Monday, January 23, 2006

I'm a MAN, not a hamster, dammit!

Velo-City is about a bicycle facility proposal, a real pie-in-the-sky bit that imagines the use of large, clear plastic tubes elevated above street level so that cyclists would be separated from all that 'dangerous' motor traffic on the street below. Like most facility ideas, it probably introduces more problems than it solves, yet it's an intriguing idea because it's a people-sized version of those Habitrail tubes for pet hamsters! Imagine it! Plastic tubes connecting people with their home, workplace, and all the other destinations they require. It almost eliminates having those pesky cyclists on the roads.

Of course, I can offer a few improvements.

The system would need a Habitrail grocery. Cyclists could push little levers in order to get food pellets. If a bell rings, will they start salivating?

There should be a Habitrail gym that includes a little wheel the people could run in, assuming they don't get enough exercise riding their bikes in the tubes.

It wouldn't be complete without a Habitrail disco lounge where Habitrail people could meet in order to reproduce their kind (with apologies to the late Frank Zappa, who thought of this first!)

NITWITNESS TRAFFIC BULLETIN: "...and in-bound bicycle traffic is heavy in the A-12 tube just north of the A-9 junction, but it's moving rapidly. Stay tuned for more NITWITNESS traffic news!"

Logically, the system would need a Habitrail church where they could repent after an evening at the Habitrail disco, capped by spending the night in a Habitrail No-Tell-Motel.

Habitrail may have some problems in a hot climate. Imagine the heat buildup inside a clear plastic tube on a hot summer day, especially in a southern location. It would probably require air conditioning. Wihout it, the heat and humidity would combine to produce a Habitrail 'fungal spore duct' that would smell like a nasty old pair of sneakers, except you'd get to be INSIDE those sneakers! Now there's a lovely thought.

NITWITNESS TRAFFIC BULLETIN: "There's a 15 bike pile up in the A-12 bike tube. You may want to take an alternate route. Police, lawyers, and ambulance crews are on the way. This is NITWITNESS NEWS bringing you news you can use!"

Grades would be a real test of physical condition. Putting up some signs like "Slow Puny Traffic Keep Right" may help. We could adopt the skiing term 'bunny slope' for those slow lanes, and coin a new one, the 'wolf lane', for the fast riders. Come to think of it, some people call commuter cyclists "gutter bunnies" now, so it wouldn't be much of a stretch.

Interchanges could be lot of fun, though. Imagine a Habitrail traffic circle with sloping walls, almost like a velodrome. Fast traffic would be circulating at the bottom, with entrances and exits up near the top. You'd enter, dive down the banking to merge with traffic, then shoot up the wall at your destination. What's not to love?

NITWITNESS TRAFFIC BULLETIN: "The A-12 bike tube pile up is now estimated at over 50 cyclists! Please, if at all possible, avoid the area. They just keep coming, piling up in heaps inside the tube, their spandex clothing in tatters. They're like lemmings, rushing headlong to their death! Oh, the humanity! Our chopper will be on the scene momentarily to bring you live coverage of all that shredded clothing! Remember - you saw it first on NITWITNESS NEWS!"

How about a Habitrail shopping mall? The stores would all connect through a bunch of little tubes, with clothing stores, food courts (equipped with those ubiquitous little lever-and-pellet devices, of course), shoes stores, in fact, every necessity for modern living, except for a liquor store.

And what about those liquor stores? Habitrail liquor stores come in two models, the seedy-edge-of-town model run by a chain smoking guy who hasn't bathed since the Nixon administration, and the upscale-booze-with-ferns model that sells imported wine no none can afford. By the way, the upscale model doesn't offer bicycle parking, but on the other hand, the seedy guy doesn't care if you bring your bike inside.

Just like the interstates, we could have Habitrail service plazas. They'd be like little truck stops with bad food, overpriced tourist junk, and, after sundown, Habitrail hookers!

All kidding aside, it's an expensive, imaginary facility for imaginary cyclists. I'd rather see money spent to benefit existing cyclists than imaginary ones.

There are a lot of people who would ride a bicycle for transportation 'if only'. They want a facility or some space for their exclusive use, separated from all that nasty car traffic. And, really, they'd use a bike more if only it had some way to carry more things like groceries. Or if it had an extra seat so they could pick up the kids from school. And it would be nice to have three or four wheels so it couldn't tip over. And it would be much better if it had some sort of bodywork to keep the sun and rain out. A radio would be nice too. And a small motor, so you wouldn't have to sweat doing all that pedalling. Oh, and an air conditioner and heater too. And a very loud horn to get all those annoying cyclists out of the way.

Wait! I've just had an epiphany! It came to me in a blinding flash! All we have to do is redefine the terms! Bicycles can be redefined as having from one to four wheels, and may even have a large V8 engine! They're ALL bicycles, therefore ALL ROADS ARE BICYCLE FACILITIES! What a concept!


Blogger Pete said...

Dude, you should come to Minneapolis/St Paul. We already have habitrails. They're called skyways and connect most of the buildings in downtown so you can go get your lunch at Burger King without having to put on your coat. Here's a picture:

11:37 PM  
Blogger Neil said...

Got one of those in Glasgow too and while it was designed for pesky pedestrians, a few years ago they did paint half of it green to signify it as a cycle lane. Doesn't stop people walking on it and disapproving when you dare to cycle on it.

And in the summer it does get rather uncomfortablely hot, even in Scotland!

2:45 AM  
Blogger hereNT said...

I thought of r skyway system here in the Twin Cities when I saw that a few weeks ago, too. I think that it might actually work in colder, northern climates. As far as heat in the summer, well there could be air conditioning, and it doesn't have to be a clear tube. There are a lot of people up here that ride just during the summer - it would be a great thing for them.

I agree that money needs to be spent on all aspects of the cycling infrastructure, from the roads to the paths, to everything... But I still like the idea of being able to ride to work when it's -10F and windy and snowy through a heated corridor, get to work and have a bike locker and showers. Sure it will probably never happen, but it was still a nice dream...

12:29 PM  
Blogger James said...

Hey Ed,
You crack me up. Great points in this post though. I live in the balmy south so I don't have to worry too much about cold weather. I can't see many other advantages to riding inside a tube. I get enough inside time at work so I'll continue to use the streets.

4:43 PM  

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