86 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: How the Dutch Got Their Cycletracks”

  1. How many US cities have the three problems that caused the change in the Netherlands?

    Cities that can’t cope with traffic? Check.
    An intolerable number of traffic deaths? Big time.
    An economic crisis and an oil crisis? Yes and on the way.

    The solution was political will at a national and municipal level. Gotta work on that one.

    1. The hopeful part is the evolution of segregated bike infrastructure (or “Cyclepaths” as the narrow says…mmm…doesn’t sound quite right!)

      Basically, America’s current style of putting a bike lane in the midst of traffic, between parked cars and moving traffic is 1975 Holland. Now the vehicular mode is falling away from favor and we’re seeing more interest in Bicycle Boulevards along lower trafficked routes.

      We’re a lot less dense than Holland, for sure, so we might not even go the route of making every cyclepath parallel and autopath…we don’t have to.

      1. Sorry, but the notion that the USA is “less dense” is a misnomer. Might be correct if you look at the center of Amsterdam, but the typical Dutch city is actually less dense than the typical U.S. city. And if you must compare the two countries on a national basis, do us a favor and look only at the lower 48, and then please drop the states that no one lives in, like the Dakotas, Wyoming, and rural Montana.

        And yes, you are right that finally enough people have woken up to the fact that John Forrester’s “Vehicular Cycling” will never attract certain segments of the population which is why, after following his “leadership” mode has only a 1% share, unlike the 30-plus percentage share it has in Denmark and Holland.

      2. the typical Dutch city is actually less dense than the typical U.S. city.

        Wow…that’s something I never knew!

        I’d like to know more.

        Is that true of the other Model Cities that the urbists use as examples — Copenhagen!

        Now that you mention it, when I see these films of Holland there does seem to be:

        -Very low rise buildings…only a few that are 5 stories or more
        -Lots of free space around the cyclepaths (parks, green) and so on

        This might be a good challenge to the densifiers…!!

      3. Erik G may be incorrect, or it may have to do with municipal boundaries. In Australia metropolitan cities have control over the entire metropolitan area and expand when it expands. In Canada large-scale annexation still occurs, as when Toronto swallowed three suburbs a decade ago (or was it four?). In the US, cities have arbitrary geographical boundaries, and they don’t change when development marches out beyond them.

      4. Averages are misleading whenever you have a weird distribution. The way population is distributed geographically is a weird distribution; averages are not so useful unless you are very careful about what sort of average you computed.

        There is a very specific density measure which accurately measures both “amenability to fixed-route transit”, and “amenability to walking”, but I can’t remember what it’s called. The weighting computation for it is complicated.

  2. Thanks, Adam.

    I imagine that in the 1970’s, people in Holland were “in love with their cars” too. Worldwide, that always seems to happen when, relatively suddenly, the average person is able to buy a car for the first time.

    Good to see a reminder that in a wealthy democratic country, in the face of changed conditions the people can change their minds and then their national habits.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Mark’s comment really hits the biggest shock of my year studying/working abroad in Holland in a city with a nearly 50% bike mode share (and no fancy public transit beyond BRT and a central train station) — you see affluent, educated people who actually are acclimated to consciously evaluating the suitability of a trip to the transit modes available (bike, walk, bus, car) and making an optimal choice on a case-by-case basis for their family.

      Of course, it only works if you manage your cities such that ‘car’ doesn’t win 99% of the time, rendering the decision process moot.

      FWIW, back at the time I wrote up my thoughts at:

      1. PS – I should add that, those thoughts really were just reflective of my experiences in 2008.

        Today I have a lot of optimism for the near-term future of inclusive bicycling in American cities (and not just from seeing the positively electric energy at the first Capitol Hill Greenways event that Adam co-led!).

      2. Thanks for posting the link to your journal. I was struck by this passage: “Dutch infrastructure takes into account the human factors needs of cyclists throughout. Most of the common causes of motorist-cyclist injury by designing the risks out of the system. e.g. bicyclists have separate time slices and crossing signals at traffic intersections, so motorists aren’t even physically capable of cutting you off.”

        I thought that was very interesting and was curious if aspects of this are possible for Seattle? e.g. could we design signal systems that queue bicyclists and motorist? Could such a system have for example prevented the cyclist fatalities in the SLU or U-District last year?

