Quotulatiousness

December 7, 2017

Lawrence Solomon makes his pitch for “most hated by the bike mafia”

Filed under: Economics, Government — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

This was published last week, but I didn’t see it until it was linked from Instapundit:

Today the bicycle is a mixed bag, usually with more negatives than positives. In many cities, bike lanes now consume more road space than they free up, they add to pollution as well as reducing it, they hurt neighbourhoods and business districts alike, and they have become a drain on the public purse. The bicycle today — or rather the infrastructure that now supports it — exemplifies “inappropriate technology,” a good idea gone wrong through unsustainable, willy-nilly top-down planning.

London, where former mayor Boris Johnston began a “cycling revolution,” shows where the road to ruin can lead. Although criticism of biking remains largely taboo among the city’s elite, a bike backlash is underway, with many blaming the city’s worsening congestion on the proliferation of bike lanes. While bikes have the luxury of zipping through traffic using dedicated lanes that are vastly underused most of the day — these include what Transport for London (TfL) calls “cycle superhighways” — cars have been squeezed into narrowed spaces that slow traffic to a crawl.

As a City of London report acknowledged last year, “The most significant impact on the City’s road network in the last 12 months has been the construction and subsequent operation of TfL’s cycle super highway … areas of traffic congestion can frequently be found on those roads.” As Lord Nigel Lawson put it in a parliamentary debate on bicycles, cycle lanes have done more damage to London than “almost anything since the Blitz.”

As a consequence of the idling traffic, pollution levels have risen, contributing to what is now deemed a toxic stew. Ironically, cyclists are especially harmed, and not just because the bike lanes they speed upon are adjacent to tailpipes. According to a study by the London School of Medicine, cyclists have 2.3 times more inhaled soot than walkers because “cyclists breathe more deeply and at a quicker rate than pedestrians while in closer proximity to exhaust fumes … Our data strongly suggest that personal exposure to black carbon should be considered when planning cycling routes.” Cyclists have begun wearing facemasks as a consequence. A recent headline in The Independent helpfully featured “5 best anti-pollution masks for cycling.” Neighbourhoods endure extra pollution, too, with frustrated autos cutting through residential districts to avoid bike-bred congestion.

Health and safety costs aside — per kilometre travelled, cyclist fatalities are eight times that of motorists — the direct economic burden associated with cycling megaprojects is staggering. Paris, which boasts of its plan to become the “cycling capital of the world,” is in the midst of a 150-million-euro cycling scheme. Melbourne has a $100-million plan. Amsterdam — a flat, compact city well suited to cycling — is spending 120 million euros on 9,000 new bicycle parking spots alone. Where cold weather reigns for much of the year, as is the case in many of Canada’s cities, the cost-benefit case for cycling infrastructure is eviscerated further.

An answer might be dedicated bicycle-only routes, but the usual problem arises: the cost of the land necessary to build and maintain the routes will almost always be far higher than municipalities can afford to pay, and the benefits accrue more to upper-income users while the costs fall on the whole population. That’s just what we need: another way to transfer wealth from the poor to the rich.

November 27, 2017

China discovers that there’s a (very) limited appetite for shared bikes

Filed under: Business, China, Economics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In the Guardian, Benjamin Haas reports on what at first might seem to be a vast modern art display:

At first glance the photos vaguely resemble a painting. On closer inspection it might be a giant sculpture or some other art project. But in reality it is a mangled pile of bicycles covering an area roughly the size of a football pitch, and so high that cranes are need to reach the top; cast-offs from the boom and bust of China’s bike sharing industry.

Just two days after China’s number three bike sharing company went bankrupt, a photographer in the south-eastern city of Xiamen captured a bicycle graveyard where thousands have been laid to rest. The pile clearly contains thousands of bikes from each of the top three companies, Mobike, Ofo and the now-defunct Bluegogo.

Tim Worstall draws the correct conclusion from the provided evidence:

We want, irrespective of anything else about the economy, a method of testing ideas to see if they work. Does the application of these scarce resources meet some human need or desire? Does it do so more than an alternative use, is it even adding value at all?

Bike shares, are they a good idea or not? The underlying problem being that expressed and revealed preferences aren’t the same. There’s only so far market research can take you, at some point someone, somewhere, has to go out and do it and see.

