Gradually bicycles have inched into the political conversation about urban mobility. Increased cycling has the potential to reduce greenhouse gases, improve health, clean our air and streams like no other transportation modality. Many European cities have embraced this point of view whole-heartedly, lead by the oft celebrated examples of mobile culture, Amsterdam and Copenhagen. The "Copenhagenization" of US cities should be on every green and mobility oriented politicians to-do list.
EU transportation planners are so far ahead of us, that some of their initiatives may seem insane to the everyday US citizen. Though it's already a bit dated (but still ahead of it's time in the US), here is a great example as reported by the San Francisco Planning + Urban Research Association
The more recent trend in European traffic engineering ideas is to actually remove signs and signals--and in some cases even sidewalks--to force drivers to pay more attention to the road for their visual cues, with a resulting drop in accidents involving pedestrians. An important point to take away from this is that by being open to thinking differently about how drivers will respond to different roadway configurations and uses, we can discover new ways of making the streets safer.
Calming traffic and making streets safer is just one of the components to making city streets fertile for cycling. The landscape to a cycle-friendly future is vast. Many Seattle citizens and politicians are preoccupied with crumbling viaducts, cute trolleys and (for heaven's sake, even) proposing licensing fees for cyclists
. The beauty, efficiency, health, aesthetic and environmental benefits of cycling get lost lost in the mire. When these benefits are taken into account as a whole, we can see that cyclists should be getting paid for the benefits
— reduced congestion, no emissions, longer lasting roadways, increased parking, improved health and productivity in the workplace — which they bring to society. Because of this vast landscape and the political distractions of maintaining an automobile-centric society, local citizens and politicians may not feel they have enough justification, research or support to move more confidently forward on behalf of the bicycle.
As a way of instigating some healthy nationalistic competition, I suggest reading the illuminating paper Why Canadians Cycle more than Americans
. The Canadians (in comparison to the Europeans) are not the world leaders, but they are three times more likely to use a bicycle than US citizens. Add to that, the ever-strengthening loonie as a prod, and we may inspire a transit inferiority complex. So, if we can bear this first little step, we can look to Canada for some inspiration:
In spite of their colder climate, Canadians cycle about three times more than Americans. The main reasons for this difference are Canada’s higher urban densities and mixed-use development, shorter trip distances, lower incomes, higher costs of owning, driving and parking a car, safer cycling conditions, and more extensive cycling infrastructure and training programs. Most of these factors result from differences between Canada and the United States in their transport and land-use policies, and not from intrinsic differences in history, culture or resource availability. That is good news, since it suggests the possibility of significantly increasing cycling levels in the United States by adopting some of the Canadian policies that have so effectively promoted cycling and enhanced its safety.
—John Pucher , Ralph Buehler
Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies, University of Sydney, Newtown NSW 2006, Australia; Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Rutgers University, 33 Livingston Avenue, Room 363, New Brunswick, NJ 08901, USA
Once our national self-esteem has stabilized and we are ready as citizens, business leaders and elected officials to better support a bicycle-friendly future we can look to the Europeans. The great news is that the European Union has already spent hundreds of millions on better bicycle, pedestrian and public transit infrastructure, as well as research
. The fruits of this research have been presented as a road map for all aspiring municipalities. This road map is in the form of European Commission's Cycling: the way ahead for towns and cities - A handbook for local authorities
Every day European cities demonstrate that a reduction in the use of private cars is not just desirable but feasible. Amsterdam, Barcelona, Bremen, Copenhagen, Edinburgh, Ferrara, Graz and Strasbourg apply incentives that favour public transport, car-sharing and bicycles, along with restrictive measures on the use of private cars in their town centres. These cities do not harm their economic growth or access to their shopping centres. In fact, they promote them because they understand that unbridled use of cars for individual journeys is no longer compatible with easy mobility or the majority of citizens.
This point of view is light-years beyond the myopia of simply proposing a licensing fee for cyclists. It reaches into all aspects of city life and culture. It illuminates a mobile utopia within our grasp. So, for those of us looking to fuel our zeal for a greater self-propelled, two-wheeled future, I highly recommend reading "the way ahead
I wish to thank my friends at the always educational, inspirational and entertaining Cycliciousness
for bringing this report to my attention.