The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'cycling'
I have just spent a little over two weeks in Melbourne; I arrived on occasion of a conference on iOS development, but stayed longer to give me time to catch up with friends. It was my first visit to my old hometown in almost five years.
Melbourne is, I am relieved to say, still here. Just about. Some things are new, some things are gone, and some things remain constant. Gentrification keeps pushing the virtual Yarra that divides bourgeois and grungy Melbourne northward; it'd now be somewhere around Merri Creek and Brunswick Road. Fitzroy feels a bit more like South Yarra, a bit brasher and less bohemian. Hip-hop, laptop R&B and house music have largely displaced skronky/jangly indie-rock as its soundtrack. Brunswick Street is now is also a destination for stag/hen-party buses. Some parts of it are gone (PolyEster Books has closed down, its shopfront a sad shell with a LEASED sign on it and the old roof sign awaiting its inevitable demolition, and the T-shirt shop Tomorrow Never Knows appears to have closed as well), while others remain (PolyEster Records, happily, is still going strong, though they've gotten rid of the neon Dobbshead that was on the wall, as is Dixon Recycled, and Bar Open is still hosting interesting gigs). Smith Street, once colloquially known as “Smack Street”, is reshaping itself as a playground for young people with disposable income, featuring, among other things, several video-game bars (including the arcade-machine bar Pixel Alley) and a burger joint housed inside the shell of an old Hitachi train on the roof of a building (the experience of being inside such a train and it being air-conditioned will be incongruous to those old enough to remember riding in them), not to mention some very nice-looking new flats nearby. There is a new generation of hipster/bro hybrids making Fitzroy their stomping ground. North Fitzroy is largely bourgeois and sterile; bands still play at the Pinnacle, but the Empress, once the crucible of the Fair Go 4 Live Music movement, is under new management and has replaced its bandroom with a beer garden; East Brunswick and Thornbury seem to be becoming more interesting, and Northcote is steadily gentrifying. There are blocks of luxury flats going up everywhere, though most of them have no more than three stories, either because of zoning requirements or perhaps to avoid scaring away buyers from Asia.
Melbourne feels increasingly connected to Asia. In particular, the CBD has become a destination for a combination of property buyers and students from Asia, from bubble-tea bars and a surfeit of Chinese and south-east Asian eateries aiming outside the westernised market to real-estate dealerships aiming at the Chinese market. While there are fewer Japanese migrants and students, the cultural and commercial influence of Japan has been increasing. Japanese food is everywhere; there are increasingly many establishments festooned with red lanterns and purporting to be izakayas, some of which are more authentic than others (Wabi Sabi on Smith St. was excellent), ramen restaurants are popping up, as are Japanese ice cream shops; and then, of course, is the several-decades-old Melburnian institution of takeaway sushi rolls, served in a paper bag with a piscule of soy sauce, as unpretentious fast food. Japanese retail is also making inroads; Uniqlo and Muji have opened shops in Melbourne and the T-shirt label Graniph have a small shop in the CBD. But perhaps most impressive is the Japanese take on the $2 shop, Daiso, a veritable Aladdin's cave of the useful and nifty, each item costing a flat $2.80. (European readers: imagine the Danish chain Tiger/TGR, only distinctly Japanese, with the scale and systemacity that implies.)
Some things remain the same. The trams keep trundling along, with minor route adjustments. The radio station 3RRR, now 40 years old, is going strong as an institution of the alternative Melbourne; an exhibition on its history just finished at the State Library of Victoria, and its stickers are ubiquitous, particularly in the inner north. The live music scene continues apace, in venues such as the Old Bar, Bar Open and the Northcote Social Club. (I saw three gigs in the latter: Lowtide, Pikelet and my favourite band from when I lived in Melbourne, Ninetynine, who are still going strong.) Street art remains an institution in Melbourne, a city where aerosol-art-festooned laneways swarm with tourists and wedding photo shoots and businesses hire “writers“ to decorate their walls with thematic pieces. And the arrival of H&M, in one oddly laid out shop occupying the former General Post Office, doesn't seem to have put Dangerfield out of business.
