In North America bike lanes are afterthoughts slapped on infrastructure meant for heavy metal objects that kill people and the planet. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can change the conversation from supporting large single occupant vehicles to supporting solutions to move large groups of people safely through our cities. In the 20th century car manufacturers spent lots of money to convince people that everyone needs a car and that “smart cities” would be built around the car and not people. Today we need to do the opposite and spend time and money convincing everyone that cities should be for people and not cars – and we can do it!
Cars and trucks get billions in federal, state, and local money. Governments can mindlessly belch out vast sums for highway widenings—see the $1.6 billion spent on a single-lane addition to the 405 freeway in Los Angeles, even though we’ve known for years that it would not make a dent in travel times. With all this money seemingly available for car infrastructure, some of which is absolutely useless or makes traffic worse, there’s only a pittance devoted to robust bike networks. Why?
Let’s dare to design something that can actually make a difference and imagine micromobility infrastructure that goes beyond bike lanes and that leapfrogs piecemeal local approaches. Let’s create a blueprint that can have real, lasting impact, to excite the masses, bring together many groups, companies, special interests, and demographics, create real mode shifts, and actually make a real difference in pollution, climate, and car deaths.
Regular readers know that bike lanes are good for people, cities, transportation, and the economy. Yet another article has been written about the greatness of bicycle transportation in case you needed even more evidence of how good bike lanes are. The CBC is running an article that provides a great breakdown of the many ways bicycle infrastructure boosts the economy from how efficient bicycles are to the fact that bike lanes boost home values.
4. Bike lane projects create more jobs than roads alone
Another unique factor some use in favour of bike lanes actually comes out of critiques against them: their cost.
A Canadian report from 2014 noted that the price for installing a bike lane can range from as low as $20,000 per/ km for a painted lane to $1.2 million per/km if a road needs to be widened.
A 2011 U.S. study analyzing 58 projects in 11 different cities found that for every million dollars spent cycling infrastructure projects created 11.4 local jobs compared to 7.8 jobs for road-only projects.
The study says a bike lane “which requires a great deal of planning and design will generate more jobs for a given level of spending,” than a road alone, employing more construction workers and engineers while utilizing less materials.
Nonetheless, bike lane budgets can still produce bad news for local leaders even in bike friendly cities.
Since roughly WWII we’ve been designing roads and streets for only one purpose: the automobile. Before the 20th century roads were designed to move people around efficiently, today roads are incredibly dangerous for people who are outside of metal containers. Australians are starting to do something about this lack of safety on streets already and are looking for was to make how we navigate our roadways even safer.
The next step is to respond in ways that keep returning attention to the facts from best evidence. To repeat, whether you’re a driver, occupant, pedestrian or cyclist, roughly 90% of what causes death on Australia’s roads is driver behaviour.
For cyclists, the root cause of deadly harm is aggression and inattention. Drivers should be held to account and be pushed to change their behaviour and attitudes.
Simple inexpensive changes in the law have been found to have dramatic effects on driver behaviour. These changes also work with existing infrastructure, technology, road conditions and our cultural expressions of human nature
Another welcome measure is a recent initiative to reduce urban speed limits to 30km/h. This has just been implemented in one of Melbourne’s inner urban areas without too much fuss. According to the research behind it, you’re twice as likely to survive being hit at 30km/h as at 40km/h.
Since it’s summer you might not be thinking of winter bicycling. Why not though? If you’re like most people, you’ll be out on a bicycle a few times during the nice weather this summer and you’ll feel how nice it is to ride. Remember that feeling! In the winter you really should be out riding your bike too, it’s still safe and it keeps you warm. Presently, some cities around the world encourage winter cycling but we should see even more winter cyclists every year as riding gains popularity.
Most assumptions about winter cycling are based on the same myths no matter where you are from. Those -30C days do happen in Winnipeg, but they are pretty uncommon; yet we allow the deep freeze days to characterise an entire winter. We also conveniently forget that cycling keeps you warm – comfortably so. In an urban environment, the risk of being harmed by the weather while cycling is reduced to nil with a basic scarf and jacket. We assume that winter cycling is dangerous but somehow we forget that vehicle speeds are the real issue, and that they drop in the winter. It shouldn’t be surprising when a study shows that cycling in the winter months with steady conditions is relatively safe compared to cycling in June.
When we wonder out loud “why anyone would ever want to spend more than a few minutes outside in a place like this”, we forget about its beauty. Winter is a glorious spectacle of glittering fractals complete with a soundscape and atmosphere entirely its own. Some of us have forgotten the bright side of winter: the simplicity, the efficiency, the pragmatism. In transportation terms, winter is all smooth, clean lines and quiet sounds. Bikes fit right in. Perhaps sitting in cars has dulled our senses.
Depending on where you live you may think streets are for people or for cars. The correct answer is that streets are for moving people and not built for the need of inanimate objects. In an interesting series of videos the Toronto Star’s Christopher Hume examines the different urban design decisions between suburban and urban neighbourhoods. The urban areas that promote cycling and walking are understandably the most vibrant, interesting, and productive (economically and culturally). The impact non-car uses can have on streets is evident and something that every city can benefit from.
Unsurprisingly, Toronto’s most vibrant streets — Queen, College, Bloor — are generally narrow car-slowing thoroughfares lined with unspectacular buildings between two and six storeys tall — hardly the stuff of vehicular convenience. The major interruptions in these mostly intact streetscapes are largely the result of clumsy modern interventions beginning in the 1950s and ’60s. Decades later in what’s now Vertical City, we still have difficulty making buildings work at street level. Architects are slowly learning, but have yet to master the skills of contextualism. They prefer the silence of the vacuum and ignore the public realm whenever possible.