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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Commuter Bike Culture: A Modernized 1960's Commuter Culture Shift

Living in NYC throughout the past years has given me a new appreciation for walking and biking, as well as a new perspective on defining the quality of our daily mental health.

About 40-50 years ago, new policies were introduced and implemented to accommodate the new automobile culture-shift and emerging driving habits in the early 60s and 70s. 

Fast forwarding from the 1960's quiet interstate highways hosting only a handful of cars at a time and relaxed daily schedules of the MadMen suburbanites, to our multi-layered dense urban spaces and over-stimulant high-pace lifestyles today: 
A new commuter movement is emerging from this "high-tech modern era" introducing a new set of fundamental factors for us to focus on, that can be utilized to our advantage and help better inform our design approaches and public policies for enhancing the quality of today's smart city life, and as a result our daily mental health. 

Almost all street collision complaints involving pedestrians, bikes, and cars, are safety related; many of which are a result of the city's circulation-network design (i.e. if/how it successfully integrates with the existing built environment). However, the majority of these collisions, one way or another, are a result of the actual users: us, people!, and our individual behavior, etiquette, and expectations in a public setting. Too often speed is determined to be the immediate and biggest fault-factor, however, in reality, collisions happen mainly due to inattention of all users groups: drivers, cyclists, AND definitely pedestrians. People!

A couple individuals, as new city bike riders, responded with the comments below when asked how they feel about the new bike lanes and public bike share program in their city: 

“I feel safer in the street with the cars than with pedestrians."
"Trying to avoid pedestrians becomes more dangerous." 

I personally love walking and as a first preference always try to explore a city on foot rather than biking or driving. Until a few years ago, my attraction to city biking quickly increased after experiencing the Scandinavian's [amazingly structured] commuter bike culture, specifically Copenhagen, as it really struck my interest and inspired me. Their pedestrians'/cyclists'/drivers' social etiquette, as well as the functionality of the city's bike culture and commuter policies relative to other cities like NYC, Denver, San Francisco, DC, Hamburg, Barcelona, Paris, Tehran, etc. turned out to be quite an interesting comparison. 

Each city uses a different language to describe its assets: planning principals, transportation networks, demographic statistics etc. and more importantly, its social culture. Every culture (whether local or international) has its own distinctive social etiquette and expectations. The more culturally diverse a city is, the more languages that city has for communicating its assets, challenges, and opportunities.

Successful public spaces are usually measured by many physical elements (such as accessibility), however, the success and favorability of a public space, or failure and unpopularity, is directly correlated to user social and psychological factors. Public spaces, sidewalks, and bike lanes are utilized by the most culturally diverse groups of users that each introduce a particular set of behaviors and expectations to the city's built environment. Consequently, the distinct social etiquette and cultural traits of each of these user groups effect the functionality of the city's sidewalk and bike networks, and therefore influencing the design of our city spaces and circulation networks. 

Today, as we slowly (and in many American cities, silently) go through a modern commuter culture shift, we must push for a shift in transportation politics and policies that focus on the emerging walkability and cycling lifestyle, to stimulate a new, and safer, commuter culture-shift.