An Amsterdam businessman – Photo by Dawn Paley
How financial incentives can re-shape our cities and our behaviour for a better future.
In North America, there are endless incentives that encourage us to drive our cars everywhere. From 0% interest financing on new cars, to unlimited travel car insurance, to significant government tax-breaks for leased automobiles, to free subsidized road infrastructure, to free parking, to paid mileage, and many others.
What if we had financial incentives to ride a bicycle instead of driving a car? Could it help to change our behaviour and have a more positive impact on our cities, our health and our environment?
Well this is what we are trying to do with a new policy at my company, Bursting Silver.
We recently established a number of company policies that we feel will help contribute to reducing our impact on the environment. One of our new policies is to pay employees double mileage for client travel by bike.
Although our staff primarily work from home offices in cities across Canada, we are often obligated to travel and work on-site at our client offices. Since we pay 50 cents per kilometre for staff to travel by car, we are now paying staff $1 per kilometre if they use a bicycle.
When I first tweeted about our new company policy, I received a responses from a few sceptics who thought it was a wonderful gesture, but they thought it wasn’t realistic for most companies because of the significant costs.
But a policy like this doesn’t need to necessarily create significant new costs. For example, when I ride my bicycle to the airport for client travel, I am entitled to $24 for the 24 kilometre bike ride to the airport. However, if I took a taxi to the airport, it would cost the client $55. So on a return trip to the airport, I am saving my client $62, I get to keep healthy, and we have one less taxi to clog the road to the airport.
Driving to client offices could also add significant costs for parking - depending on the location. On a bicycle, I can pull up to the front door of my client without any parking fees.
Everyone wins in these situations. And it’s one extra incentive for our staff when they are looking at their transportation options while traveling for work.
I believe our behaviour and our choices are determined primarily by our incentives and our culture. Sometimes our incentives define our culture (and vice versa).
The Dutch weren’t born to have a greater propensity to ride a bicycle than anyone else around the world. But they do ride bicycles for everyday trips more than anyone else in the world. Why is that? It’s because they simply have a lot more incentives than North Americans to hop on their bicycles instead of using a car for every trip.
The primary incentive for the Dutch of course is their great bicycle infrastructure. Getting around the Netherlands by bike is fun and comfortable, and often faster and more convenient than driving.
If driving is the most convenient and comfortable way to get around, the vast majority of people will always get around by car (as long as they can afford it). And the countless incentives encouraging people to drive will help ensure this will continue indefinitely.
But if we can help change our incentives and behaviour, we can help shift our cities from being car-centric to becoming more liveable, comfortable and healthier.
Please join me and the Bursting Silver team in helping to encourage more people to commute by bicycle. Please raise this idea with your own company and perhaps we can gain some momentum on this initiative.
Bursting Silver is a boutique technology consulting firm that works primarily with not-for-profit and NGO clients to help them leverage technology to serve their constituents effectively.
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Posted by at 9:55 AM
Winter cargo bike – Jan 22, 2013 – Photo by James Schwartz / The Urban Country
On the ride in to daycare this morning with my 19-month-old daughter we encountered some snow and slippery streets. The cargo bike held up nicely on the slippery roads; the weight of it certainly helps to stabilize the bike, and the plastic cover kept Sofia protected from the snow and -20C wind chill.
Winter cargo bike – Jan 22, 2013 – Photo by James Schwartz / The Urban Country
We weren’t the only ones braving the cold and the snow either, but most people in the city opted to take public transit or drive.
Toronto winter bicycling on King Street West – Jan 22, 2013 – Photo by James Schwartz / The Urban Country
Stack of cash photo by 401(K) 2012
In a recent article, I wrote that I care more about what Lance did with his fame than how he achieved it. I asked whether it is really cheating if everyone was doing it. I claimed that Lance had done more with his fame than most other professional athletes, so he should be judged with this in mind.
But the confessional interview with Oprah has provided me a better glimpse into this man and his intentions. The interview made it clear to me that the offence of doping was almost insignificant compared to everything else that Lance did in subsequent years to cover up his doping.
It is clear to me now that Lance is not the selfless man who was giving back to the cancer community as I had portrayed him. Lance was an extremely selfish man who destroyed the people’s lives who threatened to expose him. His own interests were more important than anything else in the world.
But one thing that is not widely discussed in the media is the financial incentives that drove Lance to lie and to viciously attack his detractors all these years.
When Lance discussed the $75 million dollars in endorsements that abruptly disappeared when the widespread evidence surfaced about his doping, it became clear that money is one of the primary motivations for Lance’s vicious cover up.
