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Should We Launch an All-Out Assault on Car Culture?

Bring it on say authors of a new book. But you're more likely to find bicyclists and pedestrians working for peaceful coexistence.

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It's time to organize an uprising against private automobility and in a handful of cities around the world this "organized uprising" is already underway, they say.

Critical Mass, for example, which takes place on the last Friday of every month in more than 300 cities around the world, often pits angry motorists against a "mass" of cyclists, sometimes numbering in the thousands, who clog city streets and bring automobile traffic to a halt.

So-called "corkers" speed ahead of the pack to block intersections. One particular method of corking, called the "Chicago hold-up," has cyclists lift their bikes in the air to form the blockade.

The Vancouver chapter of Critical Mass calls it "a grassroots reclamation of public space" that allows "cyclists and other self-propelled people to move safely and comfortably through city streets in a car-free space."

But this "protest ride" sometimes ends in tragedy. In February an amateur video surfaced that shows a speeding motorist ploughing through a pack of more than 100 Critical Massers in Brazil. At least 40 were injured, but no one was killed, according to reports.

Other events aren't protest-oriented, but seek to raise awareness for the cyclist movement nonetheless. Earlier this month Vancouver hosted bike-to-work week and Velopalooza 2011, which includes more than 100 different rides and events over the first part of June. The city will celebrate Car-free Day later this month, an event that occurs in 1,500 cities around the world.

"One great thing about protesting the car is that street demos against auto domination make a political statement and simultaneously disrupt traffic," write Mugyenyi and Engler.

More cyclists, fewer crashes

Whenever cries of war sound in the land, there will be voices urging compromise, coexistence. A voice asking why everyone can't just get along.

That was the voice most often heard at an all-day conference in Vancouver titled "Changing Lanes: Improving the Bike Car Relationship on Canada's Roads." Hosted by the Canadian Automobile Association, the event brought a group of panelists together to further the conversation between cyclists and motorists.

Jennifer Dill, a transportation researcher in Oregon, presented findings that illustrate a virtuous circle of statistics in Portland.

"As more cyclists have been on the road, we are seeing the incidence of crashes going down," she said. It's a concept she calls "safety in numbers" because it raises the likelihood that drivers on the road are also sometimes cyclists, and therefore more aware of the exposed riders. Likewise, said Dill, as the safety level rises, more cyclists take to the roads.

Of all North American cities experimenting with bike infrastructure and promotion of cycling mode-share, Portland is widely viewed as a leader.

The city boasts more than 520 kilometres of separated and painted bike lanes, greenways and off-street bike paths.

And surveys suggest these initiatives played a role in driving up the city's cycling mode-share from three per cent in 1997 to seven per cent in 2009, in a country where less than one per cent of commuters travel by bike.

A two per cent minority ride bikes

Vancouver city councillors have taken many of their pro-cycling cues from Portland and also hope to drive up the cycling mode-share in the city.

About two-thirds of Metro Vancouverites regularly drive to work, while less than two per cent cycle, according to a 2009 Translink study. Yet the average British Columbian lives less than seven kilometres from work.

More residents of the City of Vancouver choose to cycle than in the rest of the Metro region. Almost four per cent of Vancouver residents bike to work, second most amongst Canadian cities.

 
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