There are also signs of progress. Reconciliation with Australia's indigenous population seems to be making tentative symbolic advances, with signs acknowledging the Wurundjeri as traditional owners, and the Wurundjeri word for welcome (“wominjeka”) appearing on signage. Solar panels are on roofs everywhere. Cycling as transport seems to be increasingly popular, despite Victoria's mandatory helmet laws (which may have helped scuttle the city's Paris-style bike-rental scheme). And work is beginning on the state's first big public-transport project since the City Loop, the Metro Tunnel, a new underground rail route bringing Melbourne into the club of cities with a subway; currently, one side street near RMIT is largely boarded off to build a shaft for the tunnel boring machines, and both RMIT and Melbourne University are bracing for the hit to student numbers that three years of nearby disruptive works will pose.
A new study has looked at why fewer women cycle in the United States than in the Netherlands, and found that it has less to do with an often stated Anglophone culture of cycling-as-macho-extreme-sport, and more to do with women in the US being too busy with domestic chores for the luxury of cycling:
In short, despite years of progress, American women’s lives are still disproportionately filled with driving children around, getting groceries, and doing other household chores – housework that doesn’t lend itself easily to two-wheeled transportation. It turns out that women may be more likely to bike in the Netherlands because Dutch culture is giving them more time to do so.Of course, the fact that in the Netherlands it is possible to carry anything from a toddler to a bag of groceries on a bakfiets is one factor, as is the fact that Dutch children are more likely to go to school by themselves (often on their own bicycles) than be dropped off in Mom's SUV; a lot of it, though, comes down to more traditional gender-based divisions of labour in the US and that hyperefficient Anglocapitalist labour market leaving those who get stuck doing the chores (i.e., usually the women) with less time for the luxury of cycling:
Dutch women can use bikes to get around because they are less pressed for time than American women, in three fundamental ways. First, thanks to family-friendly labour policies like flexitime and paternity leave, Dutch families divide childcare responsibilities much more evenly than American families. Second, work weeks in the Netherlands are shorter. One in three Dutch men and most Dutch women work part-time, and workers of either gender work fewer hours than Americans.Of course, this is a piece in the Grauniad; were it in, say, the Financial Times or the Economist, it may well say that large numbers of female cyclists is a symptom of an inefficient economy, one which fails to extract the maximum amount of productivity from its labour force; indeed, one can imagine a report from a neoliberal think tank claiming that women on bicycles are a drag on productivity.
There's a piece in BBC News' Magazine section about the bizarre upside-down world of the Netherlands, where the bicycle is king and cars are grudgingly tolerated; where bike lanes and bike parking are ubiquitous, cycling safety is a compulsory school subject, cyclists have priority at roundabouts and roads are labelled “fietsstraat: auto te gaast” (“bike street: cars are guests”). Consequently, near everybody cycles, and nobody wears a helmet or lycra like some kind of extreme-sports nut whilst doing so:
Cycling is so common that I have been rebuked for asking people whether they are cyclists or not. "We aren't cyclists, we're just Dutch," comes the response.Meanwhile, on the other side of the world (both geographically and culturally), there is gradual movement in Australia towards the acceptance of cycling as a normal activity, with infrastructure being slowly provided for cyclists. However, not all are happy with this; after the Melbourne City Council opened a bike lane on the Princes Bridge, right-wing shock jocks and the Murdoch press have launched a campaign against bike lanes, arguing that they take away the motoring majority's roads to pander for a tiny fringe of (radical/politically correct/trendy) inner-city hipsters in lycra.
Indeed, the limits of how bike-friendly Australia can become may be fairly low, as long as motoring is the default (and, in most places, the only practical) means of transport (one could, indeed, reverse the Dutch formula to “we aren't motorists, we're just Aussies”), and elections are decided by car-dependant marginal seats. They don't want large numbers of cyclists getting in their way and slowing them down when they drive to the supermarket, and certainly don't want some politically-correct latte-sipper lecturing them that they should leave the 4WD at home and cycle to the shopping centre, and they decide elections, so policy is designed partly around the goal of suppressing the rise of cycling as a non-fringe phenomenon. Take, for example, Australia's near-universal and strictly enforced mandatory bike helmet laws, which serve the purpose of raising the economic and psychological barrier to entry from cycling, marking it out as a moderately dangerous extreme sport that requires special safety equipment, and is only for the hardcore.
A few London transport map links: here there is a detailed, zoomable map of the London Underground and surface railways, showing the locations of stations (both operational and closed) and tracks.
