Montreal, Cycling to Prosperity!

festival-go-velo-montreal-tour-de-lile1

24,000 Montrealers bike to work every day. In North America, only New York, with a population four times greater, has more daily commuters (36,000) according to the latest report of Vélo Quebec.

Montreal, cycling capital of North America

One reason for this success is that over 30 years ago Montreal started investing in segregated bike lanes to make cycling safe and enjoyable. In downtown, 4% of all commutes are by bike. In Plateau Mont-Royal 10.8%! a level comparable with Vienna, Stockholm and Berlin.

A great potential

With every third Montrealer living within 5km from work, a study by the mobility school of Ecole Polytechnique assessed that 22% of all car trips in the city could easily be biked. A huge potential for more cyclists in the Metropole.

Investing $150 million for cyclists!

As part of its sustainable mobility strategy, Montreal is thus planning additional investment that could reach $150 million (with $15 million this year) to grow its already impressive bike lane network from 730km to 1,280km – to the joy of cyclists and the rage of some drivers… But is it worth it?

A wise investment

A recent Lund University (Sweden) study of cycling in Copenhagen concluded that cars impose costs on society from air pollution, climate change, noise, road wear, health and congestion. In economic terms this represents a negatively impact from cars of EUR 0.50 per kilometer vs. only EUR 0.08 for bikes…

When the impact for society as a whole is considered, every kilometer driven costs the community EUR 0.15. Meanwhile, society benefits EUR 0.16 per kilometer cycled! 

Conclusion: Bike for prosperity!

Related links: 

Tour de l’ile de Montreal

Montreal Go for it by night Festival

Montreal biking investments 2016-17

Velo Quebec Report on Biking in Montreal 2015

Road safety: rage agains cyclists

Road Safety: Is the Road Rage against Cyclists Justified?

amsterdam-cycle-chic

2014 will be remembered by cyclists as exceptional in terms of road rage incidents. Examples abound but some stand out. When I was in Montreal a few weeks ago a young driver posted a film on his Facebook page of himself screaming obscenities at a group of cyclists. He later removed it but it is still available here:

English translation: …and after that they wonder why they get hit, like squirrels crossing the street, look at that, you’re in my way, GET OUT! GET OUT! GET OUT! it is like we are following a group of ducks crossing the street, yes, that’s right, after that you (cyclists) can complain that car drivers are all crazy in their heads…

One could easily dismiss this as an isolated incident but it is unfortunately not the case. This July, Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy implied in his column that it is acceptable to run over cyclists: “It’s a $500 fine for a motorist to hit a bicyclist in the District, but some behaviors are so egregious that some drivers may think it is worth it.”

But the grand prize goes to a Laura Weintraub, a reserve police officer in California that posted a video on her YouTube channel of how she “hates bicyclists, every single one of them” and wants “to run them over”. The film ends with a tragic picture of a car crashing into a cycling peloton during a race in Mexico (2008) with the caption: “Like you’ve never thought about it…”

Laura Weintraub video caption: "like you've never thought about it..."

Laura Weintraub video caption: “Like you’ve never thought about it…”

The original video was removed but can be found here. After being fired by the police department Laura went through an awakening and posted this interesting response:

Research confirms the negative attitudes of drivers towards cyclists (e.g. cyclists are unpredictable, repeatedly overtaking them is frustrating, etc.). But are they  justified?

Is the Road Rage Against Cyclists Justified? 

The “Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine” carried out a study with cyclists wearing helmet-mounted video cameras. Analysis of the films helped determine the circumstances of accidents. In the vast majority of cases (89%) cyclists were riding safely and abiding by the law.  Car drivers were at fault for 87% of the collisions. The most common cause being drivers turning across the path of a cyclist – generally without  slowing down or braking, implying the driver did not see the bike. 4WD drivers were the most likely not to see cyclists.

What Can be Done? 

The main recommendation is for car drivers to follow the law… Drivers would often not indicate their intention to turn (Australian Law requires to indicate it 5 seconds before turning) and often lack awareness of cyclists alongside and behind them. Another study in the UK provides similar findings: 68% of collisions with cyclists were caused by drivers mainly because they fail to see them, drive too fast or carelessly, fail to judge the cyclist’s speed or path, or overtake to close to the cyclist.

