by Tyler Cowen
on August 8, 2013 at 1:29 pm
1. Good post on the challenges faced by Raghu Rajan.
2. 600 octopi made from recycled newspaper, can you guess from which country?
3. The infrastructure behind Dutch cycling.
4. Is there regional convergence in Chinese growth? And new Michael Pettis piece on China.
5. First chapter of Tim Harford’s new book as a Kindle single.
6. I never thought Ishtar was such a terrible movie.
“Raghuram Rajan will take over leadership of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on September 4.” Why on earth was he not appointed as Bernanke’s successor?
Most probably , he has retained his Indian citizenship and is only a Green card holder.
I stand corrected ; per Wikipedia he is a US citizen holding OCI (overseas citizen of India ) status.
You mean he’s got to be a US citizen? Isn’t that a damaging restriction if it stops you hiring the best man for the job?
You’d think Americans would trade the decreased manliness of male bike riders for the increased sexiness of girls on bikes .. but nooo.
One of the stranger things I have experienced as an American living in Germany is how, on several occasions over more than 15 years, American visitors are surprised/shocked/discomfited/perplexed seeing German women riding bicycles in skirts.
The first person who pointed this out was a former Germany stationed soldier who took a couple of pictures of a normal summer day downtown to prove to his acquintances in Rochester NY (he worked for Kodak at the time) that such a thing was an every day occurrence. In subsequent years, the Americans who remarked on this tended to be university exchange students, both male and female. And they all took pictures, as proof (to get a feel for this, this recent photo set found after simple googling is probably more than typical – including the reaction of the first Dutch woman on a bike having her picture taken – http://bikeportland.org/2013/06/03/photos-cycling-style-in-amsterdam-87757 ).
What makes this so strange to me is that why would anyone think women wouldn’t ride bicycles in skirts? This is a particularly American perspective, which tends to lead to a certain bemusement when Germans are involved in the conversation, getting insight into just how quintessentially different Americans can be when dealing with something so absolutely mundane to everyone living in Germany.
Though serious male bicyclists tend to be considered anything but unmanly in Europe – seems to have something to do with muscle definition and stamina, apparently.
#3 apart from the ridiculous swooning, this snippet really shows that the author has only an extremely superficial knowledge of the Netherlands, if that:
“If anything, having a tatty, battered old bike affords more status as it attests to a long and lasting love.”
Well no. Having a ‘tatty battered old bike’ is wise because it – marginally – decreases the risk of the bike being stolen. In Amsterdam or any of the larger cities really, a racing bike locked with 2 Kryptonite 1590 locks (at 150 euro each) will last a day at most, while that battered old bike bike value about 25 euros) with the same locks may last a few weeks. Here in the Midwest US I don’t lock my bike, but even the most expensive lock for sale here, wouldn’t last for more than a few hours in Amsterdam.
My first bike, for which I had saved my newspapers delivery income of 2 years, was stolen the first day I moved back to Rotterdam in 1981. I owned over 25 bikes in the Netherlands since then and had all of them stolen. Typically, what is bad in the Netherlands about having your bike stolen is less the replacement value for yet another of those battered old bikes, and more the cost of having to buy yet another set of ever more technologically advanced, expensive bike locks.
How do they defeat the locks?
Hidden GPS tracking?
I know someone (in the UK) with a motion sensor in his bike that sends a text message to his phone if the bike moves. State of the art locks did not work on the previous bikes.
Bike stolen 25 times since 1981? You really need to work on your bike locking strategies! My experience biking in Amsterdam since the late eighties is that if you follow some basic rules your bike won’t get stolen. I agree that having a crappy bike helps.
6. Unmentioned in the review is the credit Paul Williams should get for writing some really bad lyrics.
The infrastructure behind Dutch cycling.
I found Philip Greenspun’s pair of posts about the Dutch and cycling illuminating: “Danish Happiness: Bicycle Infrastructure” and, on a related note, “The Secret of Danish Happiness,” which argues that the Danish have traded material possessions for time and other things.
Amsterdam (along with Havana and Dubrovnik) is one my favorite cities in the world … having lived in Amsterdam two summers ago, I love how so many Dutch of all ages ride their bikes all the time … by the way, is it just me, or are Americans really anal when they ride their bikes: helmets, spandex, aggressive attitude are de rigueur in the US … the Dutch have no need for helmets or Spandex … biking is like walking to them
I commute on the Charles River bike path most mornings and evenings, and it is very rare when I see someone (besides myself) without a helmet on. I do wear sunglasses, but normal shorts and t-shirts (depending on whether) otherwise. Maybe 50/50 on spandex vs. normal clothes, but usually if someone has a nicer bike and is going faster, they are far more likely to have bike clothing.
Nothing like having an eighty pound dog take out your front wheel, sending you over the handlebar headfirst into the pavement to justify wearing a helmet for thirty five years.
It’s a selection effect. Almost everyone bikes there so the average biker is the average person.
In American cities, bikers as a demographic don’t coincide with the average person. I’d also wager that the average speed of an American biker is higher (age, roads, self-selection etc. ).