Meanwhile, the Green Party's candidate for Mayor of London has an interactive map showing how far London's bicycle hire system would reach if it were the size of Paris's; which is to say, quite a bit further, particularly to the north and south. Perhaps it'd even be possible to live near a Boris Bike station without being made of money.
The latest city to get a bike-sharing programme is San Francisco. A scheme is being rolled out both within San Francisco and technological/research hubs like Mountain View and Palo Alto along the west side of the bay. The scheme will be fairly limited compared to London or Paris; the bikes in San Francisco will initially only be in the business centre around Market St., and won't cover areas like the Haight, Golden Gate Park or the Mission District, and there are no plans to extend the scheme to the east bay (Berkeley/Oakland and such).
I'm half surprised that Google, Facebook or some startup haven't rolled out their own bike-sharing system first, with intelligently mesh-networked, location-enhanced bikes which may or may not interact with the rider's advertising profile and/or online identity.
Some prankster has been stickering the Barclays branding on London's rental bicycles (a.k.a. the Boris Bikes), prefixing the imperative "fuck" to the sponsor's name:
Melbourne now has a bike sharing scheme. It consists of rental bikes (apparently the Canadian model used in London, not the French Vélib), which are rentable from docking stations scattered around the CBD and immediately surrounding areas. (Melbourne University and the Docklands are covered, but the programme stops short of, say, Fitzroy, Richmond and such.) In other words, it's much like the systems in Paris and London, albeit with one crucial difference: it's actually illegal to use unless you happen to be in possession of a bike helmet. These are not supplied at the docking stations, and the police aggressively target those flouting Victoria's mandatory helmet laws.
The helmet laws have had an effect on takeup of the scheme: apparently only 70 trips a day are being made on it, despite the 600 brand new bikes made available; i.e., the system is running at 0.5% capacity. The cycling lobby has been organising protests against the helmet laws; at one such protest, the police came out in force and fined everyone. The law is harsh, but it is the law.
It's not clear what the designers of the scheme were thinking; it's less than useful for tourists, who tend not to bring bike helmets with them or want to spend money on them. As for it being intended for long-term commuters, the fact that the bikes are all in the city centre makes that somewhat less than ideal. Anyway, unless the bike helmet laws are amended (and, with Australia being a car-centric society, this looks unlikely), it's likely that the scheme will be scrapped due to poor patronage. Meanwhile, those wishing to borrow a bike around the inner north may be well advised to go to the Little Creatures Dining Hall on Brunswick St. and borrow one of their fleet of Kronan fixies. They're free and come with helmets, though you'd want to get there early in the day as they tend to get snapped up quickly.
The latest design innovation to improve safety: equipment that emits an unpleasant smell when damaged, strongly encouraging the user to replace it. The first test case of the technology is in bicycle helmets, though the researchers have plans for using it in other devices such as pressure hoses:
Researchers at Germany's Fraunhofer Institute have developed a manufacturing process that injects microcapsules containing malodorous oils into the helmet itself, causing it to stink when damaged -- alerting you that it's time to replace it (and making it difficult to try and make do with a less than safe one, at that).The developers of the product have yet to decide on a suitable odour to use.
Paris's pioneering Vélib cycle rental scheme is under threat after it emerged that more than half of the bicycles have been stolen or destroyed, with more having been vandalised, and a few having been subjected to more surrealistic interventions:
Hung from lamp posts, dumped in the River Seine, torched and broken into pieces, maintaining the network is proving expensive. Some have turned up in eastern Europe and Africa, according to press reports.
The Velib bikes - the name is a contraction of velo (cycle) and liberte (freedom) - have also fallen victim to a craze known as "velib extreme". Various videos have appeared on YouTube showing riders taking the bikes down the steps in Montmartre, into metro stations and being tested on BMX courses.
Not all the bicycles receive rough treatment however. One velib repairman reported finding one of the bikes customised with fur covered tyres.
Mary Hansen, member of experimental ba-ba-ba ensemble Stereolab, died in a bicycle accident in London on Monday. She was 36. (via a bunch of people)
(Which shows (a) how absurd and fleeting life is, and/or (b) the brutally anti-human nature of car culture/speed-obsessed modern society. But, above all, is quite depressing.)