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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Ecological Traps

Ecological traps are a set of circumstances that makes an animal or person do dumb things or "choose falsely attractive habitat".  Until a week or so ago I'd never heard of them, then I read an article about them in "New Scientist", and now the idea is stuck in my head a bit.

Environmental trap for animals: Sea birds will eat plastic debris which kills them.  Dragonflies mistake solar cells for water and  will make a futile attempt to nest there.

Environmental  traps for people: "Fast Food" can be cheap and tasty.  But they can be full of salt and sugar, and not very good for you.  People fall in love with the wrong people and go irrational.  Celine Dion still has a singing career.  The list goes on and on.

As far as this blog is concerned, the overuse of cars seems like something to be considered as an ecological trap. Cars take up space not only where they are, but also demand space where they could be, that is, a workplace, sporting venue, shopping centre, city or freeway "wants" car space enough for a (rarely occuring) busiest period, and the rest of the time the space goes to waste.  Even so, at busy periods, the capacity of some roads has been reached at some times in some areas, and traffic slows down enormously.  At least over shorter distances, bikes would not only get most people to their destination faster, they don't cause pollution and give good physical exercise.

To highlight some of these issues traffic issues (chaos and real unsustainability of  transport times) that exist in the west of Melbourne, a local  council is holding a race to the city using foot, bus, bikes, cars and trains over about 30k.  Here are some links (with a few video links)

If you were going to avoid environmental traps as far as bikes and trikes are concerned, everybody should be choosing a bike "most suitable for purpose" or "attractive habitat".  Not everybody always chooses the best bike for the purpose and this is possibly a bad thing.

People's decision on a bike is based on their knowledge and that of people in bike shops, not to mention cost, advertising, what is seen in books, magazines, on television and in films, what friends think, what friends will think!  All this stuff (some of it unavoidable) creates a "lens" which helps separate a purchase from a best-result purchase.  

It's worth taking a long term view of this though.  Lots of useful bike styles which were cutting edge ten years ago are mainstream and less expensive now.  These include electric bikes, trail-a-bikes, folding bikes, kid's bike without pedals, cargo bikes, cargo trikes, bike trailers.  Other styles like recumbent trikes and recumbent bikes are at least less expensive now, even if that comes at the cost of less Australian manufacture and a loss of local bike culture.

So it is fairly certain we'll see an increase in the use of recumbents over time, goodness knows fashion might even give them a boost.  Fixies are now available very cheap ($100) in supermarkets.  Surely their popularity will wane when their exclusivity is gone and something else might fill their space. 

But nobody hold your breath.   


Steve Nurse

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