Monthly Archives: October 2013

In Vienna, Riding Streetcars Old and New

By Micheline Maynard
The first thing I had to do on my first visit to Vienna was ride a streetcar. They traverse many parts of the city, but they’re especially visible on the Ringstrasse, the semi-circular route around the historic part of the city.

Sitting on a streetcar, you pass all the major sights of Vienna, from palaces to parks, the Vienna State Opera to the university and City Hall. You also can take many types of streetcars, from the old fashioned step-up Duwag trams, to sleek quiet new cars that are flush with the ground.

I met many interesting people on the streetcars — students, musicians, and older ladies who chatted with me in an effort to practice their English. But, mainly, I looked out the window and enjoyed the elegant and mysterious city.

We’re making video a regular feature of Curbing Cars. If you have video of your city’s transit system, please share it with us. Email

Comments Off on In Vienna, Riding Streetcars Old and New

Filed under cities, public transportation

Why Would — or Wouldn’t You — Wear A Bike Helmet?

As bike sharing gets more popular, public health officials are concerned people are on bikes without helmets.

As bike sharing gets more popular, public health officials are concerned people are on bikes without helmets.

By Micheline Maynard

When I bought my bike this summer, everyone I told about the purchase was adamant: you have to get a helmet. They were so insistent that I stayed off it until I had gone to REI and brought home a helmet ($32, on sale).

Many public health officials are concerned that as bike sharing spreads across the country, head injuries also will go up, as I wrote this week for Al Jazeera America. There are some pretty compelling statistics to that effect.

Greg Kagay, one of the backers of Curbing Cars, is a dedicated cyclist who’s been wearing a helmet since he had a bike accident in high school. He is eager to try out bike sharing, but he’ll only do so when wearing a helmet.

However, there are also some people who think the concern about cyclists wearing helmets is way over blown. One of them is Jana Kinsman, who is among the best known cyclists in Chicago, thanks to her project, Bike A Bee.

I talked with Kinsman at length for my AJAM story, and she presents a strong argument that helmets are not the point. The bigger issue, she says, is that bikes, cars and pedestrians all need to coexist.

Continue reading

Comments Off on Why Would — or Wouldn’t You — Wear A Bike Helmet?

Filed under bicycling, bike sharing, cities

How Placemaking Can Boost City Transportation

A summer day in NYC's Bryant Park, a stand out example of placemaking.

A summer day in NYC’s Bryant Park, a stand out example of placemaking.

By Micheline Maynard

All around the world, urban planners are coming up with new ways to encourage people to get more out of their cities. One of the biggest trends is “place making” (or placemaking, as people in the field call it).

That’s taking a public space, and adding new elements so that people want to come there. There are dozens of successful placemaking projects across the United States. Think of Bryant Park in New York City, Eastern Market in Detroit, and Guerrero Park in San Francisco.

All of these places have been around for years, but they’ve all seen a revival in the past decade or so, thanks to what takes place in them. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have written a major new white paper on placemaking, which you can read here.

One of the biggest benefits of placemaking may wind up being what it does to the way people get around. Fred Kent, founder of the Project for Public Spaces, says placemaking can boost public transportation, and encourage people to get out of their cars.

“If there’s one thing, you’re going to drive to it,” he told me for a story in Forbes. “If there are 10 of them, all of a sudden, you’re connecting them, and it’s a whole point of not needing your car.” Continue reading

Comments Off on How Placemaking Can Boost City Transportation

Filed under cities, public transportation, urban planning

In New Orleans, The Streetcar Is More Than Just For Tourists

Streetcar1Our latest student-written story comes from John Owens, a political science student at Tulane University in New Orleans.

By John Owens

Streetcars are as much a part of New Orleans as beignets, Mardi Gras and the New Orleans Saints. Rolling down the most well-known streets in the city, the unmistakable whir of their electric power and sound of the old-fashioned suspension fills the air for blocks around. The wooden seats hark back to a time when craftsmanship ruled over mass-production. Streetcars are an institution here.

Recently, the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) has poured millions into revitalizing the aging rails that underpin the system. It tore up track bit by bit, starting before the 2013 Super Bowl and continuing through now. It is the kind of investment that implies a commitment to a long future with the streetcar in New Orleans.

In the run up to the Super Bowl, the RTA even added a 2.8 mile spur with 13 stops. It took less than a year to complete, an unusually quick project by New Orleans standards.

With streetcars running down more streets and on better tracks, it begs the question: are streetcars a viable transit solution, a tourist attraction or both? Continue reading

Comments Off on In New Orleans, The Streetcar Is More Than Just For Tourists

Filed under public transportation

A Day In The Life Of Sao Paulo’s Transit System

By Micheline Maynard

We recently showed you a day in the life of Montreal’s transit system. Here, with some catchy music, is a day in the life of the transit system in Sao Paulo.

Now, you might wonder if anything ever moves in Sao Paulo, which has been nicknamed “the city of 18 million traffic jams,” referring to its population.

Sao Paulo actually has the world’s most extensive, and complex, bus system. It operates 26,391 buses, 1,908 lines, 34 transfer stations, and 146.5 kilometers of dedicated bus lanes. One in every five residents takes a bus every day to work, school or other places. Overall, 10.5 million people ride a bus daily in the metropolitan area — equivalent to moving the population of Belgium.

In the bus transit world, Sao Paulo is the equivalent of Montreal in the bike sharing world. City officials from everywhere descend on Sao Paulo to see how the city manages all those people. So sit back, and marvel at the masses of people moving through Sao Paulo mass transit.


Comments Off on A Day In The Life Of Sao Paulo’s Transit System

Filed under bike sharing, public transportation

Bicyclists: How Strongly Do You Feel About Wearing A Helmet?

