Home > Los Angeles, Planning > A certain specious folly

A certain specious folly

I’m not exactly sure where we are on the “Ghandi-meter” of change, but Syd Mead’s column on the “specious folly” of bicycle-as-transportation seems to be somewhere between the time when “they laugh at you” and when “they fight you.” The direct comments on the piece address most or all of the practical points he missed, which might be more simply stated that we cyclists have already solved his concerns. Can’t carry a watermelon? Done that. Can’t travel ten miles? Do that all the time. Bike lanes create traffic congestion? Traffic was congested before and getting worse. And so on.

It almost seems too convenient to point out that Mead, a so-called futurist, can’t conceive of a practical future for bicycles in an urban environment. This is even a little ironic. If one looks at the drawings he did in 1988 of Los Angeles in 2013, it’s pretty clear that his idea of the future was a bit different than what we’ve got. His streetscapes include “Metro Rail tubes,” but few sidewalks; futuristic cars, but hardly any traffic; hundreds of buildings, but not a single person in sight. One wonders whether somehow his future is so bleak that people don’t exist anymore, or don’t want to be outside anymore, or won’t enjoy the pleasure of a bike ride.

The column’s biggest flaw? Mead doesn’t provide alternatives. Bicycles go far towards a real solution to at least three problems we face in urban environments: traffic, pollution, and public health. It’s one thing to point out that most people won’t travel twenty miles on a bicycle, it’s another to propose an actual solution to congestion. If he hasn’t noticed, car trips on L.A.’s surface streets now travel at a bicycle pace, rarely exceeding an average of twenty miles-per-hour during business hours. Cars are polluting our environment, and it seems doubtful that his 1970s-era monster “land yacht” would help much. Americans are as fat as they’ve ever been, but somehow it doesn’t seem that anyone would lose weight riding around in one of his “Tron” Light cycles. It’s one thing to snipe at bicycles and their alleged limitations, it’s another to find better ways to replace them.

Maybe he should consider a vacation in the Netherlands. I hear they’re doing some amazing things with bicycles. Stuff that we might be trying to implement here.

Categories: Los Angeles, Planning
  1. May 18, 2014 at 11:40 PM

    When I went to the article, there were no comments. I have posted mine. I repeat it below:

    Unfortunately, such an ill-informed twaddle is all too common and has no place in any medium aspiring to be reputable. In an age where diseases of inactivity, air-pollution, noise all take their toll. These modern plagues are all caused to some considerable extent by the excessive and unnecessary motor-vehicle use and can be reduced and alleviated to a great degree by replacing car-use with bicycle use. Of course, one reason why bicycling is so unpopular is because the lobby-groups, dominated by fossil-fuel interests, the car manufacturers and road construction industry have conspired to ensure that roads are inherently hostile places for cyclists and pedestrians, infested by cyclist-hating motorists, some of whom are positively homicidal, where only the brave dare cycle.
    CDC diseases of inactivity (Google)
    Reference: Driven to Kill: Vehicles as Weapons – J Peter. Rothe

    Load-carrying – Once again the author is demonstrating his appalling lack of research and stating flawed opinion as fact. Bicycles are largely solo vehicles, but they come in a wide variety of designs and configurations. Carrying merchandise is easy achieved with a cargo bicycle. Many types are available and they can carry an amazing amount of stuff.

    Lawlessness – As for lawlessness among bicyclists, the implication of this article is that only cyclists are bad, motorists are of course utterly blameless souls who never ran a stop sign, speed, DUI or anything bad. That may be true in the author’s Utopia, but not in the real world.

    Unused cycling infrastructure – If cycling infrastructure isn’t being used by cyclists, then it clearly just isn’t good enough. Make it safe, pleasant and useful and the cyclists will come. The cost of a decent integrated network of bicycle infrastructure is tiny, compared with that designed for trucks and cars.
    Congestion – The cause of congestion is the motor-vehicle, does the author never open his eyes when driving?

    Very limited research is required to demonstrate unequivocally that most of the above article is untrue. Simple internet searches on keywords will reveal just how wrong the above article is from reality.
    The Author has demonstrated zero proof for his claims, why am I not surprised?

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