Excellent, the Commie Chinese have done so. Vast amounts of capital thrown into this, competing bike share companies, hire costs pennies. And no fucker seems very interested. That is, no, large scale bike share schemes don’t meet any discernible human need or desire, they don’t add value, spending the money on something else will increase human joy and happiness better.

And this is excellent, we’ve tried the idea and it don’t work. Now we can abandon it and go off and do something else therefore.

Which is the great joy of market based systems. They’re the best method we’ve got of finding out which ideas are fuck ups.

Long live markets.

December 20, 2015

Baseball during WW1? What Was the Role Of Bicycle Battalions? I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

Filed under: Europe, History, Military, Sports — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 19 Dec 2015

Indy sits in the Chair of Wisdom again to answer your questions about WW1. This time we are talking about Baseball and Bicycle Battalions.

July 26, 2015

QotD: The bicycle – advertising versus reality

Filed under: Business, Europe, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

“What bicycle did you say this was of yours?” asked George.

Harris told him. I forget of what particular manufacture it happened to be; it is immaterial.

“Are you sure?” persisted George.

“Of course I am sure,” answered Harris. “Why, what’s the matter with it?”

“Well, it doesn’t come up to the poster,” said George, “that’s all.”

“What poster?” asked Harris.

“The poster advertising this particular brand of cycle,” explained George. “I was looking at one on a hoarding in Sloane Street only a day or two before we started. A man was riding this make of machine, a man with a banner in his hand: he wasn’t doing any work, that was clear as daylight; he was just sitting on the thing and drinking in the air. The cycle was going of its own accord, and going well. This thing of yours leaves all the work to me. It is a lazy brute of a machine; if you don’t shove, it simply does nothing: I should complain about it, if I were you.”

When one comes to think of it, few bicycles do realise the poster. On only one poster that I can recollect have I seen the rider represented as doing any work. But then this man was being pursued by a bull. In ordinary cases the object of the artist is to convince the hesitating neophyte that the sport of bicycling consists in sitting on a luxurious saddle, and being moved rapidly in the direction you wish to go by unseen heavenly powers.

Generally speaking, the rider is a lady, and then one feels that, for perfect bodily rest combined with entire freedom from mental anxiety, slumber upon a water-bed cannot compare with bicycle-riding upon a hilly road. No fairy travelling on a summer cloud could take things more easily than does the bicycle girl, according to the poster. Her costume for cycling in hot weather is ideal. Old-fashioned landladies might refuse her lunch, it is true; and a narrowminded police force might desire to secure her, and wrap her in a rug preliminary to summonsing her. But such she heeds not. Uphill and downhill, through traffic that might tax the ingenuity of a cat, over road surfaces calculated to break the average steam roller she passes, a vision of idle loveliness; her fair hair streaming to the wind, her sylph-like form poised airily, one foot upon the saddle, the other resting lightly upon the lamp. Sometimes she condescends to sit down on the saddle; then she puts her feet on the rests, lights a cigarette, and waves above her head a Chinese lantern.

Less often, it is a mere male thing that rides the machine. He is not so accomplished an acrobat as is the lady; but simple tricks, such as standing on the saddle and waving flags, drinking beer or beef-tea while riding, he can and does perform. Something, one supposes, he must do to occupy his mind: sitting still hour after hour on this machine, having no work to do, nothing to think about, must pall upon any man of active temperament. Thus it is that we see him rising on his pedals as he nears the top of some high hill to apostrophise the sun, or address poetry to the surrounding scenery.

Occasionally the poster pictures a pair of cyclists; and then one grasps the fact how much superior for purposes of flirtation is the modern bicycle to the old-fashioned parlour or the played-out garden gate. He and she mount their bicycles, being careful, of course, that such are of the right make. After that they have nothing to think about but the old sweet tale. Down shady lanes, through busy towns on market days, merrily roll the wheels of the “Bermondsey Company’s Bottom Bracket Britain’s Best,” or of the “Camberwell Company’s Jointless Eureka.” They need no pedalling; they require no guiding. Give them their heads, and tell them what time you want to get home, and that is all they ask. While Edwin leans from his saddle to whisper the dear old nothings in Angelina’s ear, while Angelina’s face, to hide its blushes, is turned towards the horizon at the back, the magic bicycles pursue their even course.