      3. @Charles: The one in SLU occurred at Dexter and Thomas, which doesn’t have a traffic signal.

        I think there’s a potential, when separating pedestrians and cyclists from drivers in intersections, to force cyclists to wait at stop lights even more than we do today. Unfortunately our commutes are still long. Our cities aren’t sprawling on the backs of cyclists (nor on trains or buses). Before we do anything that slows cyclists down we need to slow down the car. That means removing freeways. If we slow down cyclists in the city and keep supporting sprawl with massive freeways, cycling doesn’t become safe, it becomes irrelevant.

      4. Well Al, at least you’re quite open and frank about your interests in promoting bicycling at the significant expense of cars. I have to say though it is not an effective political strategy and is one that may cause the Bicycling community significant political blow back.

        I think a better strategy is to:

        1) Accept that where bicycles share road infrastructure with other modes of transportation that they obey all existing rules of the road including STOPPING at stop lights, speed limits and yielding as appropriate. This creates good will with your fellow citizens and removes a possible political barrier to achieving your interests.

        2) Push for significant investment in separation of bicycle and pedestrian pathways from motorized pathways and queueing of different modes of transport at intersections where risk is high. I think the spectre of risk to pedestrians and bicyclists from accidents is sufficient justification for such an investment.

        3) Accept the idea that as a user of public roadway infrastructure and for the future of planned segregated pathway infrastructure, that local municipalities might consider a license scheme for bicycles. The potential benefits of this include: a registry that police can use for recovery of stolen bicycles – a rather significant problem it seems, some revenue to contribute towards cycle pathways, and goodwill with your fellow citizens.

        As for slowing down cars, the only way that will happen is the inevitable rise in the cost of gasoline which will cause human behavioral changes.

      5. @Charles: In the Netherlands, as in many other places, they actually have removed roadway space to create good cycling facilities. The Dutch people got out in the streets, protested auto-dominance, and reclaimed their cities.

        I need to ride my bike fast because my commute is stupidly long (I chose a place to live such that it would be short — then my job moved across Lake Washington right before I started work). My commute is stupidly long because our city is stupidly sprawled. Our city is stupidly sprawled because of auto-dominance.

        I know exactly what a policy of separate lights for cyclists would look like in the US, and that’s why I’m against it: it would be the same crappy door-zone bike lanes on the street, stopping at every single light to wait most of the cycle for a chance to go. A separation policy that didn’t make bikes second-class would have half a chance of working, but it would basically mean banning cars from turning except with arrows.

        Do what the Netherlands did, do what NYC is doing, and what Chicago is (maybe) doing. Do bike boulevards like Portland. Slowing down cars is part of what makes things work for bikes.

  3. I, too, like to frequently talk about the Dutch and their cycling, so people believe that the only thing from holding me back from becoming a regular bike rider is that we don’t have a safe network of bike paths. It makes me feel (and appear in the eyes of others) very progressive. It gives me green cred without actually having to walk the talk. Maybe I haven’t even ridden a bike in ten years, but if I mention the Dutch and their bikes in a conversation, I seem oh so hip.

    1. Meanwhile, in actual occurrences, last week I tried riding from my apartment in Auburn to the Safeway by Lake Meridian. Coming down a hill, I wiped out when I struck a brush pile on the road’s shoulder (one of several I encountered, by the way, left over from the January ice storm) that was beyond the scope of my 1-watt headlamp. I’m thankful I didn’t injure my face or land on the roadway, but the experience was enough to keep me from riding at night until I have some assurance that my bike lanes and shoulders are clear of debris. Our cities and counties have the roads cleared for automobile traffic within days of a snow event, but do they pay enough attention to bicycle infrastructure? No.

  4. And not one person in the video wearing a helmet! I wonder what the American media would have to say about this!

    I read BikeSnobNYC a lot and he is always irked by the fact that the media makes it a point to note whether or not a cyclist was wearing a helmet, even when it’s completely unrelated.

      1. Son, even riding a bike at 5 MPH nowhere near a car, if you fall and hit your head on the cement, you can die.

        These helmetless Dutch bike riders are stupid.

      2. @Sam

        … and if you fall and hit your head while walking down the street … or walking in a store … or getting out of your car … you can die!!

        Helmets for all, 24/7!

        Also giant inflatable rubber suits. Air-conditioned to avoid heat-stroke of course.

