June 2, 2020

Will the temporary become permanent … or Motordom Redux?

PT: With respect to the future of urban transportation, we are in a fragile moment: the pandemic has resulted in some very bad consequences (a crash in transit use), some good trends (a growth in cycling) and some dangerous possibilities (Motordom Redux).

In the next few months, local government in particular will have to decide whether the temporary responses (like slow streets and flow lanes) become permanent, whether past commitments (like the Granville Bridge greenway) will be sustained, or whether it will all be swept away in a wave of single-occupancy vehicles and an attempt to accommodate their demands.

A survey Mustel Group conducted for the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade showed that 36 per cent of respondents in Metro Vancouver said they plan to increase their car use or ownership because of the pandemic.

These trends and choices are, like the pandemic itself, a global condition, as described in The Economist (registration required):

Cycling is one industry that probably won’t need any bail-outs.

Where statistics are available, they show huge rises in bicycle use across Europe and America. In Switzerland, the number of kilometres cycled since early March has risen by 175% (and fallen by 11% for trams). In Philadelphia cycling is up by 151%; usage of New York’s bike-share scheme rose by 67% in March, year-on-year. Even in Copenhagen, the two-wheel capital of the world, Jens Rubin, of Omnium Bikes, says his shop has been “busier than ever”; sales doubled in April and May compared with the same months in 2019. In March sales of bikes in America increased by about 50% year-on-year, according to NPD, a market-research firm.  …

Western governments are seizing on cycling’s big moment to try to make such temporary measures permanent. Because social distancing is likely to endure for months, or even years, public transport won’t return to normal soon; it may never do so. So the bike will remain an essential tool in many countries’ strategies to taper their lockdowns. As the French environment minister, Elisabeth Borne, put it, “the bicycle is the little queen of deconfinement” …

But a two-wheel revolution cannot be taken for granted. Cycling novices in the northern hemisphere have been lucky to enjoy most of the lockdown in fine spring weather; just wait for winter. And some evidence indicates that many people are yearning to get back in their cars, also handy as lockdowns end but social-distancing rules remain. In China, for instance, one survey concluded that the proportion of people who want to use a car would surge from 34% to 66% after lockdown ends; the same survey showed that more Chinese were now keen on buying a car. Other surveys suggest huge drop-offs in enthusiasm for trains and buses. …

Thus the challenge will be to create incentives for those who abandon their buses to mount up rather than strap in. Technology may help. Electricity-assisted cycles allow commuters to venture farther without fear of running out of puff. Deloitte, a consultancy, is expecting e-cycle sales to take off, topping 130m by 2023. Germany’s Bosch has been leading the market in motors and batteries that can be installed on regular bikes. Venture capital is also pouring into e-cycle startups such as VanMoof (which recently raised $13.5m from Balderton Capital). Sales of e-bikes in America soared by 85% in March compared with the same month a year earlier.

But as Morten Kabell, head of the European Cycling Federation, a lobby group, argues, “physical infrastructure is the key”, particularly “separated, protected cycle tracks”. The hope is that today’s flimsy pop-up cycle lanes will be tomorrow’s dedicated, secure cycle tracks. …At least for now cyclists around the world can demand more of their governments, knowing they have a tailwind of public goodwill.

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  1. Winter may become a setback, but the best way to get people cycling for transportation is to get them cycling for recreation first. It only takes half a dozen rides for people to realize how far they can get and how easy it is much of the time. I’d guess there will be a significant permanent uptick in cycling for those who can make it work. But it’s not going to work for a downtown worker living much beyond Vancouver city limits.

    In the mid to longer term perhaps we’ll see more satellite offices as an in-between solution to working from home or in a downtown office tower. This could be a boon both for our regional town centres and for reducing commute distances that make cycling viable. Those businesses that prefer people to physically work together may need more office space and the cheaper rent out there might be just what is needed.

    Losing transit riders to cars is a bummer. But losing transit riders to cyclists is still a win. It is up to transportation policy makers to discourage SOVs and all the tools to do that will remain. It is so unfortunate that senior governments rarely seem to understand that. Somehow we need to break the unfair advantage rural people have in influencing provincial and federal election outcomes. Cities almost always lead the way forward.

