Building Better Bike-Friendly Cities

The future of city cycling in North America must be focused on women, families, and building more protected bike lanes.

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We all want to see more people riding bikes for transportation.

How, then, do we make this happen? By focusing our efforts on women, families, and building more protected bike lanes (bike lanes physically separated from motorized traffic). According to “Route Infrastructure and the Risk of Injuries to Bicyclists: A Case-Crossover Study,” written by the University of British Columbia’s Kay Teschke and a team of researchers and public health officials in Canada and published in the American Journal of Public Health, the overall percentage of trips made by bicycle in the US, Canada, Australia, and the UK hovers between 1 and 3 percent. Compare this with our Northern European counterparts, who have a 10–27 percent mode share.

To explain this large gap, the study cites safety concerns as one of the most common deterrents to bicycle use. Up to 60 percent of people living in cities have indicated that they are interested in riding but are afraid. Also noted is that protected bike lanes are by far the safest type of infrastructure. Clearly, protected bike lanes are the key to increasing the number of bicycle trips because they provide the highest level of safety.

Thankfully, this information is reaching the desks of city planners and politicians, who are leading a top-down approach to building safer bicycle infrastructure. In cities like New York, NY, and Chicago, IL, protected bike lanes are being installed despite the expected backlash from those averse to changes to the status quo.

On December 9, 2012, the Green Lane Project, an initiative of the Bikes Belong Foundation, reported that the number of protected bike lanes in the US nearly doubled in 2012. Even more promising is that this number will double again in 2013.

The Green Lane Project also reported that in Washington, DC, separated bike lanes added to Pennsylvania Avenue have doubled bicycle traffic since their installation. Similar increases in ridership have been seen across North America wherever cities have added protected infrastructure. In Vancouver, BC, bike traffic on new protected bike lanes on Dunsmuir Street, Hornby Street, and the Burrard Street Bridge tripled within two years.

The new protected bike lanes are particularly beneficial for women and families. In most of North America, women represent only 25–30 percent of bike commuters, whereas in Amsterdam and Copenhagen, where protected lanes already exist, more than half of trips by bicycle are made by women.

In our efforts to get more people riding bikes, focusing on women is an important consideration. The new Women Bike initiative, led by the League of American Bicyclists, aims to raise the profile of women in cycling and to find additional solutions that reach the mainstream and encourage more women to ride. We need to continually engage more women if we want to reach 50 percent of the population and encourage them to ride bikes, and this effort needs to start today.

How can you help? Please write to your local politicians and join and support your local, regional, and national advocacy groups. They are working every day to bring the vision of safer city cycling to your city planners, engineers, and local, regional, and national politicians. We need everyone on board if we are going to continue to foster change in North America’s transportation culture. We need to escalate the pace of building better bike infrastructure now. The future of our cities depends on us.

Mia Kohout & Tania Lo – Publishers, Momentum Mag

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  • Candice

    Hey there, can you post the original study where you got the 60% of people in cities are interested in biking? I’d love to share! Thanks!

  • Casey

    I just biked home from a doctor appointment. I passed two ladies, about my age (60), walking on the sidewalk. They looked at me, then at each other, and I know what they were thinking: “Hey, we could do that!” Why? Because I’m not young, I’m not male, I am wearing regular clothes, no helmet, have my purse in a basket on the front, and I’m sitting upright on a big gel-filled saddle that’s perfect if you’ve had several children.

    The only problem in our town is lack of money for bike paths. The will is there, but the money is not.

  • ted

    If more places were safer to get to by bicycle, had “cycling specific” clothing that was fashionable and that didn’t look so “cycling specific”, made a bicycle that was comfortable and bulletproof that gave the rider a bit more confidence on the road, easy to ride and lock up…

    I think the point here is ease of use. I feel that currently, it feels safer in a car for a lot of people, it’s easy to just jump in and get to a place where you want to be. If cycling was easy like that… or potentially so, I feel that the ladies would come out more often for errands, shopping and so on. Also, it’s nice to have someone to ride with to do this, either leisurely or going to the store. Safety in numbers.

  • Dave

    Someone over on reddit thinks you are sexist because of assumptions you make about why women don’t ride as much as men.

    What do you think of that?

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