      3. The stupid, helmetless Dutch probably lose fewer lives transporting themselves than the smart, helmeted Americans.

        I sure won’t bike on the roads here (or even our compromised bike trails) without a helmet, and @Bailo, my speed has nothing to do with it. If I went to the Netherlands I’d do as the Dutch do.

      4. Old, 1998, but interesting…

        Bicycle Use and Safety In Paris, Boston, and Amsterdam

        Thirty-two percent of Boston cyclists wore helmets versus only 2.4% of Paris cyclists and only 0.1% of Amsterdam cyclists.

        In contrast, Paris cyclists were far more likely to use lights at night (45.2%), than Boston cyclists (15.6%) or Amsterdam cyclists (7.6%).

        With bicycle and car deaths as the numerators, and the French, U.S., and Dutch populations as the denominators, the Netherlands appears to have a dramatically lower death rate for people in passenger cars and for the combined group of cyclists and passenger car occupants.

      5. Read Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt; there’s a section on bikes in the Netherlands compared to the US. Their helmetless biking is SAFER because drivers take more caution around helmetless bikers than those with helmets.

    1. Ahh, yes, Americans on helmets. Let’s see, here’s a good quote:

      “If we can save one child because of this ordinance, or if we can save adult by this ordinance, than the statistics be damned. I support this.” — Mayor Pollard of Vancouver, WA.

      Methinks too much carbon monoxide has addled their poor brains.

    2. The most compelling argument I’ve heard on bicycle helmets is, “How much is your brain worth to you? A million dollars? Then stop grumbling about a $25 helmet.” I always wore a helmet when I biked and I can’t believe the opposition to it. It’s like the opposition to smoke-free environments.

      1. No, a smoke-free environment (no omnipresent toxins one cannot reasonably avoid breathing) would be akin to a car-free environment (no omnipresent toxins one cannot reasonably avoid breathing), not additional awkward and bulky head protection for chance events.

        Do you ever take the helmet off? Slipping in the shower, or falling down stairs, or being involved in a car collision all point to the need for mandatory shower, stair, and car helmet rules. If not, why are bicycle riders singled out by the law, and not other at risk population groups?

      2. I think a big barrier to bike helmets is everyone assumes they have to wear the stupid velodrome aerodynamic style. But at most rates of speed, the kind I wear, the full skull skateboarder helmet is better and doesn’t look as weird. Plus I think they tend to be cheaper as you’re not playing to someone’s ego that he’s on the Tour de France instead of just biking to his friends house.

        I always wear my helmet and it saved my life at least twice.

      3. Helmets are a style statement. Aero helmets aren’t used at the velodrome; that’s a time trial thing. The current road “helmets” are designed to provide airflow and be so light that you don’t know they’re there. For me it’s a “no brainer” to wear a helmet. Keeps your head warm which is huge most of the time around here and yes they do save you from serious personal injury. I’d wear one even if I lived in Holland and it wasn’t cool.

      4. I’m not talking about the law as much as the stupidity of not wearing helmets. The government should stop regulating things it doesn’t have to.

        Although, there is an issue in that if a bicyclist goes to the hospital with a major brain injury and doesn’t have insurance, the rest of us pay for it.

  5. Computer scientist developing intersections of the future with fully autonomous vehicles

    “A future where sitting in the backseat of the car reading our newspaper while it drives us effortlessly through city streets and intersections is not that far away,” says Stone, a professor of computer science at The University of Texas at Austin.

    Vattenfall Charges Hamburg Buses With Hydrogen From Renewables

    About 20 buses and several cars a day can be charged with hydrogen from at least 50 percent renewable energy, according to an e-mailed company statement.

    Storing wind power by converting it to hydrogen “is an important approach that could play a key role in the future German energy landscape,” Oliver Weimann, head of Vattenfall Europe Innovation GmbH, said in the statement.

    Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, seeks to install 25,000 megawatts of offshore wind turbines by 2030 as it phases out atomic energy by 2022. The expansion of renewables has been accompanied by concerns that their fluctuating production may strain power networks and leave consumers without energy when wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine.

