Healthy Green Transport for a Small City. 1.

The bike transport renaissance, so far, has been a big-city phenomenon. We have watched exceptionally large cities like New York, Paris and London have Copenhagen-style cycle tracks built, while the small regional cities that actually typify the way humans make settlements, have merrily focused on parking (more and more of the garbage) and racier and racier car lanes. And still small cities somehow dodge the plight of congestion!  Large cities were crippled by jams almost as soon as cars were affordable.

No one was bothered by cars clogging the streets of big cities while ever Manhattan and central London were places only a reprobate would call home, and genteel folk escaped at 5pm every day to the suburbs. It was only when the middle classes wanted to actually live in the hearts of big cities, that they started lobbying to have city streets made safe for trips on foot or by bike—school trips, work trips, and trips home from the disco with a skin-full of booze. This new breed of inner city constituent, elected mayors like Bertrand Delanoë (Paris), Michael Bloomberg (New York) and Boris Johnson (London), all with a mandate to throttle car flows coming from the suburbs to city centres, and build barrier protected cycle tracks modelled on those used by mothers and children in Holland. Consistent with the aim of those big cities to get everyone riding, all have provided cheap public hire bikes in pick-up and deposit bays spread all across town.

Cheap hire bikes as seen all over London

But Paris, New York and London are not typical cities. For one, everyone knows them. A typical city is as unknown to the rest of the world as its inhabitants. And with populations measured in tens or hundreds of thousands, not millions, typical cities still manage to function with cars. The result may not be pretty, equitable, healthy or safe, but people can live in the suburbs and drive to the CBD in reasonable time in small cities. That means the time-poor are under no pressure to live in apartments in town, or elect mayors who will make town centres more liveable. They can live in the burbs, and let CBDs be abandoned surface parking lots of an evening.
In the coming months I’ll be blogging repeatedly about a particular regional city, population 70,000, where I am employed and my children are going to school. According to this report by Suncorp Bank, Launceston Tasmania is the most family friendly city in Australia, and Australia, according to Economist Magazine, is the luckiest country (after Switzerland) in which any child could now be born. If I am to believe economists, there could not be a better place in the whole world to be raising my family.
Economists don’t look at obesity (20% in Australia), Diabetes (1,000,000 Australians), or bicycling death rates (quadruple per kilometre cycled in Australia, verses the Netherlands). Economists don’t count the cost to the planet of driving. Economists don’t take into account the deep frustrations of people who would like to choose healthy and/or green transportation, but are forced to use cars because their cities are designed to make anything else dangerous and slow.
Follow these blog posts and see if you think the principle of bicycle oriented development, that I advocate in my book, can make a difference in happy-town Launceston, a city of just 70,000. I started today by riding around, mapping existing and potential off-road bike paths. I found the official city bike map includes, among other inaccuracies, a planned pedestrian bridge—hey, that will save them reprinting if ever they build it. The green lines represent some of this city’s off-road routes, suitable for children, women and seniors, or even men with the sense to avoid risk. That not every safe route has been properly represented tells me bike planning is a low priority for this city council. It gets the occasional boost from an officer who sees the importance, but without much backing from elected members of council.

As for the red lines on council’s bike map: they don’t mean much to me as a father. They are red, and red stands for death, which could come to my son if I allowed him to cycle to school in a bike lane marked in the door zone. I’m only interested in bike routes worthy of 5 star ratings for safety, and mapping them is where this story begins.
Share if you care, and read on for part 2.


  1. Greg Dutkowski says:

    I suggest you look at open street map cycle ( as a vehicle for cycle route mapping. Not only can you do it for free, but then it is available for all.
    You may have to ask them to tweak the tags available to be able to better classify the safety of different route types, but that would help everyone.

  2. Steven says:

    Thank you Greg. These open source maps are getting better each day. Still, I’m waiting for one that adjusts according to users’ personal perceptions of risk and exertion. Cyclists fall into 4 categories: 1. risk adverse and effort adverse (most people); 2. risk tolerant and effort tolerant (mucho roadies); 3. risk adverse and effort tolerant (me); 4. risk tolerant and effort adverse (new york pizza delivery guys). I wish someone would develop an open source map for type 1 cyclists, who would outnumber the rest if only there were safe routes on flat lands and places for them to live, work, shop and go to school near those bike paths.

  3. Greg Dutkowski says:

    You can only really classify the infrastructure type and, for on road infrastructure, the traffic density. Then people can make their own choice depending on their risk tolerance.
    Effort could be auto-calculated depending on the slope I suppose – an enhancement that the osm people may be interested in.
    How you then display such multidimensional info is another question!

    • Steven says:

      Nice thoughts! People who tolerate risk though are such a small minority that, for planning purposes, we can disregard them (or us, as it happens). My own propensity for racing down mountains, or ignoring the occasional car horn, are about as relevant to bike planning as the exploits of Danny MacAskill. What matters is that car drivers outside Holland and Denmark, can’t be trusted near cyclists AT ALL, and mothers know it. That’s why mums buy SUVs to drive their children to school, preferring the risk of obesity and diabetes to the risk that some unaware driver will skittle their kid at the next intersection. Too much of what we think we know about bicycle transport grows out of own experiences as cyclists in these tragic cities of ours, rather than reason or vision.

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