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Discovering the G Spot

Riding a bike - it should be as simple as, riding a bike.

Riding a bike – it should be as simple as, riding a bike.

No, I haven’t gone completely mad and started writing editorial pieces that focus on female sexuality. But I do want to speak about a sweet spot, so it’s kind of the same. And it does with the letter G. And hey, the title got you in, didn’t it?

Sure, I’ve written about a similar topic before here, but this time I’m taking a different tact. To not do so would be, well, boring.

Over a year ago, I started my Masters in Urban Planning, with a pretty simple goal – I wanted to design and plan spaces for people so that they could ride a bike. I wanted to eradicate (or at the very least mitigate) the nagging insistence of obesity and, perhaps more alarmingly, childhood obesity. I spent 6 months signing on to workshops, forums, short courses, conferences and took time off of work to speak to everyone I could in the profession of planning to see if it was what I wanted to do. I read the various prospectuses, I pored over numerous websites and I gobbled up their promises of planning utopias. A sample of their assertions as to what a Planning course would entail are below:

RMIT: This program combines studies in urban planning with the social, economic and political environment and creates efficient, interesting, practical, healthy and sustainable places for people to exist.

Melbourne Uni: Urban Planning promotes the establishment of economically viable, socially just, environmentally sustainable, and safe and healthy human settlements. It has never been more timely than now, as we adapt to global changes that impact our cities.

And Deakin Uni: Deakin’s Bachelor of Planning (Honours) is a distinctive course that brings together the disciplines of planning, design, urban studies and society in a single degree program.

I applied. Needless to say, I was accepted. And needless to say I was excited.

My first year has produced good results – HD’s for everything, except Economics (but I was only 2% off a HD so, you know, let’s be gentle). Throughout the year, many conversations were had, many thoughts formed and numerous opinions argued. All so far so good. But…there’s a little irritation nagging away at me. A little annoyance, a little inconvenience that won’t shift. It’s to do with governance. I have done a little searching for the best definition of this and it is, perhaps alarmingly, from good ol’ Wikipedia. It claims: Governance refers to “all processes of governing, whether undertaken by a government, market or network, whether over a family, tribe, formal or informal organization or territory and whether through laws, norms, power or language.”

Largely then, governance is the how rather than the who.

In terms of Planning as a discipline, a student’s head can be filled with the most delightful notions of best practice, wonderful stories of success from afar and quotes from respected journal articles (that have all been judiciously peer reviewed, obviously). But then I want to ask: And then what? Do we go out into this world equipped with enviable evidence of how we should be planning our places but really have no capacity to implement it? If the laws (and norms) that govern the country are the same that govern planning, what capacity is there for change? In short, to encourage a lifestyle that is (at the very least) not beholden to the car? What is the point of this knowledge without good governance and a system that will utilize these learnings? Is it not, in fact, callous to dangle delights in front of a prospective student and say “Look at all the things you will learn” but leave out the bit that says “you will never have a chance to employ them”. Planning is perhaps the cruelest course in the university’s prospectus.

Conferences suffer a similar fate. The minds of the best planners, engineers, designers, health professionals and academics often meet throughout the year either through formal associations such as the Planning Institute of Australia or at conferences such as the Liveable Cities Conference, to be held later this year in Melbourne. Who are these people going to these events? Sure, there’s an element of networking and seeing old faces, and that’s lovely, but in my experience, and during all the conferences and forums that I attended as part of my research before committing to study, not once did anyone remain in the room who actually had the ability to change anything. In other words, the Mayor or otherwise appropriately elected official would ‘open’ the conference, say a few words and then they would leave. All that was left was a bunch of people who would be receiving information about how to do their job better but have no ability to put this knowledge into practice. If I was 15 I would be saying “Hashtag frustrating”, round about now.

Finally, the cost to attend these conferences is prohibitive for most people. If we take the Liveable Cities Conference as an example, it costs $1,055 for the two days to attend. Who else is going to go to that aside from people who are getting paid to go by their place of employment, even though their place of employment is simply feeding into that complicit world of not challenging the governance structures that prohibit change. If liveable cities are for everyone, shouldn’t anyone be able to attend? I’m beginning to feel like it’s some sort of conspiracy and that the prices are such that the average person’s attendance is precluded. If people could attend and see the broken system that is currently plaguing planning decisions in Melbourne, they would undoubtedly demand better. They would at the very least expect the Mayor to stay until the first coffee break had commenced.