  2. I cycle 30-40 km/day.
    Slow streets are great. Am seeing tons more people on bicycles. Nice to see families cycling together.
    Not nice to see flashing/strobing lights. They are illegal in Germany, front and back.
    Flashing lights can trigger epileptic seizures, and migraines (my problem since childhood). I’ve been laid up for three days straight with an episode. Vomiting. Intense headaches. Hallucinations.
    With the price of lumens low, and coming down, we need to nip this strobing klieg light escalation in the bud. They are horrible.

    1. Helmet wrote: “Not nice to see flashing/strobing lights…”

      I’ve preferred to use my bike light on the strobe setting because when I drive I can see how much more obvious they are, and when I’m on my bike I definitely want the attention of motorists. My front light has an irregular pattern that flashes at different intervals and intensities – can you tell me if that’s any less troublesome for those prone to epileptic seizures?

      1. It would be truly ironic if a strobing bike light caused a seizure in a motorist who then lost control and crashed into a cyclist they had seen clearly.

      2. No.
        But my Lezyne light has a throb mode. That works.
        It has strobe too. That, in your eyeballs, is aggressively wrong.

      3. So I take it that “throb” mode has the light smoothy brightening and dimming rather than suddenly flicking from full off to full on and back again? And that doesn’t cause any problems for epileptic seizure sufferers?

      4. I should also ask: Is a strobing bike light a problem during the day as well as during the night?

        Thanks for taking the time to educate me on this issue…

  3. Forgot to mention. I walked over the Granville Bridge about 10 days ago and it’s all being torn apart up there. Centre median mostly gone or shifted. It sure looked like preparation for the greenway is under way.

    Anybody know more about that?

    1. The seismic upgrades are underway. The plan was to do the greenway work in coordination with the seismic upgrades but the greenway hasn’t gone to council yet. Hopefully soon. The City could apply for federal funds for walking/cycling upgrades recently announced, to cover a portion of the costs.

  4. Making a lasting decision when cycling use is temporarily way up due to millions being thrown out of work and having a lot of time on their hands would be foolhardy. Better the cities wait until everyone who still has a job returns to it, to see how people choose to get around. Anecdotally all I can confirm is that the one dedicated cyclist/transit user in my office returned to work this week with a shiny new car. Make of that what you will.

    1. Making lasting decisions when cars and gas are temporarily super cheap due to millions having to stay at home would be foolhardy. When the economy begins to recover, if people shun buses for cars, traffic will be a nightmare unless a lot of people really do continue to work from home. If reality finds a balance that ultimately puts the same amount of cars on the road, then there will be the same amount of cars on the road and less of a crush on transit. It’s not in itself a negative. Though transit gets less revenue it should be self evident that fewer people moving around overall is cheaper for society overall.

      It remains to be seen.

      But your post is lacking important information. Did they already have an old car? Did they ever drive it to work? Did they regularly cycle to work? If they just replaced their old car because there are spectacular deals out there right now then maybe nothing has changed. If they have a short term opportunity to revel in their shiny new car while traffic is temporarily light then maybe nothing has changed. If they only cycle recreationally and not to work then maybe nothing has changed.

      1. Nope, they didn’t own a car before. They were the classic put your bike on transit and cycle the rest of the way commuter. Covid-19 was the driving force to get the car. Will they change their mind? Maybe.

        The point being cycling routes have seen huge increases over the past two months because people literally have nothing else to do. There should be no hasty rush to ram through changes that might be regretted later. If people are still riding bikes in greatly elevated numbers come November, changes can be planned then.

        1. Why would anybody regret building bike lanes? It’s been a growing trend over much of the developed world for more than a decade. While growth in cycling demands better cycling infrastructure, better cycling infrastructure leads to growth in cycling. That’s a win for everybody. And it’s virtually pandemic proof.

          1. Because if life in a Pandemic World means more people require a car to avoid infection or infecting others, the last thing we should be doing is altering infrastruture that will not support that.

          2. For a hundred years we lived in a non-pandemic world and there’s a pretty good chance the next hundred years will be the same. Why would anybody make transportation policy based on a situation that is relevant less than 2% of the time? That’s the definition of knee-jerk.

            Do you honestly think there is a high chance we won’t be largely out of this within a year or two? Don’t you think there will be extra vigilance in future to contain epidemics before they become pandemics? Do you think we’ve all learned nothing this time around?

            Even if it drags on longer, or another one hits in a dozen years, do you really think cities can provide the road space necessary to accommodate most everybody driving? Doesn’t it make more sense to use our road space more wisely than giving most of it over to the least efficient mode of transportation that demands the most of our limited space?

