Monday, January 7, 2013

Interview with Tom Vanderbilt, author of Traffic

Tom Vanderbilt, author of the excellent book Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), was interviewed recently by Andrew Gardner of Embrocation Cycling Journal. It's well worth reading. Here are some excerpts:
AG - What's your take on the state of cycling advocacy today? What are the largest challenges to improving life for cyclists in the US?

TV - I was just down in D.C., looking at their bike share system, and what struck me was that the people who were first thinking about this, a number of years back, were planning students and bike advocates, noble voices dwelling largely in the wilderness. Now they’re the people administering the programs, doing the consulting, getting the money, making it happen. It’s becoming rather expected that a city will have a bicycle projects coordinator, just as it will soon be expected that any city worth its salt will have something like a bike share system. And hence the answer to the second question: Infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure. People’s choices are shaped largely by their environment; put an escalator next to stairs, 99% of people will not take the stairs. Build things that are good for a person on a bike — whether they are eight or eighty — and you’ll get more people on bikes. Get more people on bikes, and the other issues, like behavior and safety, virtually take care of themselves.

AG - Being keen on racing and interested in advocacy, any thoughts on strategies to bring those communities closer together?

TV - Cycling is incredibly divisive, almost like some mutant dividing cellular organism — the racers snicker at the “Freds” in hi-viz spandex, even as they terrorize people riding Dutch bikes on multi-user paths. There’s division everywhere — steel versus carbon, disc brakes versus cantilever. 29ers versus 26ers. There’s probably some huge clash over wheel skewers I’m not even aware of. It’s so far beyond anything in the world of cars — e.g., I drive a wagon, but it’s not like I harbor some huge suspicion of sedans.

Having ridden with Tim Johnson in the Ride of Washington, I’m of course enthused by his whole approach, which is basically to say that all of us on two wheels are basically on the same road, that the pro racer of today was the kid on the Schwinn a few decades ago, and to enlist those in the racing community to help promote that. There are many noble rides for charity causes, why not rides to make things better for cyclists in general? How many pro riders, after all, have been killed or seriously injured by drivers on training rides?

AG - In addition to cycling, you write about technology for a number of publications. To you, what's the most important technological improvement to hit the cycling world? (Ebikes? Strava? Compression socks?)

TV - I’d have to go with the simple, yet utterly indispensable, smart phone. With one device you can track your ride on Strava, Instagram that epic ascent, conduct your business even as you’re playing hooky, find the nearest bike share station in cities around the world, locate the closest bike shop when that mechanical strands you — the list goes on. It goes in my jersey pocket even before that spare tube.
We had planned a series of notes about the book Traffic but only managed to get to the first installment, Traffic notes, Part 1. Maybe we'll try to dig up the notes and try for Part 2 this year.

Thanks to BikePortland's The Monday Roundup for this reference and several other tidbits.

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