Further illumination awaits when you discover that Denmark is not in the Netherlands.
The Vikings Abroad?
I’ve never been there, but I always took it for granted that the reason that bicycles are a competitive transportation option in the Netherlands is because the landscape is generally flat. A hill free terrain makes it possible to use “granny bikes” whose ruggedness, simplicity and paucity of tetchy gears and brake cables makes them the preferred model for non-spandex wearing riders. How popular are bicycles in hilly San Francisco compared to flat Manhattan?
Yes, that is a factor. Also, the mild climate (snow and even heavy rain are rare) helps.
#3: I love it. If only more of our flatter American cities were bike centered, rather than car centered. Perhaps the bike industry should organize itself more like the car industry.
The Greater Boston area could certainly do it.
This is silly.
Bikes in cities are great for young, single, able-bodied males in mild weather. They are useless for families, the elderly, pregnant women, children, the disabled, and anybody who wants to transport more than about 10 pounds or move about between November and March or between June and August. Heck, public transit isn’t very good for most of those groups compared with cars, but it’s at least somewhat more practical than cycling. Watch the struggles of a woman with a child in a stroller (even with only one) the next time you’re on the MBTA.
Looks like the Dutch prove you wrong. As do many other Europeans as well as Asians.
Look at their birthrates and the lives of their non-able bodied folk and get back to me. Maybe you’ll find there are implications when you design society around one kind of person and ignore everybody else.
The article mentions 70% of all journeys, hardly talking about only “one kind of person”.
If your concern is “non-able bodied folk” you’re right: They will probably not use bike infrastructure. And 30% of all journeys in Amsterdam and The Hague don’t either. So what?
More important than Dutch cycling infrastructure are Dutch cycling institutions and culture. Copying Dutch infrastructure to the US results in too many injuries and deaths. Separated bike paths and poorly designed bike lanes put cyclists to the right of auto traffic that might turn right and encourage cyclists to make left turns from the far right edge of the roadway. The Dutch deal with it by making the auto driver liable in any collision involving a cyclist and an auto and sometimes adding another traffic signal phase for cyclists. Neither of those would be politically feasible in US cities.
“The Dutch deal with it by making the auto driver liable in any collision involving a cyclist”
Interesting. Is this really true? I didn’t know that the EU (or Dutch) laws favored the bicyclist in liability. Have a citation?
According to my Dutch travel guide, this is not technically true (bicyclists can be liable), but in practice it nearly always works out that way. Unless there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the driver tends to be found at fault.
By the way, traffic laws are mainly set at the country level, not by the EU. Differences between countries abound.
The Dutch bike story is a stupid test. If you think heavy reliance on bicycle transportation is something a nation should celebrate, you’re stupid.
Biking is unpleasant, particularly in crap weather countries, like the Netherlands, where it rains for at least an hour on two of every three days. Outdoor temps are unpleasantly cold four months of the year and, while it never gets all that hot, it is hot enough for four months of the year that biking makes you sweaty, which is why every interior in the entire nation reeks of BO all summer long. You can’t carry much on a bike. You can’t read anything and you can’t even listen to anything safely because headphones make you oblivious to your surroundings.
You also can’t have a conversation with any other person while biking, a huge drawback that virtually no other mode of transportation suffers from.
Less carbon than cars? Certainly, but the rest of the world keeps on emitting and there’s no sense in giving up convenience when others don’t.
Better for urban environments than cars? Only marginally. Bikes are quieter but it’s the trucks that make real noise in the cities and bikes don’t replace trucks. And they don’t make for much more walkable cities either. Walkers have to avoid them, same as cars, though obviously the penalty for not avoiding them is far less.
Lower fatality rates, really, are about all that bikes have over cars and I’d doubt they have that advantage over public transport.
Intelligent, productive societies find better solutions, be they cars (in places where people live far enough apart to make driving pleasant) or public transport-walking (in cities).
Dude, you suck … plus, it sounds like you’ve never been to Amsterdam
The sad thing is, your first sentence is the best argument the pro-bike crowd has: Bikes = virtue ∴ bike mocker = very bad man.
The second one is just the weakest form of fishing, and obviously wrong. You have a long way to go, Turing Test, before you convince anyone you possess human intelligence.
Biking is the fastest, cheapest, most convenient way to get around any fairly flat city. Driving involves dealing with city traffic and parking far away from one’s destination. Public transportation is slow and expensive. Yes, a place like the Netherlands has policies that encourage cycling, but the drawbacks of driving in a city exist no matter what policies are in place. It is simply not possible to build a driving and parking infrastructure that can adequately serve the population density of a city.
I bike daily in Wales, which has a very similar climate to Amsterdam. The weather is not a problem, and it rarely rains hard. A basic bike rack easily allows one to carry a full load of groceries.
> A basic bike rack easily allows one to carry a full load of groceries.
Young, single guy, I take it? Imagine for a moment that not everyone is exactly like you.
