For Happier Cities get More Cyclists

a couple, bicycles

Cities where people cycle regularly are happier than cities in which cycling is rare. The evidence continues to mount that building good cycling infrastructure will improve the life of everybody in a city – regardless if they ride or not. Urban planners already know that designing cities for pedestrians and cyclists make for better environments and now the on the ground happiness can be traced to it too. Get out there and ride a bike or ask your local politicians to make riding safer.

In Bogotá in 2017, for the first time, there were more survey respondents using bicycles than cars – 9 percent vs. 8 percent – with a satisfaction rate of 85 percent for bicycles against 75 percent for private vehicles. Only 19 percent users of the city’s bus rapid transit system, TransMilenio, reported being satisfied with its service.

The data from Colombia is consistent with international evidence.

A survey of 13,000 people in the United States by researchers from Clemson University in 2014 showed that cyclists were the happiest commuters.

Similarly, a survey of 1,000 people in London showed that 91 percent of the respondents bicycling to work found it satisfactory, while only 74 percent of bus commuters and 73 percent of Underground users were satisfied with their daily travel experience.

In the Global Happiness Report 2017, countries with high bicycle use tend to among the happiest overall, like the Netherlands (ranked sixth; daily bike use: 43 percent), Denmark (ranked third; daily bike user: 30 percent) and Finland (ranked first; daily bike use: 28 percent).

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Thanks to Delaney!

Green Vacant Land to Regrow Neighbourhoods

Falling apart houses, patches of unused land, and generally neglected residential spaces can be found throughout American cities. These urban blights not only look ugly but cause societal problems as well since it’s a neglected space that nefarious activities can easily take place. Cities have found success in converting vacant lots into community garden spaces to address these concerns; however, in some cities there are too many vacant lots and not enough demand for more gardening space. Philadelphia found that just greening vacant lots by planting some sod and trees they’ve been able to improve neighbourhoods and help the city in other ways like local temperature cooling and water management.

The PHS LandCare program recognizes that while vacant lots in legacy cities greatly outnumber the organizations or individuals willing or able to turn them into gardens, vineyards, or parks, allowing those lots to remain derelict condemns their surroundings to continued blight. To address this, PHS developed an inexpensive, low-maintenance approach to vacant lots that involves only basic sodding, tree planting, and erection of simple split-rail fencing on the lot. Today, PHS, with support from the city of Philadelphia, has installed and maintains LandCare treatments on more than 7,000 vacant lots across the city.

Facing this problem, cities realized that their vacant land inventories offered an alternative. Instead of using the traditional method of channeling stormwater runoff into the sewers, the water could be channeled toward green spaces, where it could gradually filter through the ground and refill the aquifers under the city. Such a strategy would be far better environmentally and would also reduce the need for massive holding tanks and allow cities to comply with EPA requirements at lower cost. Philadelphia was the first city in the United States to turn the idea into a reality by developing a detailed plan and a 25-year implementation strategy, which was approved by the EPA in 2012.

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Urban Forests Suck up tons of Carbon

The lush, dense, quality of rainforests instantly make one think of how beautiful and efficient they are at making fresh air (and thus suck up carbon). As a result of the obvious wonderfulness of rainforests we’ve done a lot of work to try to protect rainforests from destruction. We need to the same in our cities. In London, researchers used LIDAR technology to better understand how much carbon urban trees soak up. Trees in urban centres love to absorb that carbon! The proximity to carbon sources like automobiles make urban trees really effective at air-cleaning so much that they are comparable to rainforests.

Thank your local tree for making your air cleaner!

The UCL team used publicly available airborne lidar data collected by the UK Environment Agency, in conjunction with their ground measurements, to estimate biomass of all the 85,000 trees across Camden. These lidar measurements help to quantify the differences between urban and non-urban trees, allowing scientists to come up with a formula predicting the difference in size-to-mass ratio, and thus measuring the mass of urban trees more accurately.

The findings show that Camden has a median carbon density of around 50 tonnes of carbon per hectare (t/ha), rising to 380 t/ha in spots such as Hampstead Heath and Highgate Cemetery – that’s equivalent to values seen in temperate and tropical rainforests. Camden also has a high carbon density, compared to other cities in Europe and elsewhere. For example, Barcelona and Berlin have mean carbon densities of 7.3 and 11.2 t/ha respectively; major cities in the US have values of 7.7 t/ha and in China the equivalent figure is 21.3 t/ha.

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How Oslo Builds for a Sustainable Transit Future

Oslo: The Journey to Car-free from STREETFILMS on Vimeo.

Oslo’s transition from car-focussed to people focussed transportation is well underway and is causing ripples around the world. Other cities are noting how the scandinavian city works with locals to get them out of their cars and onto the streets. Last year we saw how they started to ban cars downtown and it benefited everyone. Oslo is now full tilt into supporting bicycles by providing infrastructure to encourage cycling in hopes to get people out of cars and fully packed trams. If Oslo can support year-round cycling then there’s no reason other northern cities can’t do the same.

In addition to population pressures, environmental concerns are also driving the city’s newfound commitment to bikes. Norway may be famous for its pristine fjords and forests—it doesn’t take long for Aas and I ride to hit Oslo’s thick pine-tree edge as we ride along the water—but air quality in its cities can be remarkably poor, thanks to winter temperature inversions. According to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, air pollution causes 185 premature deaths in Oslo alone each year. Transport accounts for more than 60 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. Replacing more car trips with bikes would help clean that up, and in other cities too. This is why Norway is endeavoring nationally to reduce car use and fossil fuel consumption, with huge incentives for electric vehicles and a nearly $1 billion investment in bike highways around the country.

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Big Boxes Have Failed us; Supporting Downtowns will Save us

bus

We’ve all heard about how downtowns have failed in smaller cities while big box stores like Walmart succeed; what we don’t really talk about is why and what’s the solution. First we need to establish that suburban big box stores are horrible for people and the economy (which is easy); then we need to address those core issues. The folks over at Strong Towns do exactly that and recently published a great piece exploring how the costs of running a big box operation from the perspective of a city is high. The solution then should be easy: reinforce local economies for success.

And we should also recognize where our wealth really comes from. It comes from our downtown and our core neighborhoods (those within walking distance of the downtown). It certainly doesn’t come from people driving through those places. It doesn’t come from people commuting in. It doesn’t come from tourists or developers or the potential of land development out on the edge. Our wealth — the wealth built slowly over generations — is slowly seeping away in our downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods.

Put these things together — the need to build resilience and the historic wealth that still remains in our core — and the strategy becomes too obvious to ignore: We need to piece our economic ecosystem back together. We shouldn’t spend a penny on the mall — we should be willing to let it fall apart and collapse if the market can’t support it. But we should support those investments in the core that are already paying our bills.

And here’s the really sweet thing: the downtown doesn’t need millions of dollars of investment. There are some trying to force that down the city’s throat, but we don’t need it. It’s already the most successful area in the region. We just need to start reconnecting things.

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