A less self-centered man might have told Oprah that all the money he had earned was based on a lie, so losing $75 million in future revenue was well deserved. But Armstrong seemed to believe he deserved his fortunes and he indicated that he would have protected that $75 million dollars to his grave had he not been caught. That says a lot to me.
A Christian evangelist recently posted a film on YouTube in which he asked random people on the street whether they would murder a man if they were paid $10 million dollars and they would never be caught. About half of the respondents told him (on camera) that they would be willing to commit murder for $10 million dollars - if they weren’t going to be caught.
Now just imagine someone offering you $100 million dollars to use performance enhancing drugs to win the Tour, and then lie about it after. Few people would have turned that down.
And it wasn’t just Armstrong who made these selfish financially-driven decisions. He was surrounded by dozens of people – his enablers - who had every reason to put him on a doping regimen and help him conceal it, since they too would financially benefit from Lance winning at all costs.
At home Armstrong was surrounded by people (like his ex-wife) who knew he was doping, but had no reason to encourage him to come clean because the tens of millions of dollars that he would lose would have a direct impact on them.
He was also surrounded by powerful corporations that acted as enablers to help maintain the Lance lie, because exposing him could threaten their brand and they would lose a valuable revenue stream if the truth were to surface.
The ex-cyclists who had admitted to doping and thus implicated Lance did not stand to lose a mountain of cash like Lance. They didn’t have the same financial incentives to lie as Lance did. In fact, some of them were struggling to make ends meet because Lance had sued them, or had ruined their reputation to keep his secret from being surfaced.
Coming clean is much easier to do when you don’t have a $75 million dollar bill on the line, and scores of people who want to see to it that you don’t lose that $75 million, because their lifestyles and careers depend on it.
Our society generates significant financial incentives for athletes to use everything at their disposal to win. We dangle millions of dollars like a carrot on a stick in the face of these athletes, their teams, and the companies that sponsor them. Then we get upset if they grab the carrot using all means at their disposal. We expect athletes to be pure, but we provide few incentives for them to actually be pure.
If Lance had to do it all over again, he would likely have made many of the same decisions. He knew what it was going to take to win the Tour those 7 years in a row, and he would rather be a liar, but have a net worth of $100 million dollars, than an honest man who is struggling to pay the mortgage on a $200,000 home.
Lance wasn’t the first cheater and liar that our society has created, and he surely won’t be the last. As long as those financial incentives are there, it will continue to happen.
I still morally support the Livestrong Foundation and all the great things they are doing to encourage a healthy lifestyle and support cancer patients. I can also appreciate the humanitarian side of Lance.
But I think Lance has a lot of work ahead to become a better person. I can only hope that his children will help him to see that there is more to life than money and power. Hopefully him getting caught will help to humble the man who couldn’t be humbled.
Lance Armstrong Photo Courtesy of Dan Farber
Lance Armstrong will appear on Oprah Winfrey this Thursday in his first interview since the widespread doping allegations surfaced last fall. The interview will be taped today and Armstrong is widely expected to confess for not being honest about his doping over the years. It is expected to be a partial confession.
The Washington Post reports that Armstrong has already started apologizing to key people in the cycling community:
"On the eve of Monday’s taped interview with Oprah Winfrey, Lance Armstrong made a series of phone calls to apologize directly to key people in the cycling community with whom he had not been truthful about his part in sports doping.
It was part of Armstrong’s effort to prepare himself and others for what’s anticipated to be a partial confession and to make amends with those to whom he lied and misled.
Earlier Sunday while out jogging near his Austin home, Armstrong told the Associated Press regarding the upcoming interview: “I’m calm, I’m at ease, and I’m ready to speak candidly."
“Oprah Winfrey will speak exclusively with Lance Armstrong in his first no-holds-barred interview. Armstrong will address the alleged doping scandal, years of accusations of cheating, and charges of lying about the use of performance-enhancing drugs throughout his storied cycling career.
The special 90-minute episode of Oprah's Next Chapter will air Thursday, January 17, from 9 to 10:30 p.m. ET/PT on OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network. In addition, the interview will be simultaneously streamed LIVE worldwide on Oprah.com.”
Over the past few months Lance has no doubt discussed the potential consequences with his family and his PR team. But with mounting evidence against him and common perception that he had been doping, coming clean might be his only chance at rebuilding his reputation and allowing him to move forward and focus on his charity and the next chapter of his life.
Hat tip to Cyclelicious
Australia Roundabout Sign – Photo Courtesy of John Jack Rice
We recently posted an article discussing the benefits of roundabouts. Roundabouts are an inexpensive and effective way to increase traffic flow, calm traffic, and improve safety while reducing the environmental impact of motor vehicles.