      1. Boy those automatic intersections look reallllly great for pedestrians and bicyclists!

        Yet another really dumb idea by someone fixated on cars it seems (no surprise he’s from Austin)…

    1. So, in the brave new world of hydrogen cars, will the number of cars per people remain the same or go higher? Will it reach 100%? The people who promote hydrogen cars as the solution to transportation, and who don’t want to spend money on trains thinking it would be better spent on hydrogen car technology, seem to think that in the future 100% of people will have hydrogen cars. But it’s not really possible for car penetration to go much higher than it is. The poor will not be able to afford these cars. Hydrogen fuel also does not address the problems of congestion or land reserved for parking.

      Centrally-steered cars can probably fit closer together on highways than current cars, but that doesn’t help on side streets or for parking. It’ll still be a b*tch to get into the Southcenter parking lot, for instance. Or for the hydrogen-powered 150 to go past it.

      1. Almost all of these technologies are at best marginal improvements that completely fail to address most of the the fundamental problems with our car-oriented societies.

        Such things can even cause more harm than good by providing an easy sop (“Oh, I’m doing my part … I’m 100% hydrogen!” /em>). [Kinda like curb-recycling programs… “Oh, don’t worry about my insane profligate lifestyle—I recycle my aluminum cans!”]

      2. The point being that the nature of “parking” changes if you have autonomous cars. More cars could simply be taxis — a form of transit.

        So instead of parking, as soon as you get to the destination, the car could pick up someone else.

        I think we have to move away from terms like car, train, etc because they no longer represent autonomous technogies.

        Basically we have Personal Transit and Mass Transit.

        Mass Transit is

        1-Dimensional. It continues on a straight or curved line.
        Synchronous. You must wait for it to come and go.
        Public. You do not own the space inside.
        Cargo limited. No trunk.
        Station based.

        Personal Transit is

        2-Dimensional. It can go off the main lines, crossways.
        Private. You own the space inside.
        Cargo friendly. Trunk.

        If we had autonomous “cars” or personal transit vehicles, we would effectively blend mass and personal transit into one seamless system that does not have all the waste of “cars” and the limitations of “trains”.

      3. John,

        Buzzwords aside, the fundamental problem that transit solves is a lack of space in cities. Autonomous cars help a lot, by eliminating much of the need for parking, but they definitely don’t solve all problems. Even if every car on I-5 was driverless, there would still be morning traffic jams.

        Buses and trains, simply by increasing the number of people you can transport in a given space, will always be a better solution for the densest areas. This is why so many airports have “people movers” (aka driverless trains). Even if the technology for driverless cars were available, space is at such a premium that you just don’t have room for one vehicle per person/family.

        During rush hour, the 41 runs every 5 minutes. The 70-series buses run every 10 minutes all day. They’re constantly bursting at the seams. We’re building Link on that route because we need the capacity. Driverless cars will not change that.

      4. Autonomous taxis are great, especially if they’re as cheap as buses currently are. But to really build this vision of autonomous hydrogen cars or PRT replacing the need for most mass transit, we have to bet on a huge what-if, and make huge investments on an unproven vision. In contrast, investing in off-the-shelf mass transit is predictable: we can see what the impact would be right now in cities that already have it. And because it’s off-the-shelf, it’s much cheaper that it would be to build this hydrogen car utopia.

      5. But driverless taxis are not personal space. It’s a temporary room you rent for one trip. You have to be able to carry in and out everything you put there, and you have to take it all out at the end of the trip. So we can have 80% efficiency (the car picking up several people during the day) or you can “own” the space and do whatever you want to it, but not both simultaneously.

      6. Article in today’s Bloomberg:

        Driverless Car Could Defy the Rules of Sprawl: Robert Bruegmann

        What the driverless automobile might do is further break down the distinctions. Suppose an individual can summon a vehicle on demand — a small capsule like a golf cart for doing errands in the city, for example, or something more like a van to transport a track team to another city — and that vehicle can go directly from starting point to destination. The flexibility this system could provide might well reduce the incentive for owning an automobile, which has to serve all purposes, is expensive to buy and maintain, and in most cases spends most of its time taking up valuable space in a garage or parking lot.


      7. Alek:

        BS aside I would rewrite your sentence:

        fundamental problem that transit solves is a lack of space in cities


        The fundamental problem of cities is lack of space

        Cities are obsolete structures for living. They are based on the idea that people did not have cars. With cars, a suburb is simply a city — for cars! And that is good thing.

      8. Mike,

        Trains have been around for what … two centuries.

        If they haven’t solved the problem yet…then who is barking up the wrong tree? I say…you.