And the sun is always shining and the roads are always dry. No stern parent rides behind, no interfering aunt beside, no demon small boy brother is peeping round the corner, there never comes a skid. Ah me! Why were there no “Britain’s Best” nor “Camberwell Eurekas” to be hired when we were young?

Or maybe the “Britain’s Best” or the “Camberwell Eureka” stands leaning against a gate; maybe it is tired. It has worked hard all the afternoon, carrying these young people. Mercifully minded, they have dismounted, to give the machine a rest. They sit upon the grass beneath the shade of graceful boughs; it is long and dry grass. A stream flows by their feet. All is rest and peace.

That is ever the idea the cycle poster artist sets himself to convey — rest and peace.

But I am wrong in saying that no cyclist, according to the poster, ever works. Now I come to reflect, I have seen posters representing gentlemen on cycles working very hard — over-working themselves, one might almost say. They are thin and haggard with the toil, the perspiration stands upon their brow in beads; you feel that if there is another hill beyond the poster they must either get off or die. But this is the result of their own folly. This happens because they will persist in riding a machine of an inferior make. Were they riding a “Putney Popular” or “Battersea Bounder,” such as the sensible young man in the centre of the poster rides, then all this unnecessary labour would be saved to them. Then all required of them would be, as in gratitude bound, to look happy; perhaps, occasionally to back-pedal a little when the machine in its youthful buoyancy loses its head for a moment and dashes on too swiftly.

You tired young men, sitting dejectedly on milestones, too spent to heed the steady rain that soaks you through; you weary maidens, with the straight, damp hair, anxious about the time, longing to swear, not knowing how; you stout bald men, vanishing visibly as you pant and grunt along the endless road; you purple, dejected matrons, plying with pain the slow unwilling wheel; why did you not see to it that you bought a “Britain’s Best” or a “Camberwell Eureka”? Why are these bicycles of inferior make so prevalent throughout the land?

Or is it with bicycling as with all other things: does Life at no point realise the Poster?

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

February 22, 2015

QotD: Getting exercise with a bicycle

Filed under: Humour, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

There are two ways you can get exercise out of a bicycle: you can “overhaul” it, or you can ride it. On the whole, I am not sure that a man who takes his pleasure overhauling does not have the best of the bargain. He is independent of the weather and the wind; the state of the roads troubles him not. Give him a screw-hammer, a bundle of rags, an oil-can, and something to sit down upon, and he is happy for the day. He has to put up with certain disadvantages, of course; there is no joy without alloy. He himself always looks like a tinker, and his machine always suggests the idea that, having stolen it, he has tried to disguise it; but as he rarely gets beyond the first milestone with it, this, perhaps, does not much matter. The mistake some people make is in thinking they can get both forms of sport out of the same machine. This is impossible; no machine will stand the double strain. You must make up your mind whether you are going to be an “overhauler” or a rider. Personally, I prefer to ride, therefore I take care to have near me nothing that can tempt me to overhaul. When anything happens to my machine I wheel it to the nearest repairing shop. If I am too far from the town or village to walk, I sit by the roadside and wait till a cart comes along. My chief danger, I always find, is from the wandering overhauler. The sight of a broken-down machine is to the overhauler as a wayside corpse to a crow; he swoops down upon it with a friendly yell of triumph. At first I used to try politeness. I would say:

“It is nothing; don’t you trouble. You ride on, and enjoy yourself, I beg it of you as a favour; please go away.”

Experience has taught me, however, that courtesy is of no use in such an extremity. Now I say:

“You go away and leave the thing alone, or I will knock your silly head off.”

And if you look determined, and have a good stout cudgel in your hand, you can generally drive him off.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

February 15, 2015

QotD: Bicycle saddles

Filed under: Humour, Quotations, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I said: “It irritated me; it must have been worse for you. Then there are saddles,” I went on — I wished to get this lesson home to him. “Can you think of any saddle ever advertised that you have not tried?”

He said: “It has been an idea of mine that the right saddle is to be found.”

I said: “You give up that idea; this is an imperfect world of joy and sorrow mingled. There may be a better land where bicycle saddles are made out of rainbow, stuffed with cloud; in this world the simplest thing is to get used to something hard. There was that saddle you bought in Birmingham; it was divided in the middle, and looked like a pair of kidneys.”