Mario Cipollini

Mario Cipollini

They highlight the importance for cyclists of anticipating the actions of drivers and their ability to maneuver around vehicles that suddenly change course as a major factor in avoiding collisions. Male cyclists traveling at higher speeds were more successful at that then slower moving female cyclists. But even the most experienced riders can’t always escape. Just last week former world cycling champion Mario Cipollini was seriously hit by a car during a training ride. Several other stars like Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins and star-sprinter Mark Cavendish also suffered injuries in similar circumstances. This prompted the British Cycling federation to call for the government to put cycling safety at the heart of transport policy.

Proper biking infrastructure was also a factor. In the study, cycling lanes were often disjointed or ended abruptly with no viable option for the cyclist to continue.

Cycling Lessons for Motorists?  

Education for a better awareness by drivers comes up repeatedly as a necessary pre-requisite to improve the safety of cyclists and all road users. An interesting suggestion is to  change the driving tests to include not only more instruction on cycling but also a live cycling module where new drivers would have to pass a cycling test before they are allowed to drive a car. British time-trial cyclist Michael Hutchison says this would “help people realize the dangers that cyclists are in and their vulnerability – something that a lot of people do not realize”. This echoes the words of Laura Weintraub following her epiphany on the importance of “understanding what it is like to share the road from the point of view of cyclists” and that her experience riding a bike was “eye opening”. This is also consistent with research about the negative attitudes of drivers that are not cyclists which make roads more dangerous for everyone. Such measures would help raise understanding, empathy, and the realization that cyclists are also fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters.

IMG_2955About the author: Adam Koniuszewski is a driver and a cyclist with experience riding in North America, the Caribbean, Western and Central Europe, Asia and Australia. He is also a husband, a son, a brother and an uncle.

The 2014 Geneva Auto Show and the Future of Mobility

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A few days ago I attended the 2014 Geneva Auto Show as air pollution levels across Western Europe were reaching crisis levels, forcing the French authorities to reduce speed limits and urban traffic by making public transportation free of charge in some 30 cities including Paris, Lyon, Grenoble and surprisingly even in smaller and remote places like Boulogne-sur-Mer… A similar situation hit Geneva but while the city was contemplating various restrictions the wind picked-up and lowered pollution levels. No such luck in Paris where free public transport and city-bikes where not enough, the city imposed alternative traffic based on license plate numbers.

And while these are severe problems in Europe and America, they pale in comparison with what is happening in China.  Last year Beijing experienced its worst traffic jam in history – exceeding 100km long and lasting more then a week! 

Worldwide there is around 1 billion cars on the roads, a number that is expected to increase to close to 3 billion by 2050 according to Carlos Ghosn, the chief executive of Renault and Nissan. Having experienced traffic jams on all continents, including in places like Beijing, I have trouble imagining what life would be like if the number of cars triples.

Luckily not all the automakers have this vision of the future. Earlier this year, Ford’s CEO Alan Mulally said that questions of mobility and quality of life are some of the most exciting challenges to address and that selling more and more cars is “not going to work”. Alan confirmed the views expressed at the Geneva Auto Show that in industrialized countries it is increasingly difficult to get young people excited about cars and driving (many don’t even want to pass their drivers license!) while in the developing world growing car ownership has clogged many cities. Bill Ford, the great-grandson of the company’s founder has always been interested in the wider environmental and human sides of the business and is helping steer the company towards making public transport vehicles and for it to play a role in the integration of mobility solutions for cities. Just as Henry Ford transformed the automobile industry by making cars affordable to the masses, it seems Bill Ford is helping reinvent the company from a traditional carmaker to a mobility solutions provider.

