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Posts from the ‘Cycling’ Category

What Australia can learn from bicycle-friendly cities overseas

The Conversation, 28/08/20

Walking and cycling are in the spotlight given the need to keep fit, get about and keep a social distance from others during the pandemic.

We have pop-up cyclewaysenlarged footpaths and even whole streets closed to traffic.

But even if the new cycleways stay in place after the COVID-19 crisis, we’ll still be far from being as bicycle-friendly as Copenhagen or Amsterdam, over in Europe.

CBDs and city suburbs

The reason lies in how Australian cities are shaped and how they work. Copenhagen is a compact city, so most trips are relatively short, an average 3km a day. People can walk or cycle all the way to work, to the shops, to school or to a restaurant.

Any attempt to emulate Copenhagen’s active transport modes in Australia is only really a feasible option for our CBDs and inner-city suburbs.

For the rest we already have some cycleways mostly following transport corridors. Sometimes these are literally a bicycle lane on the shoulder of the motorway.

There are some people who use those, but even the most committed of cyclists would think twice before a 20km one-way commute under a scorching sun or in heavy rain.

Go the ‘first mile’

Only if cycling becomes an option for almost everyone, any day, can it truly make a difference.

That is, for most of us cycling cannot be an alternative, but a complement, to public transport. Cycling has the potential to solve what is often referred to as the “first mile” problem, the challenge of getting people to a public transport hub.

For people who live up to 1km away from a railway station, they should have a comfortable walk.

Many more, living up to 3km away, could benefit from cycling. They could ride to the station, leave their bike securely parked, and catch a train to their final destination.

Access derailed

But the way things are, cycling or walking to the station can be a dangerous ordeal, or at least rather unpleasant, for most of us.

Footpaths may disappear on one or both sides of the road, pedestrian crossings may be scarce, heavy traffic on arterial roads creates toxic fumes and noise, and the lack of trees greatly reduces amenity.

If you do not see other people walking or cycling, then even a short trip can be unsettling or feel unsafe.

The conditions can be worse for cyclists, who may have no options other than to ride illegally on the narrow footpath or risk it on the road.

Turning Japanese

Improving active transport access to suburban stations is a low-cost endeavour with many benefits. First of all, we need to look at examples that work and find out why, then adapt them to our needs.

We believe the best examples applicable to suburban Australia are not just in great European cycling cities but include the humble mamachari bicycles found in the suburbs of Japan’s big cities.

We have written about what makes Japanese city planning and transportation so bicycle-friendly in our most recent book, City Form, Economics and Culture: For the Architecture of Public Space.

Note that Greater Tokyo (known as the Kanto region) is not an incredibly dense behemoth but a sea of single-family detached houses in which most of the population live.

Suburban Kanto is built around railway stations, much like many parts of Sydney or Melbourne. Large shops, schools and offices are located around the station so most local transport is on foot or bike. Longer trips are done by train.

Most people in Greater Tokyo walk or ride their bicycles to the station. This is possible because most streets carry very little traffic. Arterial roads and motorways are congested with commercial traffic, but can be easily avoided for local trips.

So you won’t often find cycle lanes or even footpaths at all in Japan. They are not necessary.

What Australia can learn

In Australia the overall goal, or strategy, should be to make it easier for people to cycle and walk to and from their local public transport station.

The ways to achieve this, the tactics, need to be different and tailored for each suburb.

For instance, some of our suburbs have very wide streets with little traffic so a row of trees could be planted in the middle and on-street car parking moved there, making it easier for cyclists on the road.

A wide bicycle lane could then be accommodated next to the footpath, away from opening car doors.

Sometimes there is an existing network of lanes that could be easily adapted as a route for cyclists. In any case, paths should be clearly marked and continuous, so no-one rides all of sudden in heavy traffic.

Increasing walking and cycling also generates opportunities for local business. Little and mid-size shops should be allowed to flourish around stations.

