New York City Bike Planning…Again, Along with a Healthy Dose of Traffic

6 Dec

Somehow this large east coast city keeps getting in the news.  Check out Rock Center with Brian Williams (really should be Rock Center with Harry Smith in this particular clip).  The piece is all about Janette Sadik-Kahn, NYC’s Transportation Commissioner, and the work she has done in the city.  I “wrote” about this back in September (more like put a link to the New York Times Op-Ed section), and actually stumbled onto this reading the Bike Snob this afternoon, so read his version for more laughs.  While I’m guessing few to no readers of this blog live in NYC, or any other city of remotely comparable size, it is interesting to watch.  I like how the story talks a lot about traffic in NYC, yet from the video, almost all of it appears to be taxi cabs, trucks, or black sedans that no normal person drives (time to go Occupy some German cars?).  Again, just a few seconds of footage here and there of those cars.  My sense is that taxis are driving around people that could also, gasp!, bike, or use some other form of transportation.  As for the trucks, their complaints seem more valid, but scheduling deliveries to off-times would help alleviate this problem somewhat.

Actually, for a better summation of traffic, check out the book Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do by Tom Vanderbilt.  I finished reading this last week, and found it pretty amazing.  I can only imagine how long it took to write – the works cited section is about 95 pages long!  From what I learned in that book, when you have 8+ million people living in a dense area, there is only so much finite space for cars to exist.  And to have space for cars, other cars need to move.  Have you ever had to wait like 20 seconds for someone to back into a space before you could proceed?  Guess what happens when a few thousand (or more) cars try to do that at the same time.  Much of what we call gridlock (slightly interesting origin to that term revealed in the video) and traffic jams can be attributed to events that may have already dissipated long before, like a lot of cars merging at one point, a cleaned up accident, or rubbernecking (love it when that happens on I-25!).  The problem comes from so many cars in one space at one time that the traffic becomes “sticky”.  Vanderbilt has a wonderful analogy of that in Traffic – you know how when you pour some rice grains in a funnel, they flow quickly?  When you try to pour a whole bunch down at once, they all move slower just from the friction.  Now I’m no Albert Steinberg, but friction with cars can be a bad thing, and this analogy makes sense.

I almost got away from my bigger point – people in the video attribute all this newfound traffic to some bike lanes, which results in reduced road capacity.  Again, in Traffic, and in one of my favorite planning books The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs, when the number of roadways are increased OR reduced, a corresponding amount of cars either just appear with the new room, or disappear from the lack of it.  I know, it makes no sense.  Where did they go?  Induced, or latent, demand is the term for this phenomena.  Are/were the trips essential?  Did they find another way to make the trip?  I could say that the increasing/decreasing of roadways would be limiting someone else mode of transportation in one way or another, so regardless of what you do, someone is affected.  However, and this will be my last Traffic reference, in Vanderbilt’s book, he points out that when it comes to driving, we all assume everyone should just stay home and that our trip is the only one that REALLY matters.

So we’ve covered New York, cars, roads and traffic; I’d say that was a pretty good afternoon/whenever you happen to read this.  I think I’m going to trade the computer screen for the TV screen (funny fake/true news about screens), and ride my bike in the living room.  There is nothing ridiculous about that, right?  As I type, Liz is about to attach Christmas lights to her bike, so here’s to two great tastes that taste great together – technology and bikes (sarcasm)!

Dress Warm, Ride Warm

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One Response to “New York City Bike Planning…Again, Along with a Healthy Dose of Traffic”

  1. Mac December 20, 2011 at 9:25 am #

    Devin, awesome blog! You can use any and all photos from http://www.denver38racing.com or from https://www.facebook.com/denver38racing.

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