      9. John,

        Leave aside, for the moment, the question of why people want to live in a dense environment. The fact is that many people do. And once you have enough people living in a small enough space, cars no longer work. So long as there are people living in cities — and I mean human-scale cities, not places where you need a car to get to the “corner” store — there will be a need for mobility of a kind that cars, even driverless ones, can’t provide. You don’t have to live in such a place, but I will.

      10. John, cities are popular. City population keeps increasing. Suburban population is now in decline. This is the phenomenon in most of the world.

        Why do people like cities? Because people are social animals. Sure, *I’m* antisocial, but I’m unusual. The majority of people, over 50%, like being REALLY NEAR to LOTS AND LOTS of people. Sure, they like to have their own bedroom, but they want to be able to reach lots of people very quickly.

        And no, online interaction isn’t sufficient. To put it bluntly, people like to be touched.

        My statements here are based on actual psych studies.

        People like nature too, but it doesn’t generally outweigh the desire to be around gobs and gobs of people. Like I’ve said before, most people want to live, more or less, in a high-rise fronting on Central Park. Really. Just look at the property values if you doubt me.

      11. Chicago has lost a quarter of it’s population, almost a million people since 1950. People do want to move to NY since it’s a global center of finance, fashion, etc. but it’s grown only 4% in that time. Same percentage for San Francisco. Mean while the total population of the US has more than doubled. The last census made it quite clear; the suburbs are incorporating and annexing and that’s where virtually all of the growth is occuring. The large cities that are showing strong growth are also some of the most autocentric like Austin (2,653.2/sq mi) and Raleigh (2,826.3/sq mi).

      12. Bernie,

        I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make, but since WWII, extremely restrictive zoning laws have made infill urban development virtually impossible.

        Of course the suburbs have been growing faster. For a long time, if you wanted to build in the suburbs, all you needed to do was buy the land. (Supposedly, we lose 3,000 acres of farmland to sprawl every day.) If you want to build in the city, it’s not enough to find someone who wants to sell you their land: you also have to get the city’s approval, and then you have to provide all sorts of unprofitable things (like parking and setbacks and “affordable housing”).

        The supply of SFH sprawl is virtually infinite; the supply of dense urban apartments grows at a trickle. Is it any wonder that a disproportionate number of people choose to live in the former?

        It’s simply not meaningful to talk about people’s choices without considering the context in which those choices are made.

      13. since WWII, extremely restrictive zoning laws have made infill urban development virtually impossible.

        That’s just BS. Look at a picture of DT Seattle circa 1940 and today. It’s the most dense development north of San Francisco. It’s way easier to get permits in incorporated areas of King County. Of course it’s cheaper to build homes out in the sticks but the profit margin on building close to the CBD is much higher. Actually, DT Seattle has a much higher percentage of people that live and work there than Bellevue which has a net increase in population during the work day of some 30-40 thousand. Of course that’s somewhat skewed by DT Seattle having 20% less jobs than a decade ago and Bellevue having a large increase.

    2. Autonomous vehicles have the potential to be both good and bad for transit.

      The good:

      Driverless trains, buses (and taxis) can operate with much less costs, especially during the off-peak if we don’t have to pay a driver. This means a lot more service hours for the same cost, especially during the off-peak.

      The bad:

      1) Bus driver’s unions would do whatever it takes to ensure that buses are still driven by humans, even as private cars are increasingly driven by computers. After all, their very jobs are at stake here.

      2) Regulations capping the supply of taxis would mean that all the savings from a taxi being able to operate driverlessly would go the taxi company and the public would not see any benefit in the form of lower fares.

      3) Many of the incentives people have to ride the bus today would go away. Want to read a book during the trip? You can now do that in your own car. Don’t want to pay for parking? Have the car drop you off downtown and drive itself empty back to your driveway. The only real incentive remaining to ever ride the bus (unless the bus can get a dedicated ROW to avoid traffic congestion) is avoidance of the economic costs of driving.

      The ugly:

      If everyone going downtown that rode the bus today now rode in their driverless car, which drove back the other way empty, the result would be a massive increase in the number of cars of the road. Without a real congestion pricing scheme to discourage this, the traffic jams that would result from this would be monstrous. Without a dedicated ROW, people who ride buses would be stuck in these traffic jams too.