All in all, the suburbs would be a bit less dependent on the CBD and the shopping centre without losing much of their charm and character, and we will all lose a couple of kilos.

Italy Offers €500 Subsidy for Bicycles and E-Scooters

Treehugger, 19/08/20

As part of its post-coronavirus recovery plan, Italy announced earlier this summer that it would offer a hefty subsidy to anyone wanting to buy a bicycle. People living in cities of more than 50,000 inhabitants are eligible to receive €500 ($600) toward the purchase of a new bicycle or e-scooter. 

This announcement, made at the end of May by transport minister Paola Micheli, is part of the country’s €55 billion support package designed to boost Italy’s economy after its devastation by COVID-19. Italy was one of the first countries outside of China to be hit hard by COVID-19 and to enforce extensive lockdown rules in an effort to control the pandemic. 

Shaken by the experience, many Italians (along with others around the world) have expressed reluctance to use public transit as normal life slowly resumes. And with its cramped, historic cities and narrow cobblestone streets already jammed full of traffic, having even more Italians commute by car would be a recipe for disaster.

The new subsidy is accompanied by an initiative to expand bicycle lanes throughout Italian cities, which is smart. The Brussels Times reported, “City representatives of the country’s capital, Rome, announced on Monday that it would create 150 kilometres [93 miles] of new cycling paths by September.” A similar project in Milan called “Strade Aperte” (or Open Roads) has been switching 35 kilometres [22 miles] of urban streets to temporary bicycle lanes and widened sidewalks. Hopefully these will become permanent, once residents realize how helpful they are.

But subsidies alone are unlikely to convince Italians that it’s worth hopping on a bike. Residents of Rome, in particular, are wary of bikes, as described in New Mobility:

“Previous bicycle projects in the city failed because Romans showed no interest at all. They found bicycles too heavy, too dangerous, too hot, too slow, or too unhandy so that the scarce cycle paths that were built became parking places again in no time at all. Companies that had been running loan bike programs in recent years also pulled out in record time because their bikes were almost exclusively loved by thieves who sold the loose parts to hardware stores.”

Furthermore, it’s estimated that there are over “50,000 holes in Roman roads,” which is why only 1% of all journeys in the city are made by bicycle, according to a 2017 report by Greenpeace (via New Mobility).

As Gianluca Santili, president of the study center Osservatorio Bikeconomy, explained, there needs to be a major cultural shift. “150 km of cycle paths is not enough to get Romans on their bikes.” They will need campaigns showing that life is better on a bike, that with a bicycle, “you no longer have parking problems and, therefore, less stress. That cycling is healthier than the car and the scooter, and above all: that they can save up to €3,000 [$3,580] a year on gasoline, road tax, and insurances.”

Some Italians also need to believe that it doesn’t look bad to ride a bicycle. Fifteen years later, I’m still mildly bitter about the fact that my Italian host parents refused to let me ride a bike to school because they worried what the neighbors would think, “that we’re not taking care of you properly. Non si fa. It just isn’t done.” The old-world hang-ups about appearance were endearing only until they started to jeopardize my health and sanity.

Change can happen quickly, however, especially when a country has emerged from a traumatic event like the coronavirus pandemic. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it did burn in nine, so there’s really no telling what’s possible.

London is looking to increase cycling tenfold after the coronavirus 6 May 2020

It's the only way to deal with reduced capacity in the underground, and is a great example for other cities.

In North America, bikes are seen as recreation rather than transportation; that's why some cities like New York and Toronto have to be dragged kicking and screaming into providing room for them. But both of these cities are dependent on subways to move commuters and are faced with a serious problem of reduced capacity. London is even more reliant on the Underground, and is looking at bikes being part of the solution. Walking and Cycling Commissioner Will Norman (yes, they have someone doing that!) explains the straightforward mathematics in BikeBiz:

With London’s public transport capacity potentially running at a fifth of pre-crisis levels, up to eight million journeys a day will need to be made by other means. If people switch only a fraction of these journeys to cars, London will grind to a halt. Essential deliveries and emergency services will be stuck in gridlock and Londoners will once again be exposed to toxic traffic fumes and rising levels of road danger. Our city’s economic recovery will be choked off.

