Let A Thousand Flowers Bloom

The title is from a Mao quote where, for a brief time, he loosened up the speech codes thinking that this would lead to many poems written about the brilliance of Communist China. Instead, he got lots of criticism about his regime.

Some people feel, from the beginning, his plan was to trick his opponents out into the open so he could arrest them.

What does this have to do with cycling?

Nothing really except that I do like the title, and I see it as a metaphor for what California, and the rest of the United States would look like if we had the courage to loosen up our planning codes to allow engineers to truly innovate.

Many people make the stupid comparison of government and the private sector. However, I do feel that in this particular case, the government can learn from private industry.

Imagine if the engineers at Apple Computers had the same rigid “design codes” that the traffic engineers have. We would all be staring at blocky green cursors on black screens as text crawled across the screen from a 2400 baud modem.

American bikeways are now at the same kind of shitty standard that computers were forty years ago. I think that is, in part, because we don’t allow our engineers to have the full creative expression that they need to truly shine.

One of the reasons for these regressive attitudes is based on fear for the safety of cyclists due to confusion that all road users will have when confronted with innovations.

I think that this fear is largely unfounded.

Humans are more intelligent than that. Also, one of the best innovations that the roads are lacking is intuitiveness. Just as a radically new iPhone is more intuitive to use than the safer and well trod DOS, newer road designs will be more intuitive for cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians.

Initially, there will be a shock, but this is more of a safety shock than a collision producing one. When confronted with an innovation, motorist will be forced to slow down and to pay attention. This attentiveness will result in fewer not more collisions as one of the biggest contributors to motorway fatalities is driver inattentiveness.

Although the increase in safety and comfort for all is a huge advantage there are other benefits as well which is to make travel fun again.

A good friend of mine recounted it this way: she lived in a country where each state had not only different colored traffic signs but they were written in differing languages! Shortly after moving to the US, she took a road trip to a neighboring state. Imagine her dismay to realize that the state looked exactly same as the one before. With so much homogeneity, what’s the use of travel at all?

Traveling by bicycle, however, she had a much different experience. Infrastructure for cycling was slightly different in each state. There were harried students squeezing by her into the door zone in college towns, to wine tours by bicycle in another, to a bike path in the golf ball zone in another. Finally, in many places there was the unfortunate smelly and noisy shoulder of the boring and homogenous highway.

How many places have we gotten off an exit of a freeway and saw the same cluster of chains along side a fast paced arterial road and wondered why are we even here?

Now imagine every town being different with different styles of cycle tracks, round abouts, buffered bike lanes, biking boulevards, and even rope bridges across canyons for bicycles only.

Where are people going to come for tourism? What towns will people talk about, start businesses in, and want to raise their children in?

People like to whine about how high New York rent is, but there, more than anywhere else, you get what you pay for. New York has world class talent in every field because it has built the infrastructure that draws those people there and keeps them there. Why do you think that they are building all this biking stuff anyway?

Hint, it’s because they really know how to take care of their residents, and they are not afraid to spend money to do so. In fact, one might argue that this kind of government spending actually increases the tax base because it attracts wealthier residents to live and spend their money there.

Where else do you see such wealthy people living in apartments and walking the streets? In other places, walking is seen for the poor only.

So I urge the state of California to get off its ass and to stop standing in the way of innovation. We wasted forty or so years while the rest of the world surpassed us.

Instead of trying to ape Amsterdam, let’s up our game and have them coming here to learn for us. Sure there are lots of intelligent Dutch and Danish engineers so it’s a worthy competition. Let’s see who can build the most bicycle friendly city.


5 Responses to “Let A Thousand Flowers Bloom”

  1. BC Says:

    “Instead of trying to ape Amsterdam, …”

    Are you serious, or is this just a try at getting the anti-Euro contingent on board. Bike infrastructure in the US is so incredibly lacking that anything even approaching ‘aping Amsterdam’ would be the biggest improvement imaginable.

    • Fred Says:

      I was actually serious.

      I have no idea why people think that this is impossible.

      Let’s recall that there was a time when the automobile was the plaything of the rich and that politicians could get good traction by campaigning against it.

      Smoking in a hospital was allowed.

      Things change, and it’s best if we have a hand in thme so we can make things better.

      We used to not have a freeway system. When it was built, many whined that it was too expensive and impractical.

      If we don’t dream big, we get nothing which was where we have been in the last few decades of cycling infrastructure.

      And yes, I am not ashamed to admire the parts of Europe that are admirable. And, like we took the freeway from Germany, we should take bike infrastructure from the Dutch then improve it.

      Why do people think that America is so lame and backward that it can’t lead the world in cycling?

      • BC Says:

        “If we don’t dream big, we get nothing which was where we have been in the last few decades of cycling infrastructure.”

        Trying for Dutch infrastructure is dreaming big. One reason we didn’t dream big in the past is because no one knew what was possible*. Even for those who visited and rode in the the Netherlands, it was difficult to comprehend the extent and details of what they experienced, and hard to communicate the portion they did understand. The Dutch didn’t even realize how advanced their system is.

        But that is no longer true. The best cycling infrastructure in the world is, thanks to many individuals and the internet, accessible, visible, and reproducible. hembrow.blogspot.com for example. But more people need to see it/read it.

        *(Another reason is the prolific,counter-productive, and on-going influence of the Forrester/VC/CABO crowd telling us that what we want is not really what we want.)

      • Fred Says:

        I agree whole heartedly. The only thing I’d add is that I truly believe that the best cycling infrastructure is yet to be built.

        Yes, the Netherlands is wonderful, and it makes an excellent starting point.

        But I see no reason to limit ourselves to what I see there. I wish we would stop the liability/segregation/poverty/safety nonsense and allow our engineers a big budget not unlike the one that got us the first freeway system.

        I believe that only in taking risks and spending money can we truly make things safe and save money in the long run.

  2. BC Says:

    But a great blog post, BTW.

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