“When there is enough space to construct them, roundabouts are an extremely efficient way to keep traffic moving while also improving safety for pedestrians and bicyclists when designed properly.
A Dutch study of 181 intersections that were converted to roundabouts found a reduction of 73% in pedestrian crashes. The National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP Report 572) found a 67% overall reduction in collisions following the implementation of roundabouts at 26 multi-lane intersections.”
However, roundabouts are not always effective at improving safety. As pointed out by Bicycle Perth, they can make the situation more dangerous and uncomfortable for pedestrians and bicyclists when designed poorly, as appears to be the case in Australia.
“[In Western Australia] our roundabouts create conditions that are worse for pedestrians and cyclists.
At a standard intersection, pedestrians in Western Australia have priority (right-of-way) over turning vehicles. If that same intersection is changed to a roundabout, pedestrians lose that right. All turning vehicles then have priority.”
“The only way for pedestrians to regain this loss of priority is for a crosswalk to be installed. There are hundreds of roundabouts throughout Western Australia. The City of Fremantle is the only local area, that I am aware of, that has provided them.”
Like most types of traffic infrastructure, there is good design and bad design. A good proportion of bike lanes in North America are poorly designed and thus aren’t nearly as comfortable as they could be. We were careful to include a stipulation in our original article to indicate that Dutch-style roundabouts are the “ideal” design.
Bicycle Perth discusses how Australia got it wrong with roundabouts:
“The trouble is, the Australia roundabout is usually built in a way that allows for the fast flow of motor vehicles. Pedestrians have no priority and cyclists are pushed into the motor vehicle lane or have to retreat to the footpath with the pedestrians.”
Indeed the roundabouts here in Canada that we originally wrote about leave much to be desired - since there are no provisions for bicyclists and pedestrians. But given the rural highway setting, these provisions wouldn’t do much in the absence of bike paths or sidewalks.
A commenter on the Bicycle Perth article sums up the Australia vs. Netherlands comparison nicely:
“I agree with the gist of this article – UK- or Australian-style roundabouts are no good for riding bikes. They're horrible, in fact – my partner refuses to ride across them!
Dutch-style roundabouts, however, are a joy to use. Having visited the Netherlands this year, we'd ridden across a roundabout without even realising it! They're excellent for people walking, people riding bikes – and for people driving cars.”
Collingwood, Ontario roundabout design – Photo courtesy of the Town of Collingwood
We have all dealt with “stop and go” traffic. Drivers accelerate quickly, then slam on their brakes when they hit a red light. Then accelerate quickly again, and repeat.
This harmful style of driving wastes gas, creates unnecessary pollution, and creates unsafe conditions for motorists, pedestrians and cyclists, and is bad for our stress levels and overall health.
The intention of traffic signals was to calm traffic, but it instead sometimes has the opposite effect of creating drivers who are racing to “beat the red”. Un-timed traffic signals result in inefficient traffic flow, leaving scores of cars sitting idle and scores of other cars racing to make the green.
In smaller towns, traffic signals become a burden, slowing down fast-moving highway traffic. To rectify this, the government spends hundreds of millions of tax dollars to build massive concrete bridges to keep cars moving unimpeded.
While heading to Collingwood, Ontario to go skiing on my Christmas break last week I encountered several roundabout junctions that weren’t there the last time I had visited Collingwood several years ago.
These roundabouts were recommended in a 2007 Environmental Assessment that was completed on behalf of the Town of Collingwood. They were recommended to ensure “future traffic volumes can be adequately accommodated”, while also increasing safety and reducing environmental impacts.
Collingwood roundabout under construction – Photo courtesy of the Town of Collingwood
When the space warrants roundabouts, they can be a great way to preclude the limitations discussed above that are inherent with traffic signals.
Furthermore, the cost to build a roundabout pales in comparison to the exorbitant costs of building an overpass. The Collingwood roundabouts cost about $600,000 each, while an overpass can cost anywhere between $4 million to $12 million, depending on the configuration.
When there is enough space to construct them, roundabouts are an extremely efficient way to keep traffic moving while also improving safety for pedestrians and bicyclists when designed properly.
A Dutch study of 181 intersections that were converted to roundabouts found a reduction of 73% in pedestrian crashes. The National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP Report 572) found a 67% overall reduction in collisions following the implementation of roundabouts at 26 multi-lane intersections.