      1. Driverless cars are a feel-good (for Americans anyway) non-solution. They won’t have any significant effect. [But will consume lots of money.]

      2. I think the large-scale effect of driverless/robotic cars are difficult to predict. Depending on how things go, we could end up with a more auto-centric society, or less of one.

        Will many people actually own their own driverless car? If you’re only going to use it 1-2 hours a day, many people could choose to subscribe to a car service. For $x per month or $y per trip or $z per mile, a car could show up at your door, take you to your destination, then leave. Since most people commute within a narrow window, the logistics of this could be tricky. Conceivably, subscription services could offer discounts for carpooling.There would likely be demand-based pricing as well- e.g. use during the late morning would be cheaper than at night.

        The need for street parking would likely decrease.

        Some percentage of people likely see their car as a sunk cost- they need a car for some facet of their life at some point, so they buy a car, and end up using it for all their trips because they already have it. Car subscriptions that give people convenient access to a car just for the trips they really need it might lead to more people living in denser, more walkable neighborhood that make the majority of their trips convenient without a car.

      3. Edit:
        “use during the late morning would be cheaper than at night.”

        should be

        “use during the late morning would be cheaper than during rush hour.”

      4. I wonder if Zipcar will be slow or fast to introduce autonomous vehicles. Then the line is blurry between rental and taxi.

        I like to imagine that auto-autos would increase the per-lane capacity of highways quickly enough (i.e. faster than we sprawl to re-fill the highways) that we MIT reclaim some road pavement.

        In my unrealistic, fictional future, half of I-5 is robot-only, and the express lanes are always northbound. So the existing northbound deck can be transformed to a greenway with bike paths, parks, small-scale retail, and a streetcar.

      5. Eric,

        You’re missing the most obvious benefit: Driverless cars don’t require in-city parking!

        Imagine: you take your driverless car from your house in Madison Park to a restaurant on Broadway. Instead of spending 15 minutes circling for a space, and then needing to pay for parking, your car just heads back to your own driveway/garage. When you’re ready to leave, you open up an app on your cellphone, and your car meets you right outside the restaurant to take you home.

        Of course, that’s assuming that a person/family would be rich enough that owning a driverless car makes sense. Realistically, many people will choose to share a car or subscribe to a car service. The experience is pretty much the same, except that instead of the car parking itself in their driveway, it heads off to meet another person.

        Either way, the need for parking in urban areas almost evaporates. Cars can live in a garage in a low-density residential/industrial area when they aren’t in use. Street parking lanes can become bus lanes, or roadways can get narrowed, improving transit and/or making neighborhoods safer.

        Finally, I think you underestimate the reasons that people ride the bus. Saving money is a major reason, and that wouldn’t significantly change with this scheme. During peak, the fact that buses use HOV lanes is a major incentive to ride.

        What it comes down to is that driverless cars are unlikely to change the equation significantly for people who currently decide to take buses, but it’s a game-changer for people who currently drive. It will allow us to take back tons of land that’s currently devoted to parking and idling, and it will provide mobility to many people who can’t own a car and yet live in an area without sufficient density to support conventional transit.

      6. Miles: Can you explain your reasoning?

        The reason I am confident that driverless technology will change the economics of automobiles is simple: the average car is currently productive for about 5% of the time. In contrast, the average airplane is productive for about 90% of the time.

        The only reason that cars see such little use is that there’s not really a good alternative. Zipcar works great in the cities, but if you live in the suburbs or somewhere less dense, it’s just not possible to have cars conveniently available to everyone who needs them, when they need them.

        But driverless technology makes it possible to get all the benefits of car ownership (a car on demand, for exactly as long as you need it) without the hassles of traditional car ownership, or rental, or car-sharing — and for much cheaper than all of those.

        Imagine that you’re a household with two cars, only one of which is used for commuting. Someone tells you that you can sell your second car, and for only half of your old monthly costs, you can have a brand-new and perfectly-maintained car available within 3 minutes, just by pushing a button on your phone. How could you say no?

        Zipcar has huge disadvantages: no one-way trips; you’ve got to reserve a car in advance (and know how long you want it for); you pay for time when you aren’t actually driving; you might have to walk a long way to get the car you want (or any car at all). And yet it’s super popular. A car-sharing service without those limitations — and where you never had to pay for parking — would be even bigger.