He said: “You mean that one constructed on anatomical principles.”

“Very likely,” I replied. “The box you bought it in had a picture on the cover, representing a sitting skeleton — or rather that part of a skeleton which does sit.”

He said: “It was quite correct; it showed you the true position of the—”

I said: “We will not go into details; the picture always seemed to me indelicate.”

He said: “Medically speaking, it was right.”

“Possibly,” I said, “for a man who rode in nothing but his bones. I only know that I tried it myself, and that to a man who wore flesh it was agony. Every time you went over a stone or a rut it nipped you; it was like riding on an irritable lobster. You rode that for a month.”

“I thought it only right to give it a fair trial,” he answered.

I said: “You gave your family a fair trial also; if you will allow me the use of slang. Your wife told me that never in the whole course of your married life had she known you so bad tempered, so un-Christian like, as you were that month. Then you remember that other saddle, the one with the spring under it.”

He said: “You mean ‘the Spiral.’”

I said: “I mean the one that jerked you up and down like a Jack-in-the-box; sometimes you came down again in the right place, and sometimes you didn’t. I am not referring to these matters merely to recall painful memories, but I want to impress you with the folly of trying experiments at your time of life.”

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

February 8, 2015

QotD: The trouble with tandem bicycles

Filed under: Europe, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

There is always unpleasantness about this tandem. It is the theory of the man in front that the man behind does nothing; it is equally the theory of the man behind that he alone is the motive power, the man in front merely doing the puffing. The mystery will never be solved. It is annoying when Prudence is whispering to you on the one side not to overdo your strength and bring on heart disease; while Justice into the other ear is remarking, “Why should you do it all? This isn’t a cab. He’s not your passenger” to hear him grunt out:

“What’s the matter — lost your pedals?”

Harris, in his early married days, made much trouble for himself on one occasion, owing to this impossibility of knowing what the person behind is doing. He was riding with his wife through Holland. The roads were stony, and the machine jumped a good deal.

“Sit tight,” said Harris, without turning his head.

What Mrs. Harris thought he said was, “Jump off.” Why she should have thought he said “Jump off,” when he said “Sit tight,” neither of them can explain.

Mrs. Harris puts it in this way, “If you had said, ‘Sit tight,’ why should I have jumped off?”

Harris puts it, “If I had wanted you to jump off, why should I have said ‘Sit tight!’?”

The bitterness is past, but they argue about the matter to this day.

Be the explanation what it may, however, nothing alters the fact that Mrs. Harris did jump off, while Harris pedalled away hard, under the impression she was still behind him. It appears that at first she thought he was riding up the hill merely to show off. They were both young in those days, and he used to do that sort of thing. She expected him to spring to earth on reaching the summit, and lean in a careless and graceful attitude against the machine, waiting for her. When, on the contrary, she saw him pass the summit and proceed rapidly down a long and steep incline, she was seized, first with surprise, secondly with indignation, and lastly with alarm. She ran to the top of the hill and shouted, but he never turned his head. She watched him disappear into a wood a mile and a half distant, and then sat down and cried. They had had a slight difference that morning, and she wondered if he had taken it seriously and intended desertion. She had no money; she knew no Dutch. People passed, and seemed sorry for her; she tried to make them understand what had happened. They gathered that she had lost something, but could not grasp what. They took her to the nearest village, and found a policeman for her. He concluded from her pantomime that some man had stolen her bicycle. They put the telegraph into operation, and discovered in a village four miles off an unfortunate boy riding a lady’s machine of an obsolete pattern. They brought him to her in a cart, but as she did not appear to want either him or his bicycle they let him go again, and resigned themselves to bewilderment.

Meanwhile, Harris continued his ride with much enjoyment. It seemed to him that he had suddenly become a stronger, and in every way a more capable cyclist. Said he to what he thought was Mrs. Harris:

“I haven’t felt this machine so light for months. It’s this air, I think; it’s doing me good.”

Then he told her not to be afraid, and he would show her how fast he could go. He bent down over the handles, and put his heart into his work. The bicycle bounded over the road like a thing of life; farmhouses and churches, dogs and chickens came to him and passed. Old folks stood and gazed at him, the children cheered him.