1199138587_f Car ownership and driving is no longer symbolic of independence and excitement. And with all the restrictions imposed on traffic (lower speed limits, urban congestion charges, the Low Emission Zones where only green cars are allowed, alternate driving system pioneered in Athens in 1982) and the intensification of urban-traffic, the driving experience is very different from a generation ago. It is not surprising then that automobile specialists like Patrick Garcia say with nostalgia that “young people are no longer interested in the performance of the suspension or of the engine, all they want to know are the CO2 emissions and if their smartphone can be synchronized with the car…”.

But even with improved public transport and despite restrictions on traffic, cars will continue to play a major role in mobility and the Geneva Auto Show was a chance to see the latest industry innovations and get a glimpse at how automakers see the future. The salon still featured high-powered vehicles like the Ferrari and Lamborghini models that people looked at with curiosity and perhaps envy but based on my informal survey of hostesses it appears that those actually looking to buy a car are more interested in fuel consumption and emission levels then acceleration or horsepower figures.

Mitsubishi iMiEV

Mitsubishi iMiEV

Luckily there is more and more to chose from. Over 60 low emission models (less then 95g CO2/km) where showcased with several hybrid / electric cars and there was an Electric Drive Center where BMW, Citroën, Mitsubishi, Nissan and Renault vehicles could be tested. According to the hostesses, a silent and smooth ride and the lack of idling appear to be the most appreciated features from these electric test-drives. After signing a CHF 1,000 (US$1,130) deductible in case of accident I got to test-drive the Mitsubishi i-MiEV on the indoor driving track. I confirm my previous experience of driving a Prius on real roads – I found this test-ride most enjoyable! On a full charge the CHF25,000 (US$ 28,400) i-MiEV can go for around 150 km (the typical daily Swiss commute is 38 km). Driving is also very affordable at CHF 1.35/100km (US$1.53/100km) based on typical Swiss electricity rates. A full recharge in a standard electric outlet takes 10 hours or 30 minutes for an 80% charge through high capacity charging. The car was easy to manoeuver making parking in tight spots a piece of cake. Hostesses say that what people find most amazing is the absence of an exhaust pipe!

Just a few years ago most automakers were laughing at the concept of the electric car while today they are all trying to catch up. So to me, the real story of this Auto Show how Toyota has transformed the industry by its $1 billion bet on the hybrid gasoline-electric Prius back in the 1990s. At a time when oil was trading for $15/barrel and Detroit was massively investing in ever-larger SUV’s Toyota was betting the future of the company on fuel-efficiency. In 2008, with $100+/barrel oil prices, the US Government had to rescue GM and Chrysler while Toyota became the world’s number one carmaker by sales and last year Toyota sold 1.3 million hybrid cars!

2014 Prius Plugin Hybrid

2014 Prius Plugin Hybrid

The iconic Prius remains the number one hybrid-vehicle in the world with cumulative sales of 3.8 million by June 2013. The whole family was on full display in Geneva, including the 2011-launched Prius Plug-in Hybrid that can be fully recharged in 90 minutes for a 25 km autonomy on fully electric mode. And Toyota has announced new improvements and features for the fourth generation Prius that should come out in 2015 to further improve fuel efficiency through a reduction in weight and better aerodynamics. No wonder the Prius consistently tops consumer satisfaction surveys! For an excellent account of the Toyota Prius story checkout this article by Robert Collier.

And if you think that with all this technology and all these engineers working to improve fuel efficiency that future improvements can only be marginal then think again. According to Amory Lovins from the Rocky Mountain Institute, less then 6% of the fuel moves the car and hence only 0.3% moves the driver. Dramatic reductions in weight, improved aerodynamics and lower rolling resistance are key to reducing fuel consumption, improving the safety and driver experience and opening the way for a massive electrification of the automobile industry. Now this is a positive vision for the future of the car industry and I look forward to seeing how this plays out at the 2015 Auto Show!

 

Selected tips for improved fuel consumption:

1) Buy low rolling resistance tires to boost fuel economy by up to 12% at no cost

2) Remove any ski racks or other accessories that increase drag for a 15% economy

3) Properly inflated tires (5%)

4) Do not carry any unnecessary weight in the car

5) Avoid excessive speeds and anticipate

6) Take an eco-driving course