is written using Dragon naturally speaking, which in theory will only use words (including proper nouns) which it considers to be correct in either British or American English.

Rightly or wrongly, as far as Dragon is concerned, Legos is a correct term, and of course it’s widely used across North America. Since Dragon will not accept popular mis-spellings, this makes Legos absolutely valid in terms of “common” usage. However, usage alone doesn’t make a term correct

If the plural is acceptable in American English, but it’s never used in British English, is the American English usage simply acceptable because American English often tends to be a lot more logical, and in this sense, if you can have one Lego, i.e. a single brick, then building any kind of structure out of 2 or more Lego bricks would indeed mean that you are using Legos, are you not?

Except of course that this question should be about British or American English usage, but about the usage of a product which might have British origins, but which is ultimately Danish. Lego is a contraction of a Danish phrase leg godt meaning “play well”.

Logically speaking, you cannot have “play wells” in the plural – the name quite logically implies that the act of playing has to involve multiple bricks, because a single brick wouldn’t be anything worth playing with.

The whole beauty of Lego is not so much that you might have a single much loved brick or toy to play with (for that, there are plenty of other toy or model manufacturers like Corgi or Dinky cars or Hornby trains), but that the process of playing or creating is constant and ongoing.

Therefore, even if as a British English speaker I might know perfectly well what an American English speaker means when they talk of Legos, it isn’t really a correct usage. Furthermore, it is actually relegating Lego to the same status as any other toy, and no fanatic can accept that!

Since @plasticplanners has been set up to use Lego in a creative fashion to educate immature adults, it is a distinction we think is worth making from time to time.

On the other hand, we really don’t need to get that beat up about this – if a pile of plastic bricks can be used to create anything, does it really matter if language is twisted around a bit and used slightly incorrectly? I don’t think it’s really all that important, but I would like to think that if I was actually writing this article on the other side of the pond, that I would still use the correct term Lego.

On a similar note, this account has been set up as the “plastic planners” – not “Lego transport” or anything similar, because this is an entirely unofficial fan website, and it’s got absolutely nothing to do with the Lego group, or any of their trademarks.

Why so much Focus on Cycling?

Why so much focus on cycling?

Is @plasticplanners really just a cycling blog?

No – but when it comes to matters of comparing transport modes, or looking at road safety, cycling is the focus of a lot of our memes.

This is mainly because cycling also provides a lot of other leverage towards making cities better for all users. For starters, measures which are often developed in the name of cycling will nearly always improve the environment for pedestrians. Whilst this is especially the case for measures to reduce speeds,  block out rat running and cut out through traffic, the addition of cycle lanes on major through roads also helps to create a buffer between the pavement (sidewalk) and the main roadway. Meanwhile, junction improvements to facilitate cycling will also improve crossing for pedestrians.

But what about cyclist v pedestrian conflict?

There has been a lot of attention on some of the new cycling developments in London, and in particular a focus on measures such as bus stop bypasses, which are often massively misunderstood by people who oppose their installation. One of the planned street scenes which will be coming soon will feature a before and after, and also a general comparison between having bus stop bypasses and not having them. This should show very clearly why well-planned measures to improve cycling benefit not just pedestrians, but also public transport users.

Does cycling harm public transport?

German studies have shown that when cycling rates go up, most of this uptake comes from people who were previously driving, and that although there is some shifting from public transport to cycling, there is also a similar shift from driving to public transport, or simply from driving to a combination of cycling and public transport.

Challenge us!

The plastic planners simply offer an open challenge for anyone to name us a city which has a high cycling rates (10% or above) and which either has very low walking rates, or very low public transport usage.

We simply aren’t aware of such a city anywhere in the world!

Are Transport Planners and Campaigners Anti-car?

Are Transport Planners and Campaigners Anti-car?

No!

Car-based planning policies are anti-car, and they have been for decades!

Any self-respecting transport planner will tell you something along the lines of:

“Cities which only plan for private car usage end up with traffic chaos and a road network which pleases nobody, whereas cities which plan for all types of transport please all types of transport users, including car drivers”.

Of course, this is a very simplistic generalisation. cities can enact measures solely designed to restrict car usage, without actually improving other means, or they can improve transit without necessarily restricting driving. This is especially the case if a city already has a substantial but under-used railway network.

The ideas shared by @plasticplanners are no different to the ideas which you will find from leading exponents of sustainable urban planning, whether they are architects or engineers themselves, whether they are councillors or council highways chiefs who “get it” as such, or whether they are simply advocates or advocacy organisations calling for cities which are fit for the humans who live in them.

The only difference here is that @plasticplanners uses Lego as a tool to express these ideas.

Anti-car is no doubt a theme which will run and run here. The reality is that anyone who expresses a view that goes against the current status quo can probably be labelled as “anti-car”.

To look at a country which has managed to please both motorists and non-motorists alike (because in reality most of the population is both), then it’s best to look at Dutch transport policy. Are the Dutch anti-car because they have such high cycling rates, and public transport is excellent? This really isn’t the case at the national level, but in some cities, notably in historic centres where space is at a premium, heavy restrictions have been placed on car usage. However, with parking still provided, if at the edge of these centres, or further out with park and ride, even the most restricted Dutch cities can’t really be called “anti-car”.

How much energy does it take to create 1kg of Lego?

