Getting the Interested-but-concerned interested

Leading on from holistic system advocates Spotswood et al (2014), a lunchtime talk that I attended this week was about putting psychology (common sense, in many ways) into our urban spaces and the way we design them. It’s fascinating that we, the human species, have been really good at assessing matters ‘other than us’ – but have seemingly forgotten looking critically at ourselves and our own habitat creations. In case people aren’t familiar, the Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman is worth a mention here. His book “Thinking, fast and slow” unravels our human cognitive failings and biases. It’s fascinating how tremendously wrong we are when we think we are right.

With that in mind, I believe that the ‘urban laboratory’ is a minefield that needs a fearless, honest, reasoned and rigorous look.

I am also reading up about UK planning, from the 1990s onwards, and have stumbled across Clara Greed in particular. Clara, I believe, takes a fuller approach to ‘town planning’ and discusses and includes overlooked groups’ needs (disability, women). Her latest book “Planning in the UK – an introduction” co-written with David Johnson was published in 2014; and is a most delightful depository of a vast amount of planning matters. Worth a look, as it becomes clear to me that planning is ‘getting’ the space fairness and inclusivity aspects, that many engineers perhaps as yet don’t. And it is these two groups, planning and engineering, that should form a more synergistic alliance for our cities and towns to become more successful in unlocking the car-dependence epidemic that we have locked ourselves into over the last few decades. For, yes, a fairer transport future is about curbing the car.

Environments make and break us. They can enable or may disable us. Urban transport in relation to space use deserves so much more recognition for its determining influence over people’s life.

Thanks to Rachel Aldred, who put interested people in touch with Chris Monsere and Jennifer Dill this week via webinar, I am now more aware of the brilliant data collection and analyses that the US are doing. Chris and Jennifer have looked at various US cities’ cycleway constructions and assessed their success. I am picking out some quick ‘gendered findings’ here.

The executive summary mentions that [n]early a quarter of bicyclists intercepted on the facilities stated that their overall frequency of bicycling increased because of the new protected lanes. The increase was higher amongst women.

The graph, taken from the report (link below), shows the increases in the different locations for women and men.


And we are reminded of previous studies by

  • Winters and Teschke (2010)
  • Jackson and Ruehr (1998)
  • Garrard et al (2008)
  • Krizek et al (2005)

explaining that women and easy-going cycling folks (not the high-octane fuelled cycle enthusiasts) prefer separated facilities and avoid high traffic volumes and speeds.

Chris Monsere, Jennifer Dill et al findings “Lessons from the Green Lanes: Evaluating Protected Bike Lanes in the U.S.” (2014) (for a download you may have to register, it’s free)

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