The Null Device


The Independent has an article about what Copenhagen can teach the world about sustainable urban planning, in particular the promotion of cycling:

Forty years ago, London and Copenhagen had similar ratios of car to bicycle use, and both faced an exodus of workers moving out of the centre and into the suburbs. But after ' the energy crises of the 1970s, the two cities diverged. Danes were restricted in how much they could use their cars and commuters began to campaign for a better infrastructure for cyclists. Today, there are almost 200 miles of bicycle lanes in the city, and 40 per cent of its 5.5 million inhabitants cycle to work. The city has evolved cyclist-friendly policies, such as the Green Wave – a sequence of favourable traffic signals for cyclists at rush hour.
Melbourne is one of Gehl's most significant successes. From 1994 to 2004, he studied the city and, working with Professor Rob Adams at the city government, introduced major changes to the city's public spaces. Gehl recommended promoting the city's café culture, improving the waterfront area, opening up the historic laneways to pedestrians and adding more urban plazas. After a decade of work, there were 275 per cent more cafés and 71 per cent more people-oriented spaces. Wider, lighter walkways, lined with 3,000 more trees, enticed 39 per cent more daytime pedestrian traffic and 98 per cent more at night. Of course, the city expanded during this time, but more people also returned to live in the inner city (to almost 10 times more apartments). Once a classic doughnut-shaped modern city, in which the centre empties at night as workers return to the suburbs, Melbourne is now regularly rated one of the most liveable cities in the world.
One point that comes up is that, while in the Anglosphere, cycling is a purer-than-thou subculture with its own uniforms and ideological machismo, in Denmark, it is completely mainstream and without pretention:
In Britain we have been conditioned to believe that cycling is something that can be done only in special places while wearing specialist safety equipment and clothing. Yet here were men, women and children cycling to work or school, looking stylish and feeling safe. It was cycling as transport, not sport.
He's no fan of the culture of hardcore cyclists that has evolved in the UK. "Once you get past the cycle subculture and make it mainstream, when you have grandmothers picking up their grandchildren from school on bikes, the aggressive riders become less noticeable. You still get people running red lights here but you just don't notice them." And he believes Critical Mass-style activism is counter-productive: "Is this selling cycling to drivers? No."
Getting around Copenhagen has been simplified over the past 30 years, from insurance (stolen bikes are registered by the police and cheques are sent out within a week) to gear. "There are a lot of companies selling 'cycling clothes' in the UK. Is it overcomplicating it, as the sports industry has for 40 years? I think it might be. Open your closet, it's full of cycling clothes. Anything you can walk in, you can cycle in. Let's move on."
Of course, the "your closet is full of cycling clothes" line only works when you have Copenhagen-style cycle paths separated from motor traffic. In Britain, where cyclists have to contend with cars, especially in the winter when it gets dark early, high-visibility clothing is a must.

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Travel search engine of the day: Adioso. This is a new natural-language-based flight search system. It differs from sites like Kayak in that, rather than accepting simple queries in a set of fields (origin, destination, dates), it accepts queries as natural-language sentences, and allows a good deal of fuzziness. So, for example, if you want to go from London for a weekend in Barcelona in late November, you can ask for "London to Barcelona weekend late November", or if you just want to get out cheaply, you can ask for "London to anywhere under GBP100".

Well, you can if your destination is supported. The site appears to be Australian, and thus Australia and popular destinations from there (south-east Asia, the UK and US, and places along the "Kangaroo Route" to London) are well supported, while Europe (minus sunny holiday spots) is a bit patchy. The site found no flights from London to either Berlin or Stockholm, and drew a blank altogether at Reykjavík (the closest match it could find was Tel Aviv; I guess that sort of sounds like Reykjavík, if you're shouting across a noisy room or something). Flights across Australia it handles well, though, finding better prices than Kayak. In any case, the site claims to be in beta (though whether it's an old-fashioned beta or a Google-style permanent beta is uncertain), so with any luck, they'll improve it.

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A word of advice: if you're a fugitive from the law, don't post your location to your Facebook page. And if you absolutely must do so, don't add any law enforcement officers to your friends.

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