            Doesn’t it make more sense to figure out ways to make transit function safely in a pandemic? After all, if there’s a lock-down, nobody’s going anywhere. It’s only as the lock-down eases after evaluation of risk that anything confined is opened up and transit should be included. Even a 1/3 full buses take up less space than an SOVs.

            Or are you really just looking far any excuse to get everybody driving and undo decades worth of progress because you really don’t like that progress?

          3. not true
            1855 world wide Bubonic plague
            1889-1890 world wide Asiatic flu or Russian flu
            1915 world wide Encephalitis lethargica pandemic
            1918 world wide Spanish flu
            1957-1958 world wide Asian flu H2N2
            1961-1965 world wide seventh cholera pandemic
            1877-1977 world wide small pox
            1968 world wide Hong Kong flu H3N2
            1981 world wide HIV-Aids
            2002 world wide SARS Severe Acute Respiratory syndrome
            2009 world wide mumps
            2009 world wide swine flu H1N1
            2012 world wide Middle East Respiratory syndrome MERS-CoV
            2013 world wide Ebola virus disease
            2015 world wide Zika virus
            2019 world wide Covid-19 novel virus

          4. You can argue “world wide” if you want to but almost none of them affected the wide world. Just because a few select pockets dotted over the world were affected did not change the behaviour of broader society in the least. It certainly was not a factor at all in urban transportation except for very brief times in relatively small and specific locations. That is the point being made so lets not drift off topic.

            It’s fair to say these outbreaks represent a very small amount of time in which transportation (and other) policies need to be addressed under the short-term emergency situations that they are. They are not the conditions under which long term policies should be drafted even if they should definitely be a consideration.

            By the way, you can exclude anything that predates modern science when nobody had a clue how they were being spread. I stand by 100 years in a non-pandemic world.

        2. Delaying the planning means passing up on the 80% bike lane cost sharing offer from the federal government. That would be a shame.

  5. You would think that the Motoring Taliban would be more civilized now, with so much expensive expansive road space to rampage over, but except for the new Slow Streets, I have found the same self-entitled arrogance as before.
    What is it about these mobile temples of discomfort that brings out bullying behaviour?
    They’ve bought into the marketing/advertising. They’re in hock to their eyeballs for their cage on wheels. Living in a crap hole. Nowhere to go. But, “Get out of my way, I’m driving here!”
    Drives me crazy when these donuts honk to ‘let me know they’re there’. They have a reflex action. See a cyclist. Omg. Honk. No thinking. Bullies.
    Wtf are they honking? Scared that the cyclist will damage their cage when they get run over?
    So many horns that I’d like to stick where the sun doesn’t shine. I caught up to one of these guys recently. Banged on his roof. That freaked him out. Maybe he’ll be more circumspect in the future. Probably more antagonistic.

  6. “Because if life in a Pandemic World means more people require a car to avoid infection or infecting others, the last thing we should be doing is altering infrastruture that will not support that.”

    Completely failing to recognize that the Covid pandemic is, in many ways, a dry run for how we will collectively respond to climate change. Deny the science? Pay the costs. Check. Fail to act early? Pay the costs. Check. Treat it as a national issue instead of a global issue? Pay the costs. Check. Pretend it isn’t real? Pay the costs. Check.

    Any Covid response that doesn’t consider potential climate change impacts is shortsighted. It isn’t like we have the funds or the time to do all this recovery twice.

  7. “Do you honestly think there is a high chance we won’t be largely out of this within a year or two?”

    The unusual circumstances that fueled the global spread of influenza in 1918 are now commonplace realities of the modern world. Barring a massive shift in behaviour, this is the beginning of a long, hard period for humanity, probably marked by shortages of staples, empty gov’t coffers, and a distinct lack of self-sufficiency on the part of Western society. All of which adds up to a frightening potential reality.

    Pessimism is your friend right now IMO.

    1. I can’t imagine any situation where pessimism is an asset. False optimism is certainly an enemy.

      There is good reason to be cognizant of the potential for more infectious diseases, especially in our rapidly changing climate. And there is need for ever more vigilance against rapid spread in our interconnected world. I treat this pandemic as a rather light wake up call in which we’ve manged to do okay even with our pants down around our ankles.

      Notwithstanding a lack of global cooperation in some circles and fairly serious consequence in some places there is reason to be a little bit optimistic that global communication and coordination can improve very quickly with lessons learned.

