We can Save 200,000 Lives a Year Replacing Car Commutes with Bicycles

a couple, bicycles

A simple modification to our cities can save a lot of lives: add more and better bicycling infrastructure. Researchers looked into quantifying how many lives we can save by replacing car journeys with bicycle use and the results aren’t surprising, but will hopefully influence people. The harms vehicular traffic does to our bodies and our communities are well documented so the fact that using car less will save lives isn’t schocking. It’s great to see more evidence and analysis into how getting rid of cars will improve everyone’s well being.

Biking plays a significant role in urban mobility and has been suggested as a tool to promote public health. A recent study has proposed 2050 global biking scenarios based on large shifts from motorized vehicles to bikes. No previous studies have estimated the health impacts of global cycling scenarios, either future car-bike shift substitutions.

We found that, among the urban populations (20–64 y old) of 17 countries, 205,424 annual premature deaths could be prevented if high bike-use scenarios are achieved by 2050 (assuming that 100% of bike trips replace car trips). If only 8% of bike trips replace car trips in a more conservative scenario, 18,589 annual premature deaths could be prevented by 2050 in the same population. In all the countries and scenarios, the mortality benefits related to bike use (rather than car use) outweighed the mortality risks.

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Thanks to Mike!

Paris, the City of Bike Lights

When I visited Paris long ago it was a traffic clogged mess, with lovely architecture. Parisians have had enough of bad traffic and decided to solve their mobility challenges by adding more ways to get around the city. Thy’ve already returned urban space to pedestrians and started to build more infrastructure for bicycles.

The excellent YouTube channel Not Just Bikes took a good look at what’s happening in Paris, and things are looking good.

The French capital is investing €250 million into significant upgrades to cycling infrastructure and maintenance within the next four years. Thousands of new bicycle stands and an increased number of protected cycleways will be introduced as part of ‘Plan Velo: Act 2’.

As of this year, Paris already has more than 1,000km of safe cycle paths including around 52km of “coronapistes” that were temporarily introduced during the pandemic. It now plans to make these permanent and add another 130km of safe paths to encourage people to cycle in the city.

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Cities of the Future Act as Sponges

When it rains cities should hold all the water. In the 20th century that idea would have been laughed out of the room; today, we know better. Urban water management is vital to a healthy city, ecosystem, and flood mediation. The old idea of building giant channels of concrete to force water out of their natural areas (the best example of this is in L.A.) is thankfully being replaced with better ideas.

One of those better water management ideas is to just soak it all up. Make the city a sponge.

It tries to do it in three areas. The first is at the source, where just like a sponge with many holes, a city tries to contain water with many ponds.

The second is through the flow, where instead of trying to channel water away quickly in straight lines, meandering rivers with vegetation or wetlands slow water down – just like in the creek that saved his life.

This has the added benefit of creating green spaces, parks and animal habitats, and purifying the surface run-off with plants removing polluting toxins and nutrients.

The third is the sink, where the water empties out to a river, lake or sea. Prof Yu advocates relinquishing this land and avoiding construction in low-lying areas. “You cannot fight the water, you have to let it go,” he says.

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Make Believe Ideas and the City

streetcar

The mayor of Toronto, like other 20th century mayors, believes in mystical solutions to urban problems. In the 21st century smart mayors are shedding the myths and make-believe thinking around urban design. In forward looking places we see neighbourhoods made livable and large swaths of land made into the human scale. Paris is opening more areas for people and even New York reclaiming useless land. What am I referring to? Cars. The magic ability of cars to solve all problems. Over at Spacing they have quite the piece on this make-believe notion we should abandon.

In the make-believe world, the car is a necessity, which allows many planners and politicians to resist changes that adversely affect “traffic” on roads. Thirty percent of Toronto households nonetheless manage to get around without owning a car, even while their transit journeys are routinely blocked by cars. A measurement of traffic volume by all modes along the Bloor corridor in October 2019 showed 267,000 daily trips, among which there were only 17,000 cars. Politicians nonetheless claimed that a proposed bike lane in the same stretch would prevent people from going downtown.

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To Revive Main Streets Let’s Make them People Focussed Instead of Business Focussed

Since the proliferation of big box stores and malls small cities have been struggling to keep their downtowns engaging and profitable for businesses. What if we rethought our downtowns to be about people and making a community instead of profit centres? That’s the very question a small city in the UK asked and found the answer was to make the city for people. They converted old stores to community spaces and sure enough more people kept showing up. Now their city is vibrant and businesses want to be there to capture all the foot traffic. If you put people first then the rest will follow.

The Stockton vision is to buy up, repurpose, restore and reconfigure the heart of the town, emphasising events, independent enterprise, green space and conviviality. As a glamorous statement of intent, in just over a fortnight one of the finest art deco theatres in Britain will reopen its doors. The Globe, a Grade II listed building, has stood derelict on the high street for a quarter of a century, rotting from within. Built in 1935, in its heyday it hosted the Beatles, Little Richard and Stevie Wonder. On 6 September, McFly will play the first gig of a new era, at the biggest venue of its kind between Newcastle and Leeds.

The cost of the lavish and exquisite restoration – funded by council borrowing and a lottery grant – soared close to £30m and has generated political pushback. But according to Claire Frawley, the council’s town centre development officer, it will provide jobs, a revitalised sense of place and a footfall of up to 200,000 visitors a year, acting as a regenerative hub for the new Stockton.

“People are desperate to get involved,” says Frawley, “they’re desperate to come and work here. There will be public tours soon, and the local demand is huge. This place is part of the town’s heritage and you can feel the pride.”

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