      7. Oh, and don’t forget about autonomous vanpools. Whatever it costs to rent an autonomous Zipcar, it’s even cheaper if you’re willing to split the trip. So, especially for high-demand periods (i.e. commute), there will undoubtedly be companies that spring up to provide shuttles between residences and worksites. Think the MS Connector, except smaller vehicles, and not everyone works for the same company.

        There’s clearly demand for this type of service. People ride the airport shuttles, even though buses are cheaper and taxis are quicker. It’s a sweet spot for some people. Once the economics are right, I see no reason that wouldn’t be true for other trips as well.

      8. Last thing: Taxi regulations don’t apply here, since the regulations specifically concern hailing cars on the street. Black-car companies are historically much less regulated.

        There will be new regulations — Uber is clearly testing the waters — but I see no reason to automatically assume that current regulations will limit the growth of autonomous car-sharing.

    3. Autonomous cars should be much better at avoiding collisions than human-driven cars. They can look out at all directions at once, don’t get distracted, and are extremely competent at handling vehicles. That is surely an advantage! Driverless cars would provide some advantages for people in many situations, of course at the cost of considerable labor displacement — they’re like many labor-replacing technologies and will likely progress in the same ways. The labor displacement may be gradual, due to high cost of initial technology, general distrust of driverless vehicles, the power of transit and taxi unions, and the fact that it takes a long time to replace major capital investments, but it will happen.

      The downsides of driverless cars are basically the same as the downsides of cars with drivers, and, of course, can be solved by the same basic principles. Get the government out of the free parking business, provide road space for transit (HOV at whatever level it takes to guarantee free flow?), provide good facilities for bikes, reduce freeways, charge polluters for externalities. Ultimately, if we take the potential of driverless cars to mean “we can all go so much faster!”, then we’ll pursue policies that blow up sprawl further, that make the roads worse places for biking, etc.

      As far as hydrogen goes, hydrogen itself isn’t at the core of the “hydrogen dream”. The real potential of hydrogen is that it can store energy generated from distributed sources. That’s a real potential, and it doesn’t just apply to transportation.

      1. A favorite sci-fi writer of mine was a guy named Ron Goulart- don’t know if he’s still around. He specialized in stories taking place either in California in the early 70’s or in a solar system where society on all the planets resembled California in the early ’70’s.

        Common characters were robots with all the fashionable California neuroses, complete with standard therapy in that quarter.

        He had a story called “Into the Shop”, set on a planet where law and order was maintained by territorial lawmen called marshals, whose sole crimefighting tool, and police force, was a completely automated car called a Lawagon.

        This car was programmed to indentify, arrest, try, and execute criminals, and place their disintegrated remains in a little jar in the glove box.

        Plot revolved around case where the lawagon developed a computer glitch which caused it to identify everybody who approached the car as the same wanted criminal named Sheldon Kloog. Not much suspense what happened to the marshal after he noticed these jars accumulating, all with the same name.

        So I’m more comfortable with an idea from Paul Goodman, another favorite from college. He thought we should try to breed a horse trainable to take directions from a radio collar when you called it for a pick-up. I know that in the old days, horses often brought their owners home safe from the saloon.

        Mark Dublin

      2. The more likely dystopia with automated cars is the one where all the intersections become computer-controlled. Want to walk or bike anywhere? Good luck: the roads are totally non-navigable without a computer-controlled vehicle!

      3. There won’t be unsignaled computer-controlled intersections until all the vehicles are autonomous. Until that time, intersections will still be signal controlled, with road sensors and buttons on posts to detect the “dumb” vehicles.

        You might also envision a new type of limited access highway, where all the vehicles are required to be communicating autonomous vehicles. This could allow tightening up following distances, smoothing merges and speed changes to increase the road throughput and average spped.

      4. @aw: Of course. But it’s still a dystopia, and still more likely than automated vehicle AI killing lots of people over mistaken identity. The turning over of road space to autonomous vehicles would, in this case, finish the job done when road space was turned over to motor vehicles, pushing pedestrians off the street and into the margins.

        When some genius city planner wants to put in intersections like this (probably in Bellevue) I’ll probably be 75 or so, and I’ll be out campaigning against it, along with all the “don’t want gubmint controlling my car!” types.

    4. As I say, the autonomous cars are a lot further away than you think.

      I’m a programmer myself. Programmers routinely underestimate “human factors”, and in this case they’re forgetting that *people fear robots*. If people *didn’t* fear robots, we would have driverless trains with grade crossings (the technology is completely solved for that one, but everyone’s too afraid).