These Bixi riders and cyclists at lunch in Montreal. Only one of them is wearing a helmet.

These Bixi riders and cyclists at lunch in Montreal. Notice that only  one of them is wearing a helmet.

By Micheline Maynard

A few weeks ago, Curbing Cars supporter Michael Leland wrote about his experience using Capital Bike Share in Washington, D.C. Michael is an avid cyclist who always wears a helmet at home in Madison, Wisconsin, but he didn’t have one with him during his trip. That caused him a little discomfort in using the system.

We’re wondering how strongly you feel about wearing a helmet when you cycle. Is it a must for you? Or, do you skip one on occasions when you’re taking a short trip, or using bike sharing?

Please take our poll. If you feel particularly strongly about this, we’d love to hear your helmet thoughts. Add them in comments, or email us at if you’d like to say more.

Click here to take survey

Comments Off on Bicyclists: How Strongly Do You Feel About Wearing A Helmet?

Filed under bicycling, Bike Share Review, bike sharing

A Tale Of Two Cities – And Two Bike Sharing Systems

By Micheline Maynard

During my week in Montreal and Toronto, I had my eye out for evidence of bike sharing. I didn’t have to look far in Montreal, which is considered one of the world’s top bike friendly cities. Toronto was a much different story.

I’d booked my Montreal hotel near the Atwater Metro station in Westmount, the traditionally English part of the city, because I wanted to get around with ease. Upon checking in, my hotel clerk handed me a neighborhood map. “Here is the Metro station, you just walk two blocks down the hill,” she explained. “And here are the Bixis.”

In fact, it hadn’t even taken me that long to find them. As soon as my taxi pulled out of Montreal’s central station, I spotted a man on a Bixi waiting at the light.

Over the next few days, I spotted Bixis in all the neighborhoods I visited, at all times of the day, even late in the evening after I was coming back from dinner. People rode Bixis to lunch, and to work, and out for drinks. Late one afternoon, I passed the Atwater Bixi dock and found it held just one bike — all the others were in use.

Ahmed El-Geneidy, associate professor at the School of Urban Planning at McGill University, smiled when I told him that. Montreal, he explained, is the equivalent of a model home for Bixi, the bike sharing company that dominates the world market. It constantly brings visiting civic officials to the city to see bike sharing in action. So, naturally, Bixi docks and bikes are plentiful.

It was not the same in Toronto. Continue reading

Comments Off on A Tale Of Two Cities – And Two Bike Sharing Systems

Filed under Bike Share Review, bike sharing, public transportation

Public Transit Is More Popular Than Ever, And That’s The Problem


Toronto’s day transit pass (left) and a Montreal 3-day pass.

By Micheline Maynard

Over the past few years, there has been a record demand for public transportation. Environmentalists think that’s great news. So do businesses near bus stops and subway stations.

There’s only one problem. The interest in public transportation is swamping cities’ ability to provide fast and comfortable service. Every day, Twitter is full of alerts about train lines breaking down, subway delays and street closings that cause buses to detour.

I experienced some of these issues with the public transit lines in Toronto and Montreal during my visit. While they didn’t keep me from getting where I needed to go, the delays and detours threw me off schedule. Multiply that by the thousands of people who use the systems each day, and you begin to see that productivity can be under pressure.

The first problem happened on my first ride in Toronto. I hopped aboard a street car headed toward Lit Espresso Bar, on College Street, a main east-west route, figuring I’d revive myself after my Via Rail journey from Windsor.

Perhaps a mile into the trip, the driver made an announcement that our journey was going to entail a “short turn.” That means the car wouldn’t proceed to the end of the line, but would dump passengers off at the next stop, where they could pick up the next car.

It turns out this happens all the time in Toronto, and the transit authority even produced a video at one point to explain it. (The video is now gone from YouTube.) Essentially, if there’s bad traffic, construction or too few people riding a streetcar, the system dumps people off and turns around. Continue reading


Filed under Curbing Cars, public transportation

Lessons Learned Getting Around Without A Car

By Micheline Maynard

Last week, I set off for Canada to do research for the upcoming Curbing Cars book. I decided before I left that I’d try to get around without a car.

You might think that’s a reasonable idea, since Toronto and Montreal have extensive public transit systems. I’ve lived in big cities, after all, such as Tokyo and New York, where I didn’t have a car.

But I usually drive to Toronto, or get a rental car while I’m there. And, because I wanted to see different parts of Montreal, I originally planned to rent a ZipCar for a few hours, only to find the service isn’t offered there.

Instead, I wound up using every kind of non-personal car transportation available to me. It was an experience that taught me how difficult it can be to adjust to living car free, once you’re used to jumping behind the wheel. But many people get along that way. In fact, the number of car free families rose in the U.S. last year for the first time in a half century.

Here’s how my trip went. Continue reading

Comments Off on Lessons Learned Getting Around Without A Car

Filed under bike sharing, cars, Curbing Cars, Driving, public transportation

A Day In The Life Of Montreal’s Transit System

By Micheline Maynard

I’m back from a week in Canada, exploring Toronto and Montreal completely by public transit (plus my feet and a couple of taxis). I’ll be writing more about my trip over the coming days.

But first, I’d like you to watch this mesmerizing video showing a day in the life of Montreal’s transit system. It was published last October, and shows one week day (from 4 am to 4 am) of transit activity in Montreal.

It is based on the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) data made available by the three largest transit systems in the area — the Société de Transport de Montréal (STM), Société de Transport de Laval (STL), and Réseau de Transport de Longueuil (RTL).

You’ll see the system crank to life in the morning, and traffic grow busier throughout the day. Then, it fades in the evening, until only overnight buses are left.

That’s just one city, and one set of transit systems. Imagine if there was an activity stream like this for the whole world!

1 Comment

Filed under infrastructure, public transportation