Which is why such large majorities choose to bike in most temperate… oh wait.
1. Cheapest? Yes, but not very relevant. Potatoes are the cheapest food but once societies get rich enough to substitute, they do. (And biking is not all that cheap if your bike gets stolen every few weeks, which sounds like a problem in much of the Netherlands.)
2. Fastest? Depends on the city and the route. In a smallish city that lacks a subway and doesn’t force bikes to stop at traffic signals until they turn green? Probably in most cases. In a big city with good subway service? Almost never. I’d be happy to throw two darts at a map of Tokyo and have a race, you on your bike and me on transit. Hell, I could probably win that most times in much smaller Paris.
And speed, frankly, doesn’t trump pleasantness for most people. Running is faster than walking but I don’t often sprint (or even jog) to get from point A to point B unless I’m afraid of missing something important.
4. Bike rack full load of groceries? Your family either shops more frequently or eats more than mine. A full load of groceries for me feeds my family of four (plus two cats) for an entire week and easily weighs 100 pounds. It fits easily in my car. If you can actually tote that on a bike, I salute you.
5. Weather in Wales not a problem for biking because the near daily rains are not hard? We’re going to have to disagree on that front. Of course, when the problem is cold weather or wet weather, bikers bear the cost themselves. When the problem is warm weather, you inflict it on society. You may not think you smell all summer long, but if you bike any distance in work clothes, you smell. (To be fair, that’s also a problem for people who ride transport that has no AC. London stinks in the summer, as does NYC because, while the trains have AC, the stations don’t.)
6. Not possible to build auto infrastructure at high densities? Totally true, but only at very high densities. Manhattan (70k people/square mile) would be unbearable if everyone drove cars, as would Paris (50k/m) but the car beats the competition at pretty high densities (Queens, 14k/m) particularly in an age where subway construction has become unaffordable in many places. Most Americans and Europeans do not live in anything like the density of Queens, let alone Manhattan. The population density of Amersterdam, for example, is only 9k/m.
@finch, in Amsterdam you will see non-young people toting around all sorts of loads on your bikes. It’s true that not everyone can do it, but I was responding to scoop’s claim that, basically, riding bikes is no good for anyone.
@scoop, I’m not sure why you feel so strongly about this. Sure, some of this is a matter of opinion, and reasonable people can disagree, but your claim that only idiots think bikes are beneficial is just dumb. Anyway, here are some responses.
1) Huh? Cost is not relevant? Personally, I could easily afford a car. But by choosing not to spend money on that, I have more money to spend on other things. And even in rich countries, there are lots of people for whom affording a car would be a challenge. As for bike theft, it is a problem in Wales, too, but I have a cheap bike, and it has never been stolen.
2) Of course it is possible to find routes for which other modes of transportation may win. But a bike would easily win in most journeys of up to five miles, in my opinion. And that covers most journeys for a lot of people. I’m sure some people are constantly travelling from one end of Tokyo or New York City to the other, but that is a huge pain no matter how you travel–most try to live closer to the area of the city where they work. If you think speed is not as important as pleasantness, fine, but it is still a real benefit–just one that you don’t care about as much. And it is a matter of opinion whether taking the subway or bus or driving is more pleasant than riding a bike.
4) Well, I’m not carrying 100 pound loads of groceries on my bike, no. Though properly-equipped bikes can carry that. Obviously cars can carry more–no argument there. But inability to carry things on a bike is not a deal-breaker for many people. Also, for many people living in cities, getting a 100 pound load of groceries by car is not very workable, either. If you can’t park right next to where you live, it is a problem.
5) Change clothes when you get to work? It’s not that big of a deal.
6) I doubt driving would work well in Queens or Amsterdam if everyone did it. It is not just having enough roads to drive on, but parking. Even in smaller cities, it is not possible to have parking right next to every destination. If you have to park somewhere and walk 10 minutes, much of the speed advantage of a car is erased. And given that you are walking in the rain, heat, or whatever, much of the comfort advantage is erased, as well.
Overall, clearly cars do have certain advantages. And depending on what is important to you, you may find those advantages more important. But biking also has its advantages; there is nothing stupid or illogical about thinking that bicycling is a good way of getting around.
“You also can’t have a conversation with any other person while biking “
I dispute that. Yes you can.
I hope, when the fatal accident takes place, you are riding in the Netherlands because the driver will automatically be liable and your widow will have something.
A car is always better than a bike on the margin for the reasons you say, basically many times it is unpleasant to use a bike, you can certainly travel faster and in more comfort in a car than a bike. But in aggregate a bike is better than a car. You get fitter, the environment is more pleasant for everyone and so on. It is also true that no-one is forcing Dutch people to use bikes, just that provisions for bikers are being made more equal to provisions for cars. How can anyone object to that? On the BO issue, are you sure that isn’t culturally related to deodorant use? After all many cities in East coast America commuting requires physical effort (walking between stations etc) in much greater heat, but I don’t hear that BO is an issue there.
For me personally, I really prefer to bike, and I have a full time driver.
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