  6. Thanks for posting the video. I’ve heard that Europe responded to the 1970s oil crisis by incentivizing non-car transport but I hadn’t seen such specific evidence until now.

    It’s saddening that the Dutch hold demonstrations against car deaths and for non-car transport, while Americans have almost the opposite attitude: “My car is my patriotic freedom from kings and dicators.”

  7. This morning, I noticed the schedule at the 15th/43rd bus stop indicated the entire bus system was running on a Sunday schedule for President’s Day on Monday. I thought that was a bit strange, so I checked the website – turns out, according to the website, President’s Day is (mostly) a regular weekday.

    Assuming the website is correct, what is going on here? Why are we posting signs that tell the public that a route is not operating on a day when the route, in fact, is operating?

  8. Without undermining the video’s main point — that a concerted effort on the part of the people and its government can change society for the better, and that forty years later, no one will even remember auto-dependent life — I have a really big problem with the before-after example at 5:37 – 5:44.

    “This street got its cycle path,” the narrator gloats, over an image of a protest on a skinny canal-side stretch. But as the “today” image makes clear, it did so only by stealing the sidewalk in its entirety from pedestrians. The one-lane street is no thinner, but pedestrian access is gone.

    Amazingly, the circular blue sign with the adult and child holding hands exists in both eras. In the “before” image, it invites pedestrians to the canal. In the “after,” there’s the same sign, with the same adult and child, with a big red slash forbidding them access.

    There are only three before-after shots in the segment. That one so explicitly recommends cycle paths eating up limited pedestrian space is kind of unconscionable.

    1. The point is valid here in Seattle, where pedestrian and bicycle ROW tend to be one and the same. On your left!

  9. If I felt safe biking in this town, my average wait+travel time to get between South Park and downtown would drop noticeably.

    I don’t see hundreds of childred being martyred for the cause of cycle tracks when the parents here know that biking is a death wish.

    1. Lots of the children killed in the Netherlands, as here in the States, died as passengers in cars. But the Dutch were perceptive and realized it was still cars doing the damage. Automotive safety has improved a lot since then, but it’s still no picnic out there on the road.

    2. So you are saying that bicycling will not be safe until we build more cycle tracks? Why not take all that money being wasted on driverless cars and spend it on cycle infrastructure?

      1. Most of the rural paved roads in the US were originally built for cyclists, back during the first big period of bicycle popularity, in the 1890s. Most of the concrete- and asphalt-paved roads *everywhere* were advocated originally by cyclists. (Horses and carriages were happy with dirt or cobblestones.)

        It’s genuinely curious, as a historical point, that these roads have been taken over by motorcars. All that cycle infrastructure got *built*, and then someone started driving cars on it… law of unintended consequences I guess.

    3. Actually riding around in car, and sitting all day at a desk is a death wish. Humans are not made to be so inactive.


      Heart disease: 599,413
      Cancer: 567,628
      Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 137,353
      Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 128,842
      Accidents (unintentional injuries): 118,021
      Alzheimer’s disease: 79,003
      Diabetes: 68,705
      Influenza and Pneumonia: 53,692
      Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 48,935

      So bicycling gets you off the top 4, and into #5, accidents, but gets you out of the next 4 as well.

      So you still want to argue that we should continue to build out our cities for autos?

      1. Life expectancy for obese people is -6 to 7 years.

        Never mind that it’s not a great way to die, diabetes often causes people to have limbs amputated.

        It would be one thing to live fast and die young but it sucks to die from being over weight. Sleep apnea can take you one night, being obese means you can’t have some surgeries, as you won’t survive the anesthetic.

    4. From googling your route options from South Park to Seattle, it doesn’t look horrible. West Marginal Way has a bike trail, to the West Seattle Bridge, and then North along Alaska. There are clearly missing pieces for a faster route and google’s suggestion to go across the 1st ave S bridge looks downright dangerous because your choices after that look like too fast roads with no shoulders or bike paths.

  10. Anyone know when the red SLU Streetcar will be back in service after that wreck?

    I know they can’t do any heavy maintenance in Seattle, or maybe it’s some sort of a safety inspection issue?

    In any case going back to 20 min headways in the afternoon is cramping my style!

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