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thoughts on our urban future

Cycling in the city

It’s been a few years now that cycling has become recognised by planning professionals as a valuable form of transport within the city. In many European cities at least, it’s now an accepted and increasingly popular form of transport, with authorities seeking to improve conditions and facilities for cyclists. Bicycles as a serious mode of transport is being incorporated into transport infrastructure in cities from New York to Melbourne to Guanghzou.

Now, in places like London or New York, it is ‘cool’ to cycle, as it’s environmentally friendly and keeps you fit – plus if you want you can spend as much money on a bike as you would on a car, not to mention the countless number of gadgets and accessories available. But it’s not like that everywhere – just think of China, where traditionally people have used bicycles to move around the city (and beyond) mainly because that was the best available option as car ownership was not for the masses and mass transport not adequate enough. Naturally, in places like that, cycling is more likely to be associated with being poor.

So what happens is that as soon as people can afford to (and this is happening, given the huge economic growth experienced by China and other developing countries across the world) they switch their bikes to cars. Because a car is a status symbol, it takes you to places faster (or so people may think) and hey, you don’t actually have to pedal, so it’s easier. The result of course is more pollution, more congestion, and less safety for those who are still cycling.

So it’s not good enough for cities to wait for their inhabitants to catch up with the ‘cool’ cycling trend – they should really be discouraging people from giving up their bikes where they are already there, and encouraging more people to take up cycling by understanding it as an important component of the transport network. I spoke in a previous post of BRT systems and how valuable they can be to these networks and even found that cycling is in fact being integrated into the network in Guanghzou.

So there are good news, but more needs to be done. In London, for an example closer to home, the Mayor has really pushed for cycling in the last couple of years. We now have Barclays Bikes (a cycle hire scheme with 315 docking stations available in central London), Cycle Superhighways (glorified cycle lanes if you ask me, also sponsored by Barclays), but most importantly what all this means is cycling is really high up on the agenda, which local authorities have to comply with. At the same time, a bill has recently been proposed to the UK parliament on ‘Dangerous and Reckless Cycling (Offences)’. Whilst this is at a very early stage and may never make it to law, it does reflect there is an issue there – as discussed in the PlaNYC (3) post published earlier this week – and that there need to be very clear trafic rules which take into account all road users: pedestrians, cars, bikes and motorbikes.

I suspect, though, that even London is not quite there on recognising cycling as an integral part of the transport network. Elsewhere, and I am mainly thinking in my own part of the world (South America, and more specifically, Bolivia), we still look down at cycling as a form of transport as something that you do only if you have no other choice, or as a sport and a leisure activity exclusively. Now, not all cities are suitable for integrating cycling into their transport policies, but those that are should really be thinking about this as an integral component to their transport and movement strategies. Bicycles can be relatively low cost to buy and maintain, need no fuel to run and have a positive impact on people’s health. In terms of infrastructure, requirements are also comparatively low. Moreover, they contribute to minimise traffic congestion as they contribute to reducing the number of car trips and occupy  a lot less space than a motorised car. Politicians should really be jumping at the opportunity.

 

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1 Comment

  1. Cycling in China has been discouraged greatly due to its impact on cities. This may be changing, but as recent as the lead-in to the Olympics in Beijing, the masses of cyclists were reduced due to their perceived negative image of the city. Also, there seem to be great cultural differences with traffic in China compared with the west, where a sea of cars, trucks and cycles flow down streets and across junctions. Traffic rules guide traffic, but do not seem to dictate it.

    Closer to home, London has made strides in focusing attention on cyclists (promoting cycling reduces the overburdened underground system, as buses were the focus 10 years prior for the same reason). Due to this, the cycle hire scheme and superhighways have emerged recently. It’s a step forward, but more could be done; the superhighways seem a half-hearted attempt and poorly conceived (and they are downright ugly). I believe the cycle scheme which enabled thousands to buy a bicycle pre-tax was a much more effective contributing factor to encouraging cycle take-up. Addressing built environment issues will continue to be an issue in my mind… Any ideas??

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