Or more to the point – are we hypocritical for doing this?

Yes we are!

In order to have the flexibility to create a range of different scenes, the @plasticplanners use a home studio which basically has a single shelving unit full of Lego which takes up a whole wall on one side of the room, and comprises around 50,000 individual Lego bricks.

In total, these bricks weigh around 50 kg, and although I don’t know exactly how much energy is needed to produce each brick, it would be reasonable to assume that 1 kg of Lego requires a lot more than 1 kg of oil, but let’s say the ratio is 10 to 1 – then that would be in the region of 500 L.

I have tried looking up a precise figure, but I can’t find one. The Lego company are making efforts to go “oil (or petrochemical) free”, but there’s nothing on the exact usage.

This collection has taken several years to amass, and most of it has been bought second hand as 1 kg job lots on eBay, so I am effectively just reusing bricks that other people no longer need or want. Needless to say, there is still energy consumption from postage and packing.

Some older pieces date back to the 1960s, so they are over 50 years old.

I sell on any surplus bricks that aren’t going to be used in these scenes, because I only need Lego city / town type bricks.

It would be reasonable to estimate that my oil usage for @plasticplannersoperation is somewhere around 100 L per year.

In comparison, the average British car travels around 10,000 miles per year, with an average combined cycle fuel consumption at around 50 miles per gallon, consuming around 200 gallons or 1000 L.

So very roughly speaking, the plastic planners has an oil consumption that this would suggest is about 10% of running the average UK family car, or that is possibly the equivalent of one very short flight (e.g. London to Manchester) .

I would like to think that is a carbon footprint that is worth making in order to share ideas which already now have a global following and have been translated into over 20 different languages.

But of course, for most people this stuff is just a toy. Most household collections are probably closer to 10,000 bricks than 50. So let’s put it another way – how long does a litre or gallon of petrol last in your tank? You can burn a gallon of fuel in an hour of motorway driving in reasonable conditions. If that could also get you a small Lego set, even if it’s a Lego car or plane, then I think we can be sure it is going to last a lot longer than that.

There was no traffic light invention, only a motor light

The traffic light seems to have developed over a number of years, but the invention is perhaps best credited to policeman Lester Wire in Salt Lake City in 1912. He was the first person tocreate a “traffic light”, which controlled flows using a red and green signla device, as opposed to by semaphore.

But what if there was a world without traffic lights, or perhaps a town without them? This isn’t about implementing the faddish shared space ideology, but this is about looking at a simple practical way in which road networks could be built without space conflict between different user types.

As it happens, this town does indeed already exist. The “no traffic light town” was indeed invented in the early 1980s, and since then it has been extended to encompass a populuation of around 50,000 people. The town is Houten in the Netherlands, just to the south of Utrecht.

So how does a traffic light free town work – does it mean no cars at all? Far from it! houten is a two car family type of town, built to act as an overflow suburb, and built with an extensive ring road that provides fast access throughout the region. But the clever bit is that drivers can only access each zone from the edge of the figure of 8 ring road. Pedestrians and cyclists can go between any zone, and they can also cross the ring road by going over or under it, but they never have to go along it, nor do they have to cross it on the surface – hence no traffic lights!

So in areas where there is mixing between all the different road user types, it’s always low volumes of small vehicles driven at low speeds.

Where the cycle paths meet in the park, there are of course, no lights! They were never removed, they just weren’t installed in the first place! This isn’t a fad, the town has continued to grow, yet no such lights have been installed. Why would there be?

Scale this up further to any large city, and there are still no traffic lights on any pedestrian or cycle path anywhere in the world, if you take the motor traffic out of the equation. So there you go – there really is no such thing as a traffic light – only a motor light!

Always wear your sofa helmet!

This isn’t going to be a long post, just a few notes to go with the image – “always wear your sofa helmet”.

Why?

Because sitting still is very dangerous! You mean because the roof might fall in? No, that’s extremely unlikely – but sedentary lifestyles are one of the biggest threats facing industrialised society today.

Enough said – I need to get out myself!

 

 

Force of a vehicle Physics

These meme looks at the risks imposed on other road users by different types of movement, including walking, cycling and driving a heavy SUV (or Chelsea Tractor as they are more accurately known).

Working:

USER  MASS (KG)  SPEED (MPH)  KMH   M/S   1/2MV2   BRICKS 
PEDESTRIAN                80 4             6         2                      126                      1
CYCLIST              100 12           19         5                   1,422                    14
SUV           2,250 45           72       20              450,000              4,500

This is based on:

  • A pedestrian walking briskly at 4mph, weighing 80kg with any bags.
  • A cyclist at 12mph (typical urban speed), weighing 100kg with bike and equipment / bags.
  • A heavy SUV (eg Toyota Highlander Hybrid), weighing 2,000kg + 250kg for occupants and luggage.

Speeds are based on typical urban speeds on an arterial road, which might have a speed limit of 40 mph (UK typical), and where drivers will be typically exceeding that by around 5 mph.

A Lego 2×1 standard brick weighs just lessthan 1g (14 weigh 10g). The brick in the photo weighs 4.5kg. The comparisons are based on weight rather than volume. A comparison based on volume (ie using actual Lego bricks to make a “real” brick) would result in a much larger “brick” for the SUV.