Parking and traffic lanes will be reduced or removed to provide more space for pedestrians and bikes, with pavements doubled in width in some areas. Traffic signals are being retimed to reduce pedestrian waiting, and more space will be provided at busy transit stops. Mayor Sadiq Khan is quoted: “The emergency measures… will help those who have to travel to work. Many Londoners have rediscovered the joys of walking and cycling during lockdown and ... we will enable millions more people to change the way they get around our city.”

They also project five times the amount of walking, with more people working from home and walking around their neighborhoods. Commissioner Norman explains:

Many people will continue to work from home for many months to come. We’re likely to have fewer longer journeys to work and more shorter journeys in our local neighbourhoods. We will rapidly transform local town centres on the TfL road network to enable these local journeys to be safely walked and cycled where possible, and work with the boroughs to make similar changes on their streets. Wider footways on high streets will facilitate a local economic recovery, with people having space to queue for shops as well as enough space for others to safely walk past while socially distancing.

This is where it gets really interesting, a vision not that different from the one laid out in TreeHugger's The Coronavirus and the future of Main Street, where more people working at home supported what Eric Reguly called "a relaunch of Jane Jacobs’s urban ideal, where neighborhoods have a diverse range of work and family functions."

Instead of spending billions on expensive subways and highways, it becomes an exercise in rebuilding shorter, local links serving revitalized neighborhood centers. But it also recognizes, finally, the importance of walking, bikes and now e-bikes as transportation, not just fitness or recreation. Cars take up a lot of space, and we don't have enough of it in our cities. We have to acknowledge, as they are in London, that we can't just hand our cities over to drivers and cars or we will just have gridlock and pollution. In an earlier post, E-bikes will eat ... buses? I quoted Morton Kabell: "A lot of people will be afraid of going on public transportation, but we have to get back to work someday. Very few of our cities can handle more car traffic."

Pop-up bikeways on the cards in Adelaide’s CBD as indecision stalls east-west route

ABC News 12 May 2020

Pop-up bikeways in Adelaide's CBD that could utilise existing car lanes are to be considered by the city's council as a temporary solution to long-awaited cycling infrastructure.

Key points:

A councillor is going to propose pop-up bike lanes as an experimental measure in Adelaide
The $5.5 million east-west bikeway has been delayed since announced in 2016
There are calls for more funding of cycling infrastructure to avoid traffic gridlocks post-COVID-19

City of Adelaide councillor Robert Simms said he wants to draw from "what's happening around the world and in other states" by implementing temporary bike lanes in the CBD.

"We want to look at what we can do in the short-term to accommodate more cyclists on our streets while we get bikeway construction underway," he told ABC Radio Adelaide.

"We've got lots of car parking that is not being used because of the pandemic. And even with the easing of restrictions at the moment we're still not going to see the volume of people coming into the city for some time.

"It could mean less [motor] lanes on arterial roads.

Debate stymies east-west bikeway

Debate over a long-awaited east-west bikeway through the CBD appears no closer to being settled as opinions on the best route continue to vary in the council — as they have for much of the latter half of last decade.
Proposals for the $5.5 million project have included using Grote and Wakefield streets, Flinders and Franklin streets, and Pirie and Waymouth streets.

The route is designed to connect with Frome Road's north-south bikeway, which has itself been the subject of controversy after its initial design was partially ripped up and re-designed in 2017.

"We've had big discussions about the east-west bikeway in Adelaide and where we are going to put it," Cr Simms said. "Maybe this is a chance for us to trial some routes, trial some options in a pop-up way and whether they work, before we get the permanent infrastructure happening."

Cr Simms' motion will be considered by the council at its monthly meeting Tuesday night.