      Unlike climate change, where there is perceived disadvantage in taking action, there is nothing to gain by hiding or downplaying an outbreak as many nations have hopefully learned.

      In a pessimistic world there are way more things that can go wrong and way more reason to think nobody will learn and cooperation will fall apart. And though there are definite moments in history where that is true, we could never have gotten where we have if it was the norm. Pessimism is the seed of losing all hope. And what’s the point in that?

      1. “I can’t imagine any situation where pessimism is an asset.”

        You haven’t had to deal with a pandemic in your lifetime. The rules changed this year.

        Now pessimism looks like staying home and tending a victory garden.

        Pessimism is not despair or hopelessness. It is a realistic view of human capacity for change, based upon examples to date. Our track record sucks.

        1. Definition of pessimism
          1: an inclination to emphasize adverse aspects, conditions, and possibilities or to expect the worst possible outcome.

          I’d argue humans do have a capacity for change as we saw the vast majority dive into lock-down with little persuasion but what we saw in places where they didn’t respond quickly enough. I’d argue we actually have an amazing capacity for change but we are often bogged down by laziness or indifference if the threat is not immediate or tangible. It is a shortcoming in our wiring, not necessarily a shortcoming in our ability to understand and take action.

          WRT our poor response to climate action there are powerful forces at work who have been manipulating the former for personal gain. I’m not arguing that there is not an evil element among us that could bring us all down. But I honestly believe that society was turning the corner on that just before this pandemic struck. Call me naive but I think that increasing understanding is exponential and the solutions are going to be exponential too. Definitely too late to avoid major upheaval but not too late to avoid complete catastrophe.

          We’ve had the nuclear threat hanging over us since before we were born and for all the dick heads with their fingers hovering over the button, saner heads have prevailed.

          I don’t think our track record sucks. But we certainly could do a lot better.

          1. The definition of pessimism looks a lot like the definition for well-prepared. Which is my point.

            Optimism will equal unprepared if things get worse. Pessimism will mean you have a big bag of beans to live on when the shelves start to empty.

            We have not seen the real impacts of this pandemic yet. Post 2020 harvest will be the real litmus test. Whether enough crops get in the ground to feed us all, and more importantly will there be people to harvest, process, and ship that food where it needs to go? There is cause for concern in that regard. We would be foolish to wave it off with naive optimism.

          2. I said quite clearly that false optimism is our enemy. One needn’t be pessimistic to take precautions.

            It may well be the worst is yet to come on this. The difference being it is not going to be unexpected and catch us completely off guard. There are lots of smart people and agencies that I expect are going through all the scenarios and advising governments, health care, industry and agriculture on best steps. I’d keep a good supply of food around. But that has always been advised for any potential catastrophe.

  8. We could argue over the precise definition of pessimism and ignore the larger point I am making.

    We weren’t prepared for wave #1, when we had money and resources.

    Bad harvest plus (nearly inevitable) second wave is a nightmare scenario at this point. And very possible. That’s the pessimist perspective.

    I’m not that worried about interpreting the definition of the word. I am concerned that the well-meaning attempts to prevent panic are going to backfire when shortages of essential items become real. We have already seen how crazy humans get if just the ability to wipe their arse with a dead tree is threatened.

    1. In our world of just-in-time delivery, isn’t the most vulnerable period a month or two after the sudden lock-down?

      I’m curious what makes you think that supply shortages would now get worse as things crawl back to some kind of new normal?

      1. As I say, a bad harvest and a second wave of infections is a nightmare scenario. I invite you to consider what would happen in such a situation. I think that is exactly where we are headed without a major shift of focus to food supply in the coming years.

        Agriculture can’t really do just in time manufacturing. It is an industry tied to seasonal changes that cannot be accelerated, slowed, or halted. This is true for crops and livestock.

        1. Food is one of the most just-in-time sectors on the planet. It’s why we have fresh produce just days old on our shelves every single day. This is the same in developing and impoverished countries. Layered on top we also have a huge supply of non-perishables to fall back on though admittedly much more so in developed countries.

          There is no food shortage. Hasn’t been for a century if people aren’t hurling bombs at each other. The article says as much. Food distribution due to absurd politics and extreme inequality are the problem. It’s a serious problem that needs to be addressed. But that was the case already. We waste enormous amounts of food just as we waste enormous amounts of energy.

          If we really do struggle to get the food planted and picked due to a lack of underpaid TFW (shame on us for that) we’ll get that sorted out before any of us begins to go hungry.

