Where People Walk and Bike to Work

I was surprised by this table from an article in Fast Coexist, listing the top cities for walk and bike commuting. It would have been impossible for me to guess that Boston would top the list, and I’m surprised to see Baltimore above more trendy cities like the rapidly growing Austin TX.

Overall, it’s striking to see how little weather seems to effect the walk/bike commuting percentage. The statistics seem like further proof of the power of design and infrastructure to get people on their bikes. I’m glad Chicago made the list but it’s a little embarrassing to be so far behind frigid 400,000 person city of Minneapolis.


Walkable City – Review

Walkable-Cities-CoverKanye West first became famous for his music, but now his outrageous statements raise him to a level of notoriety far beyond his musicianship. The Kanye proclamation that sticks in my head comes from an impromptu speech to Harvard students. “I believe design can save the world.” I don’t know exactly what ills was looking to save the world from, but after reading Jeff Speck’s Walkable City, you quickly get the sense of many of the things wrong with this world that could be solved by applying the lesson from this direct and entertaining book.

Walkable City moves quickly. The structure makes sense. The reader understands the gravity of the stakes. The author delivers well-reasoned prescriptive solutions to the problems he calls attention to. Walkable City has the courage of its convictions and rather than simply pointing out problems it prescribes solutions. How wide should lanes be in streets?  Ten feet.  And the book is quick to explain why. How much is all the parking in Chicago worth? A lot more than the 1.2 billion Morgan Stanley paid for it. It’s a book that picks fights* and wins them. Read more

Asthma in Atlanta

Atlanta OlympicsJeff Speck’s Walkable City entertains and terrifies by turns. I will review it when I’m finished reading it, but I couldn’t wait to share this fascinating anecdote about the Atlanta Olympics.

“During the 1996 Olympics, nearly 2 million people descended on the city of Atlanta effectively increasing the city’s population by 50%. Most of the visitors – I was among them – spent many hours huffing around the hot, crowded sports venues. Yet, during that time, asthma hospitalizations surprisingly declined by 30%.”

The cause of this drop was not a freak chance or magic, it was a drop in auto traffic. Atlanta had warned its residents against trying to drive through the ultra-crowded city center, and this temporary increase in public transit created an immediate public health benefit. It’s a striking example of the negative externalities of building for car travel rather than walkability or public transit.

More Bikes not Enough Helmets

Cyclists are infamous for not obeying traffic laws and having little regard for their own safety or the safety of others. Whether or not that perspective is fair, it’s pervasive. Bikes and bikers are often thought of as dangerous.*

It’s terrible that that point of view is so common and, as someone who bikes to work, I often find myself arguing with people who think bikers are insane. One of the reasons that perspective is so common is because so few people regularly bike.  My thinking was, the more people bike the safer biking becomes.  Because with more bikers on the road, motorists would get in the habit of being more aware of bikers. The other, more important, reason biking might become safer is because if more people bike from a broader cross-section of the population more law-abiding risk-averse people would bike. Right now the people who bike are disproportionately male and young, and this is a population notoriously bad at avoiding risk.  That’s my segment of the population, I know it well.

Basically I want more people to ride bikes, because I think it would make the roads safer for bikers and drivers.**

So, when I heard about a bike sharing program coming to Chicago I was excited. The program, Divvy Bikes, is definitely going to put more people on bikes. So I thought that couldn’t be a bad thing for bikers, and bike/car relations. Until I found out they won’t provide helmets.  Let me rephrase that, they don’t even offer helmets.

Mayor on Bike

Rahm Emanuel with no helmet, also he’s going to get grease on those pants.

If bikers are going to be safer and less stigmatized they’re going to need to take some responsibility for their own safety.

I’m happy we have a bike sharing program in Chicago and if you ride a Divvy Bike you should definitely bring a helmet. But when are you in a situation where you have a helmet but no bike?


*I think the health benefits of riding a bike out weigh the possible dangers.  This crazy man agrees with me and he’s done some back of the envelope math about it.

**I’d also like it if more people biked so that they would feel less alienated from this group of commuters.