Calls to boost infrastructure spending

Bicycle Institute of SA chairperson Katie Gilfillan said the high number of cyclists seen during COVID-19 restrictions proved it was a highly popular form of exercise among the community and deserved more funding from the state and local governments.

By way of example, BISA figures found more than 1,600 cyclists on average used the River Torrens Linear Park shared walkway during April this year, compared with just over 800 in April 2019.
"Within the City of Adelaide a lot of people would know there has been some significant delays on those bikeways," Ms Gilfillan said.
"We've been waiting on an east-west bikeway for some time and we were really hoping that, like Melbourne, Sydney, Milan and Paris, that post this COVID-19 period we would see that project pushed forward faster."
She said the State Government had increased its Planning and Development Fund to $50 million for "shovel-ready" local projects this year and hoped much of that money would be directed towards cycling infrastructure.

"On top of the extra funding they've got for local councils now we'd also like to see the State Government genuinely increasing funding for bike riding, which currently gets around 0.6 per cent of the total transport budget," Ms Gilfillan said.

"We'd like to see that increase to 5 per cent and for us to keep rolling out quality bike infrastructure that's low stress, so places where people don't have to battle with cars a lot."

This included more expenditure on arterial road crossings for routes that cyclists use through local streets.

"The majority of us use quieter local streets and they're often quite good, but we do need to get across those busy roads and they can be pretty hectic," Ms Gilfillan said.

Pop-up cycleways for central Sydney

Bicycle Network 18 May 2020
More than 10 kilometres of pop-up bike lanes will be installed in the City of Sydney in the coming weeks as part of the NSW state government's plan to ease coronavirus restrictions.

Six temporary bike lanes will be installed in key commuter areas to give people an easy alternative to public transport which will be running at reduced capacity to help people maintain physical distancing.

The new bike lanes will connect to the city's existing network of bike lanes and feed in from the the north, east, south and west. The locations of the new bike lanes are:

Bridge Road / Pyrmont Bridge Road at Pyrmont
Pitt Street North in the CBD
Moore Park Road in Paddington / Moore Park
Dunning Avenue at Rosebery
Sydney Park Road in Alexandria / Erskineville
Henderson Road at Eveleigh

The bike lanes will be matched with a trial of 40km/h speed limits in the villages of Camperdown, Ultimo and on Bridge Road between Annandale and Pyrmont.

Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore said that the pop-up bike lanes will help the city return from coronavirus restrictions.

“When someone rides to work, they take a car off the road or free up space on public transport – this will be even invaluable when people start returning to the City and seek to maintain physical distancing."
“The rapid roll-out of key connections in our cycleway network will improve safety for people riding to the City centre, school and health facilities, and reduce crowding on public transport," said Cr Moore.

Minister for Transport and Roads Andrew Constance said the new bike lanes will help people get to and from work safely.
“We are already seeing our public transport system at capacity during peak periods with the need to physical distance and we want to offer the community more options to make their journeys safer," said Mr Constance.
On top of the six confirmed bike lanes, plans are also being considered for temporary cycleways on Oxford Street in Paddington and Darlinghurst, King St in Newtown, Castlereagh and King streets in the CBD, and in a possible back-to-the future move, College Street.

College Street is a key commuter route and used to have a dedicated cycleway, but it was ripped up in 2015 under the direction of former roads minister Duncan Gay. Bike lanes on College Street and King Street have both been long-term campaigns of Bicycle Network.

‘Cleaner and greener’: Covid-19 prompts world’s cities to free public space of cars

The Guardian May 18 2020

The mayor of Athens has said he will “liberate” public space from cars. His counterpart in Paris says it is out of the question for the city to return to pre-coronavirus traffic and pollution levels. In Berlin, 14 miles (22 km) of new bike lanes have appeared almost overnight.
Around the world, from Dublin to Sydney, cities are being radically reshaped in favour of cyclists and pedestrians as empty streets give authorities the opportunity to implement and accelerate large-scale projects.