But I’ll persist. I will get my Masters. I will maintain my grade average and I hope with it my motivation. I just want people to be able to ride a bike and to live in a city that supports that. Hopefully somewhere I will discover the sweet spot of governance that allows me to do that.

If all this fails, I’ll become the Mayor.

IMG_1673

What everyone should be able to do, safely.

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Extraordinary Stats: The Bike-Transit Comparison

Fantastic post here. check out the funky graphics. Thanks to Price Tags for this find.

Price Tags

The Buzzer Bloghas been doing a series on #WhatsTheLink – what TransLink is responsible for in the region.  (They’ve been trying for years to emphasize that they are not just a transit agency.)

Here’s the summary graphic:

WTL_Wrapup_Long_v08
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Roads, as you see, have been put on top.

But notice: 418,000 passengers a day on transit.  And 107,000 bike trips a day – one cycle trip for every four on transit.

Frankly, wow.  Would not have thought it that high.

Transit advocates emphasize the consequences to car drivers if everyone on a bus started taking up their equivalent space on the road.  You’ve seen the illustration:

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Bike_Car_Comparison

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So the argument applies – to some degree – if the transit system had to accommodate those on bikes.

The question, of course, is to what degree?  A comment from Jimmy MacGregor (new to PT?) with respect to bikeshare makes the point:

I don’t understand how…

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No Need for the Jury to Retire

papers

The above demonstrates the most infinitesimally small sample of some articles written on urban planning, design, transport or/and neoliberalism. They are from highly respected academics, researchers and/or practitioners, specialising in their chosen field. The publications in which these are found are likewise of an aspirational calibre. They are not mere editorial or opinion pieces. Rather, they are findings from rigorous research, tirelessly collated data and, in some instances, seemingly endless interviews. Whilst the focus of these studies may not correlate, there is one commonality: they all point to the fact that our built environment is not working and we need to change it.

I can’t help but wonder how many studies (which in some instances, perhaps ironically, are government funded) need to be done before a government or a policy maker or just anyone with any clout at all takes note and demands change.

Here in Australia, we invest heavily in research for physical health, pouring millions into the discipline, and I’m in no way decrying that. The difference is that when that research makes its way into The Lancet or somesuch, people (ie politicians, policy makers) take note and change happens. I am not naive enough to state that all medical research ends up with clinical trials and cures for cancer are only a day away, however how we – as a society, even it could be argued, globally – view physical medical research is very different to the findings of urban planning research and the topics that align itself with them. 

It could almost be said that there is no need for further research, until we start using the massive amount we’ve already got as we have quite a backlog of the stuff. If medical research was at the same stage, without any implementation of the findings gained through that research, I surmise we would have just been out of the bubonic plague era. It could be said that the car is the urban planners bubonic plague.

This divide and this tension between endless research and a lack of implementation really needs to change. No court of law would require this much evidence before conviction, and it certainly wouldn’t want any more.

And the jury most certainly would not need to retire. 

 

 

Treating Pedestrians as Plebs

photo-47

During a recent stroll through Highgate in London, this curious little image was seen on the tarmac of a car park. In an area that is only big enough for five cars, someone, somewhere thought that a pedestrian may need some sort of notice as to how to gain access to the front door of this building and subsequently painted a pathway to guide confused walkers. With nothing but endless space I can see how an innocent ambler may become confused by the vast nothingness before them and lose track of where they are with curious, if not disastrous, consequences.

Honestly, was this really necessary?

 

8 jackets: tested and rated

8 riding jackets, tested. Nice.

Ride On

From a light drizzle to a full-blown deluge, there’s a rain jacket perfect for any wet-weather riding, explains Iain Treloar

rainjacketshero

Jackets are a tricky item of clothing to get right. Compared to the low expectations we have of jerseys, knicks or baselayers, jackets need to perform well when the weather is at its worst, but still need to be comfortable in better conditions. It can be a complicated balancing act for manufacturers to find the correct often-contradictory combination of water-resistance, wind-resistance, breathability and compact dimensions, and in the end, a jacket purchase almost always ends up being a compromise in one area or another.

There are a vast amount of different fabrics out there and it’s easy to get lost in the marketing technobabble when researching your next jacket purchase. So here’s my advice: when comparing jackets with waterproofing as a primary goal, check for things like sealed or…

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