In this way he sped merrily onward for about five miles. Then, as he explains it, the feeling began to grow upon him that something was wrong. He was not surprised at the silence; the wind was blowing strongly, and the machine was rattling a good deal. It was a sense of void that came upon him. He stretched out his hand behind him, and felt; there was nothing there but space. He jumped, or rather fell off, and looked back up the road; it stretched white and straight through the dark wood, and not a living soul could be seen upon it. He remounted, and rode back up the hill. In ten minutes he came to where the road broke into four; there he dismounted and tried to remember which fork he had come down.

While he was deliberating a man passed, sitting sideways on a horse. Harris stopped him, and explained to him that he had lost his wife. The man appeared to be neither surprised nor sorry for him. While they were talking another farmer came along, to whom the first man explained the matter, not as an accident, but as a good story. What appeared to surprise the second man most was that Harris should be making a fuss about the thing. He could get no sense out of either of them, and cursing them he mounted his machine again, and took the middle road on chance. Half-way up, he came upon a party of two young women with one young man between them. They appeared to be making the most of him. He asked them if they had seen his wife. They asked him what she was like. He did not know enough Dutch to describe her properly; all he could tell them was she was a very beautiful woman, of medium size. Evidently this did not satisfy them, the description was too general; any man could say that, and by this means perhaps get possession of a wife that did not belong to him. They asked him how she was dressed; for the life of him he could not recollect.

I doubt if any man could tell how any woman was dressed ten minutes after he had left her. He recollected a blue skirt, and then there was something that carried the dress on, as it were, up to the neck. Possibly, this may have been a blouse; he retained a dim vision of a belt; but what sort of a blouse? Was it green, or yellow, or blue? Had it a collar, or was it fastened with a bow? Were there feathers in her hat, or flowers? Or was it a hat at all? He dared not say, for fear of making a mistake and being sent miles after the wrong party. The two young women giggled, which in his then state of mind irritated Harris. The young man, who appeared anxious to get rid of him, suggested the police station at the next town. Harris made his way there. The police gave him a piece of paper, and told him to write down a full description of his wife, together with details of when and where he had lost her. He did not know where he had lost her; all he could tell them was the name of the village where he had lunched. He knew he had her with him then, and that they had started from there together.

The police looked suspicious; they were doubtful about three matters: Firstly, was she really his wife? Secondly, had he really lost her? Thirdly, why had he lost her? With the aid of a hotel-keeper, however, who spoke a little English, he overcame their scruples. They promised to act, and in the evening they brought her to him in a covered wagon, together with a bill for expenses. The meeting was not a tender one. Mrs. Harris is not a good actress, and always has great difficulty in disguising her feelings. On this occasion, she frankly admits, she made no attempt to disguise them.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

April 10, 2011

NYC’s backlash against the bicycle

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:19

Stephen Smith does a quick analysis of the reaction to P.J. O’Rourke’s anti-bike article in the Wall Street Journal last weekend:

Could it be that the bike lobby actually has alienated the rest of America (and even New York), playing into stereotypes (Stuff White People Like #61) of spandex-wearing, pasty-legged effete liberals who think that the bicycle is a reasonable tool for, say, intra-Brooklyn house moves? No, says Streetsblog — it must be some sort of advertiser-driven conspiracy. (Does The New Yorker even have an auto section? How many car ads are there in the latest issue?) This article is of course absurd, but I think it’s a symptom of the way that many bike advocates lionize their preferred mode of transit, perhaps unknowingly prioritizing it above even other non-automobile modes.

Don’t get me wrong — I have no problem with bikes, and even bike lanes. I’ve seen the stats on the Prospect Park West lane, about how it’s improved safety without slowing down auto commutes, and I don’t doubt it for a second. But as much as we wish it weren’t so, political capital is an exhaustible resource, and only so many reforms can be made before voters and citizens start to punish the politicians making them. Janette Sadik-Khan is, realistically, only allowed to anger so many people by changes to the status quo — every bike lane she stripes is a Select Bus Service route that won’t be implemented, a Haitian dollar van driver who will be fined and imprisoned, an outer-borough resident who won’t be able to catch a cab because of the medallion system. The fundamental problem, in my opinion, is that bike lanes are very culturally-loaded, and the anger they produce — which translates directly into other projects being shot down — is out of proportion with their benefits.

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