Cycling advocates and environmental activists are urging governments to ensure the revival is long-term and lasts beyond the pandemic, for fear of a pushback by the car lobby.

The Greek capital is embarking on one of the most ambitious rejuvenation schemes, which has been hastened by the pandemic, according to its mayor, Kostas Bakoyannis. He announced plans last week to allocate 50,000 square metres of public space for cyclists and pedestrians.

At the heart of the scheme will be a four-mile “grand walkway” uniting archaeological sites in the historic centre. Pavements will be widened, boulevards pedestrianised, squares enlarged and traffic banned from areas beneath the Acropolis.
The mayor of Athens has said he will “liberate” public space from cars. His counterpart in Paris says it is out of the question for the city to return to pre-coronavirus traffic and pollution levels. In Berlin, 14 miles (22 km) of new bike lanes have appeared almost overnight.
Around the world, from Dublin to Sydney, cities are being radically reshaped in favour of cyclists and pedestrians as empty streets give authorities the opportunity to implement and accelerate large-scale projects.
Cycling advocates and environmental activists are urging governments to ensure the revival is long-term and lasts beyond the pandemic, for fear of a pushback by the car lobby.

The Greek capital is embarking on one of the most ambitious rejuvenation schemes, which has been hastened by the pandemic, according to its mayor, Kostas Bakoyannis. He announced plans last week to allocate 50,000 square metres of public space for cyclists and pedestrians.

At the heart of the scheme will be a four-mile “grand walkway” uniting archaeological sites in the historic centre. Pavements will be widened, boulevards pedestrianised, squares enlarged and traffic banned from areas beneath the Acropolis.

Bakoyannis, who became Athens’ youngest mayor last year, openly admits that the pandemic played a role in accelerating infrastructure works that might have taken years to accomplish.

“We have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and are fast-forwarding all our public works,” he said. “The goal is to liberate public space from cars and give it to people who want to walk and enjoy the city … Athens will be cleaner, greener and better lit.”

In Budapest, 12 miles of temporary bike lanes have been introduced on some of the city’s busiest roads over the past month.

The city’s mayor, Gergely Karácsony, who was elected last year on a largely green platform, had little trouble introducing the lanes after many people expressed their discomfort at the prospect of depending on the city’s excellent but usually packed public transport system during the pandemic.

The mayor’s office said it was monitoring traffic levels and that some of the temporary lanes may remain once life gets back to normal. It is planning a public consultation over where and how to introduce more bike lanes in the future.

Around 20 miles of temporary bike lanes have been set up across Paris, much to the disgruntlement of car lobbyists who have protested to city hall that their rights are being squeezed. Main roads such as the Rue de Rivoli and Rue Saint Antoine, a major east-west route, are gradually being sealed off to private vehicles and there are proposals for a further 30 miles of bike lanes in the city.

Many Parisians are being offered €50 toward getting old bikes repaired as part of the French capital’s €20m (£18m) planvélo to encourage the use of bicycles.

Those supporting the new push for bike travel point to recent studies, one of which showed the average journey by vehicle in Paris to is 2.5 miles – a comfortable distance by bike for most – and another indicating that the lack of exhaust fumes during lockdown has dramatically improved air quality in the city.

The city’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, had made persuading people to abandon private cars in favour of bikes one of the pillars of her political programme even before she was elected mayor in 2014. Despite the car lobby’s hopes that motorised vehicles can reclaim the city once the virus is under control, Hidalgo has said it is out of the question for the city to return to the pre-coronavirus traffic jams and vehicle pollution.

Dublin city council has set aside swathes of Ireland’s capital for pedestrians and cyclists to facilitate physical distancing in a “temporary mobility plan” that may become permanent. Authorities singled out College Green, which abuts Trinity College, and other parts of the city centre for what promises to be a bold transformation.