From the Town of Collingwood website:
“Vehicles operating in a roundabout result in lower environmental impacts, by keeping traffic moving at a more consistent lower speed and reducing idling. The shorter delays and “rolling” approach to roundabouts generally reduce fuel and energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, the carbon footprint, as well as a reduction in noise to the surrounding community. The longer delays and the start and stop approach to signalized intersections will generally have a more demanding impact on the environment.”
To take our Canadian roundabouts one step further, we need only to look at the Dutch for inspiration. Watch this video from our friend Mark over at Bicycle Dutch, showing a modern roundabout in the Netherlands. Notice how bicyclists have the right of way to drivers. But despite this, cars still seem to flow fairly well through the roundabout.
Mark also has a wonderful write-up on the evolution of the Dutch roundabouts on his blog.
It is great to see pragmatic traffic design solutions popping up in Canada rather than reverting to the old thinking of building stop signs, traffic signals or overpasses at every junction.
James on a paddle boat in Hubei Province, China (April 2012) Photo by James Schwartz / The Urban Country
Like all good things, 2012 has now come to an end. 2012 was a year full of adventures and many "firsts" for me. I spent the first four months of the year living in China, on Hainan island located about 500 kilometers south west of Hong Kong in the South China Sea – my first time living abroad. My daughter's grandparents live there so it was wonderful for Sofia to spend those four months getting to know them.
I don’t think a single day went by during those four months that I wasn’t outside on my bicycle.
While in China I was able to continue working at my job as a technology consultant working remotely with my same Canadian clients. I am grateful to have the ability to work anywhere in the world where there is an Internet connection, and those four months in China show that it is possible to travel and make a living through telecommuting.
While in China I experienced my first overnight train, riding solo on an 11-hour trip from Hainan to Guangzhou. Shortly after the late night departure I made myself comfortable in my bunk and fell asleep. Moments later I was awoken by the feeling that the train was floating on water. It wasn't a dream. Indeed, that is exactly what was happening - the entire train goes across the South China Sea on a floating barge.
In Guanzhou I had the honour to help a man speak to the Chinese ticket attendant at the train station. The interesting thing is that the man asking for my help was Chinese. He spoke English but didn't know a word of Chinese. It felt as if I was in the middle of a comedy skit on Saturday Night Live. A Chinese man asking the Caucasian man to talk Chinese to the ticket agent. The man had lived his entire life in Russia and spoke only Russian and English.
In March I visited my grandparents homeland, The Netherlands, for the first time. I was enthralled by the Dutch way of life, the sense of community, and of course the bicycles everywhere. While in Amsterdam I had the pleasure of meeting Marc van Woudenberg – the man behind Amsterdamize.com. Marc gave me a great tour of the city (by bike of course) and we also enjoyed some beers and brunch (not at the same time). In addition to enjoying Amsterdam I also visited Paris, Rome, Venice, Zurich and Brussels for the first time.
Back in China, I had the amazing experience of visiting a poor farming village a few hours outside of Wuhan in the Hubei province in April. I was fascinated by how happy the villagers were even though they had such little wealth or material possessions. Money makes life easier but doesn't buy happiness. The documentary "Happy People" reinforces this. Please do watch it if you have the chance (it is available on Netflix).
Returning to Canada in May induced some culture shock for me. I was gone long enough that home felt like a whole different world. But Toronto was so beautiful when I returned. People seemed so friendly and polite, everything was so developed and clean. Toronto really is a magical place - especially in the summer. I had realized how many things we take for granted in western society, like the simple pleasure of being able to drink water from the tap without having to boil it first.
After returning to Toronto my wife had decided she wanted to buy a car, so after 2 years of being car-free and using car sharing services when a car was needed, she bought her first car - a Honda Civic. Being car-free had saved us roughly $15,000, but she wanted to give car ownership a shot, so there wasn't much I could do. The car is almost never used on weekdays, but does come in handy on weekends and during the Christmas holidays to get us to our family dinners in various cities.
Since she had insisted that she was buying a car, I decided I would pick myself up a Dutch cargo bike that would help me transport my daughter around the city without relying on her car. It also comes in handy when I need to get to the airport when I travel for business. My trips to the airport by bike aroused the interest of the Toronto Star, because sadly, getting to the airport by bike is an abnormal thing to do around here.
In November I also had the opportunity to finally meet Mikael Colville-Andersen when he was on a brief layover in Toronto before flying back to Copenhagen. Yvonne Bambrick and I gave Mikael a tour of parts of the city and we enjoyed some tasty beverages and a burger and checked out Toronto’s first cycle track.
Thanks everyone for a wonderful 2012, and I am looking forward to an even better 2013! Happy New Year!