          There is no doubt there are serious hunger problems in the world, and in some areas they will be exacerbated by the corona virus. But I’m calling pessimism on a sudden surge in hunger.

          We’ll know the answer soon enough. If there is a year that will be most impacted by this it will almost certainly be this year.

          1. I guess all that fresh produce I see on the shelves every day is just my personal illusion. Silly me. Our borders didn’t close for goods movement including the most important one – food. Our shelves were ransacked at the beginning of the lock-downs an within two weeks everything was almost back to normal. Four weeks later and nobody could tell it ever happened.

            I’m not going to defend meat for a whole lot of reasons including the most important: climate change. The sooner we ween ourselves off of meat the better.

          2. The ability to be an urban vegetarian is simply not available to people in some places of the world.

            Let the devil take the hindmost is not a great look IMO.

          3. Oh, I’d never deny anybody meat if that’s the only reasonable way for them to get their nutrition and calories. That does not apply to anybody in developed countries nor many people in developing countries either. Nor many people in impoverished countries who couldn’t possibly afford it if they’re not raising the animal themselves.

            Let’s not let that be an excuse for the wealthy to continue consuming arguably the single biggest contributor to GHGs.

          4. The world has had way more than enough food to feed everybody for a century or more. If there is localized famine then the rest of the world should do the right thing and share their excess. Nothing has changed. Localized shortages fluctuate and always have. The worst of world hunger moves around with changing circumstances.

            Notwithstanding the ups and downs that occur in any system, hunger has been decreasing globally for decades. If there’s an uptick this year due to CV then we’ll just need to up our efforts.

            Nothing we can do about droughts, floods, hail etc. Climate change is coming to disrupt food production but we can make efforts to reduce the impact. Similarly, global diplomacy can reduce the conflicts that lead to completely avoidable hunger. Humans are the cause of food shortages and humans have all the solutions. The problems have nothing to do with the capacity to grow enough food.

          5. I haven’t argued that the problem is capacity.

            “Nothing has changed.”

            Come now. I just provided a number of links to the contrary.

            I think this horse is sufficiently flogged and the meat is tender enough for consumption.

          6. World hunger has diminished, on average, over the last many decades. I’m not convinced this year’s uptick undoes those decades of progress. Therefore “nothing has changed” is still valid. If the increase were unprecedented and unable to be met globally then we’d have a serious problem. The solution is within our ability.

          7. Nothing has changed? You must not be a Yemeni child 🙂

            All the things I mentioned, from a source more reputable. Hungry people are desperate people.


            “According to an FAO analysis (24 April), in the absence of timely and effective policies, millions more are likely to join the ranks of the hungry as a result of the COVID-19-triggered recession”

            “As of May, we still expect disruptions in the food supply chains especially in the high value commodities (fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, milk, etc.). For example: restrictions of movement, as well as basic aversion behaviour by workers, may impede farmers from farming and food processors – who handle the vast majority of agricultural products – from processing. Shortage of fertilizers, veterinary medicines and other input could affect agricultural production. Closures of restaurants and less frequent grocery shopping diminish demand for fresh produce and fisheries products, affecting producers and suppliers. Sectors in agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture are particularly affected by restrictions on tourism, closure of restaurants and café and school meals suspension”

          8. Good news: Despite our continually bloating population, the number of hungry mouths across the globe has dropped significantly over the past quarter century. In the early ‘90s, one billion people, or almost one in five, were chronically undernourished. Now, that number has decreased to just below 800 million, or about one in every nine, according to the most recent edition of the UN hunger report.


            So this is a small blip. Blips happen all the time.

        2. pertinent quote from your 2015 report:

          “Furthermore, despite an overall global improvement, some areas have seen an increase in hunger; twenty-four countries in Africa are in the midst of food crises, which is double the 1990 figure.”

          If I am not my brother or sister’s keeper what is the point of having a civilization?

          1. I keep saying we should be doing better on this.

            But numbers can be played with. The most important is how many are hungry. How many countries they reside in has little importance.

          2. Numbers can be played with, but I am thinking there is no downside to a few over-fed sub-Saharan children.

            Let’s be clear. When we talk about global hunger, we are mostly talking about kids.

            We could do better. Sure. But we are not. That is ever-less likely to change the more pressure there is on food systems. And I think it is naive to expect that the pressure on food systems is about to diminish anytime soon. It will get worse. As my links indicate is likely. So far we have your say-so that it will not. So I remain unswayed.


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