The idea is to give pedestrians and cyclists more space to navigate the city when shops and other businesses reopen in a 12 to 18-month respite from traffic-choked streets.

Authorities in Milan, among the most polluted cities in Europe, have said 22 miles of streets will be transformed over the summer as part of a scheme to reallocate space from cars to cycling and walking. Congestion in Milan, which is usually clogged with traffic, has fallen between 30 and 70% during the lockdown, and air pollution with it.
Rome’s council has approved the construction of 93 miles of temporary and permanent cycle routes as a way to be more sustainable while allowing people to adhere to physical distancing rules. As part of the government’s economic decree, people in towns and cities with populations of 50,000 or more will also be able to claim up to €500 toward the cost of a new bike. The payment also applies to scooters, electric bikes and Segways.

Last year’s Tour de France victory by the Colombian Egan Bernal precipitated a cycling boom in Bogotá. Hundreds of miles of public highways are closed to cars on Sundays, allowing cyclists to take to the roads free of exhaust fumes and the blare of car horns.

This enthusiasm has made it easier for the mayor, Claudia López, herself a keen cyclist, to introduce more bike lanes as part of plans to reduce public transport use to 35% of capacity in the country’s effort to tackle the pandemic. Fifty miles of new bike paths were announced last week, on top of the 300 already in place.

Announcing that 7,000 people were using the bike paths in the working-class south of the city, Bogota’s transport secretary, Nicolás Estupiñan, tweeted: “Every day more Bogotanos are getting on, and staying on, their bikes!”

Similar developments are taking place from Brussels to Sydney, while transport officials in many US cities report an “explosion in cycling”. From “slow streets” programmes in California to the progressive closure of many streets in New York, some cities have said they plan to make the changes permanent.

In Berlin it can take up to a decade to create a new bike lane, but during the coronavirus crisis, 14 miles of pop-up bike lanes, separated from car lanes by traffic beacons, have been introduced in anything from three to 10 days. Most will be here to stay, city officials have said, arguing that increasing numbers of Berliners – at the last count 43% – have no car, and that bikes will help lessen the burden on public transport.

The ADAC, Germany’s automobile association, has been highly critical of what it has called officials’ “exploitation of an emergency”, which has been taking place in cities across the country.

“The temporary reduction in car traffic, and incidentally bike usage as well, cannot be used to enforce the permanent reallocation of traffic space,” Volker Krane, of the ADAC, told German media. He said the bike lanes did little to ensure the safety of bike riders.

Even in some cities that have not introduced specific measures to encourage bikes, cyclists are making their presence felt. In the Jordanian capital, Amman, they spoke of the joy of seizing empty roads from the aggressive driving culture that normally dominates them, after cars were banned for about six weeks.

Reporting team: Helena Smith in Athens, Shaun Walker in Budapest, Kim Willsher in Paris, Rory Carroll in Dublin, Angela Giuffrida in Rome, Joe Parkin Daniels in Bogotá and Michael Safi in Amman

This was the decade of the bicycle. What’s next? 24 December 2019

Probably, the decade of e-mobility.

TreeHugger Mike first wrote about self-driving cars in 2010, suggesting that “in the next 10-20 our cars could start to be able to drive themselves safely and efficiently.” Over the next few years everyone thought Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) were just around the corner.

Read more

Make room for the e-bikes, the top-selling electric vehicles for the next decade 3 January 2020

A new study from Deloitte predicts what we have said before: e-bikes will eat cars.

Recently, after calling the teens the decade of the bicycle, I predicted that the Twenties would be the decade of e-mobility.

Read more

A bike parking facility in Tilburg is even more beautiful than their bus station 6 May 2019

It even has moving sidewalks for bikes. This is how you get people out of cars.

