Shifting the Culture of Moving People
Guillermo Peñalosa won’t stand for cities building infrastructure that is not accessible and comfortable for all ages. Peñalosa, who ushered in over 200 parks and introduced Ciclovía – car-free Sundays – in Bogotá, Colombia, is the Executive Director of the NGO 8-80 Cities. The organization advocates that everyone from the young (8 years old) to the aging (80) should be actively accommodated in all public spaces. Most contemporary street designs limit these groups from participating in city life by focusing on moving people at the greatest speed and providing mostly car-dependent spaces. “We have to stop designing cities as though everyone was a physically fit 30-year-old,” said Peñalosa.
Peñalosa, whose presentation at Velo-city Global 2012 received a standing ovation, showed research that found that the youngest and oldest members of society fear car-dominated streets, and that these streets present real threats to people inside and outside a car.
People like Megan won’t consider cycling on city streets in these conditions. As far as Megan is concerned, biking on urban streets is too dangerous, a challenge to be taken on by the most fit and fearless. This perception has relegated cycling to the fringes of urban transport in North America.
Andreas Røhl, manager of cycling projects in Copenhagen, understands Megan’s hesitation. “With cycling it is very much about perceived safety.” Small interventions, like separating bicycle lanes from traffic using textures, planters, barriers, or shielding it behind parking, are ways to make cycling feel more safe. And the feeling of safety is how people decide where and whether they’ll go by bike and foot. He also argues that cycling must be presented as more than just healthy and environmentally responsible to achieve mainstream acceptance. For Røhl, the goal is for people to cycle because it is a “convenient and normal way of getting to work on a Monday morning.”
Røhl has been working in Copenhagen to develop a culture of “civil cycling.” This open culture values convenience, inclusivity and quality of life, and welcomes new riders without regard for income or class. He feels that the “militant cycling” culture so often seen in North American cities, with its values of survival, sport, counter-culture, rebellion and environmental activism, creates barriers to new cyclists and much-needed political allies.
In Copenhagen, where cycling is seen as an integrated part of the mobility system, Røhl said, “Few people identify as a ‘cyclist.’ They just happen to be on a bike. …For them it’s a means to an end.”
Building an Integrated Network
Two policy changes in Vancouver, BC, over the past years have helped shift how people like Megan and me feel about cycling in the urban core. The first was creating locally controversial separated bikeways into the downtown, including routes over major bridges. These improved connections have measurably increased bike travel into and out of Vancouver’s populated downtown, but they’re are only the start of a modestly improved network – far too modest for Peñalosa, who called out the cycling-positive Vancouver mayor, Gregor Robertson, for not pushing a grander vision.
The second policy change is the regional transportation body TransLink’s push to improve cycling access by making it possible for people to bring their bikes on the entire regional transit system, though with some restrictions. “We have a large and diverse region, so we have to think about the region as a whole in making cycling accessible,” explained TransLink chair Nancy Olewiler. “If the goal is to have more than half of trips taken by transit, cycling or walking by 2040,” Olewiler said, “we need to remember that the adults of 2040 are children today.” These actions are ways to integrate cycling infrastructure into the urban fabric. Ultimately, this is the only way to make more humane, human-powered cities.
Both Røhl and Peñalosa attest that a rational network of defined and often separated cycle tracks is the key to promoting active transportation and making it an attractive choice. The connected network of cycle tracks in Copenhagen defines space for cycling. It connects with the regional transit system to allow commuters to get from door to door in a smooth, safe, comfortable, and above all, normal way.
To further promote the bicycle as a viable choice for commuting, Copenhagen is introducing new Cycle Super Highways, routes that connect the suburbs to the urban core and connect with the existing regional network of enhanced cycle tracks. Priority synchronized signals along the routes are timed for people on bikes, creating a “green wave” for cyclists traveling at 20 km/h. Many of these cycle tracks run parallel with or connect to transit routes and stations. “If you have a good combination of public transport with cycling, you have a more flexible daily life and more convenience,” says Røhl.