After writing about a beautiful bus station in Tilburg, the Netherlands, designed by Cepezed, I noticed that they had designed an amazing bike storage facility as part of the public transportation hub. I asked for permission to publish the photos of it and they wrote back that they didn’t have any, since it had just started construction a few weeks ago. These were renderings! It’s amazing – these are getting so good that it’s hard to tell these days what’s real and what’s rendered. Also amazing is the attention given to bike storage as part of a public transportation strategy, in what is a relatively small city, the official municipality having a quarter of a million people.

One parking facility will be on the north side of the station and the other one the south side. Together, they will offer space for over 7000 bicycles. The northern parking facility has space for 3900 bicycles; [it] is the first one to be built and is expected to be ready in the summer of 2020. The southern parking facility on the side of the city center will have 3400 parking spots and will probably be finished by the end of 2021.

Both parking facilities are equipped with conveyer belts and are permanently guarded. There will also be a service room for minor repairs and the parking facilities will accommodate around 200 OV (public transport) bikes. Travelers will be able to park their bikes for free the first 24 hours.
Really, moving sidewalks for bikes! This is how you get people out of cars.

In North America, transportation agencies build vast parking garages for cars at commuter train stations, costing as much as $40,000 per space. In Ontario, Canada, the agency found that passengers live quite close; according to Oliver Moore in the Globe and Mail,
Some 13 per cent of them travel less than one kilometre to a GO rail station, and another 19 per cent come between one and two kilometres. But only 18 per cent of passengers arrive by foot, transit or bicycle, meaning that a large number of people are making short drives to the station.
That’s what happens when you give out “free” parking. Perhaps if they built bicycle parking facilities like Cepezed have designed for Tilburg, people wouldn’t have to drive half a mile to store their car all day. t1 \lsdpr

Gazelle dutch-style e-bikes will eat cars 27 May 2019

These are not just bikes with motors, they are an entirely different mobility platform.

Four years ago I reviewed an e-bike and wondered if they belonged in cities.

Toronto is relatively flat, my trips are relatively short, and I am relatively fit; I can see that for other people in other places it could be a very different story. Tomorrow I will be back on a regular bike that is a third the weight and a fifth the cost. My heart will beat a little faster and I will travel a little slower, but I’m not ready for that e-bike yet. Let’s talk again in a few years.

Ok, it is a few years later, and I have spent the last few weeks riding a really wonderful e-bike, a Gazelle Medeo. And it’s time to talk.

First, let’s talk about the bike. Gazelle has been making bikes in the Netherlands since 1892, and their e-bikes have all the attributes of classic dutch-style bikes: solid, heavy, durable, with a comfortable upright riding position. The Medeo, which I have been riding, is their lowest priced model, starting at about US$2500. It has a 250 watt Bosch mid-motor churning out 50 Nm of torque and a 400 watt-hour battery that will push it about 59 miles in ECO mode. I have been using it mostly in Tour mode, which will go approximately 33 miles.

It is a step-through design which at first I had to force myself to use, I am so used to a top tube and throwing my leg over the rear. In fact, this is much easier, and a joy at red lights. The bike is substantial and has real inertia, taking a push to get going but then never stops. It feels solid, stable, confident. In Tour mode I play nicely with others in the bike lane, going at about the pace of the 25 year old commuters, getting passed by the speedsters.

The bike has hydraulic rim brakes; I wondered why, when so many bikes come with disk brakes now. Benny of Gazelle USA explained:

The decision to use Magura HS-22 hydraulic rim brakes goes back to us being a Dutch company. In the Netherlands, people ride their bike everywhere they go and when they reach their destination, they park the bikes in bike racks and can accidentally bend/damage disc rotors, contaminate them, etc. So, in the simplest of terms, I’d say we use the hydraulic rim brakes for braking power/control and simplicity of maintenance.

The battery is up high too, built into the carrier. I thought this might be a problem, that perhaps it would be better to keep the weight low, but it’s a great carrier and I never noticed issues of centre of gravity.

Now let’s talk about riding. The bike is a pedelec and has no throttle. Instead, it detects how fast and how hard you are pedalling with cadence, torque and speed sensors, and gives the appropriate boost. It is so sensitive and so simple that you really can forget that you are on an e-bike; you just happen to be really strong and fast and hills don’t matter and, oh right, it’s an e-bike. You don’t hear it and soon you don’t even feel it, but it is there, making me feel 25 again. The nine gears help you easily find a comfortable cadence for your speed, and let you eat steep hills for breakfast.

Is it ‘cheating’? If my name was Femke Van den Driessche and I was in a road race, yes. But I am not dressed in Lycra doing a race. I am just a guy trying to get from A to B. I am not on this for racing, or even for exercising, although my Apple Watch heart monitor, and my working of the gears on hills, tell me that I am indeed getting light exercise, and studies confirm this. I am on this for transportation. I am on this because I believe we should not be driving cars in the city. I am on this because I hate getting stuck in traffic and I hate trying to find or pay for parking. Oh, and there is a climate crisis.

This is the difference between a bike and an e-bike, the way you can use it for transportation. A and B can be much further apart. It can be hot; a recent study found that you sweat 1/9th as much. It can be hilly. Or, like Toronto where I live, you can deal with a gradual slope down to the lake. For years I have complained that they put Toronto’s downtown in the wrong place, that I would rather pedal up the slight tilt in the morning and roll back down when tired at the end of the day. Or for an evening activity downtown I would take the subway and streetcar or even skip events because I was feeling lazy or tired and didn’t want to slog up the hill on the way home.

The e-bike changes that equation; that tilt of Toronto no longer matters. I no longer think about being too tired. Because of this, I am using it more often than I used my regular bike, and I am going longer distances. I suspect that, because of that, I am probably getting as much exercise as I did on my bike, although to reiterate, that’s not the point. This is transportation.

Analyst Horace Dediu paraphrased Marc Andreessen on software and said “Bikes have a tremendous disruptive advantage over cars. Bikes will eat cars.” I will paraphrase Dediu and say that e-bikes will eat cars. This bike is totally disruptive; it can truly act as a car replacement for many people. (Someone is going to say, “What about winter?” But I have been riding all winter for years. I suspect this will be much more comfortable because I will dress as if I am going for a winter walk, not a ride where I often underdressed so that I wouldn’t overheat.)

There are a couple of caveats. For e-bikes really to eat cars, they need two things that drivers of cars take for granted: a place to drive and a place to park. We need good, safe and separate bike lanes and routes so that people feel comfortable. That’s why Egbert Brasjen can ride his e-bike at age 96. With the right infrastructure, you can ride this forever.

We also need safe, secure places to lock our bikes. I have been very nervous, leaving a $2500 bike on Toronto streets, where 3700 bikes were stolen last year and only one percent recovered. I paid more for the 2 Abus locks than I have paid for some bikes, and including the AXA lock that comes with the bike, I am following the lock-per-hour rule I learned from an Abus rep from Chicago: “If I go to a three-hour movie, I put three locks on the bike.”

Riding in Toronto’s always lovely and safe Harbord Street bike lane a few days ago, I pulled up beside a blue 1990 Mazda Miata, identical to the one I sold last fall. I started talking to the driver, a guy about my age, about how I sold mine and was now riding this e-bike; it was faster in the city, and I didn’t have to put the top down to get sun and air, and I was using it much more than I ever used the car. We talked at every light for a number of blocks, about how I no longer felt safe in the car mixing in traffic with big SUVs, and actually feel safer in the bike lane on the Gazelle.

Just before he turned off Harbord, he said “I’m convinced! Where did you get it?” I sent him to Amego, Virginia Block’s wonderful e-bike shop that distributes the Gazelle here. I really believe that this kind of conversation is going to become more common.

The Gazelle Medeo is not just a bike with a motor. It’s a model for an entirely different mobility platform, a different way to get around cities, and perhaps more importantly, around suburbs that are too diffuse for a regular bike. It’s a transportation revolution and it will eat everything.