Building Better Cities: Global Lessons From Velo-City 2012

The city of the future will put people first. Focusing on people, and moving them in efficient and sustainable ways means building infrastructure that supports and encourages walking and biking.

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The city of the future will put people first. Focusing on people, and moving them in efficient and sustainable ways means building infrastructure that supports and encourages walking and biking. In these cities, our children will be safe and healthy, our overall healthcare costs will fall, our quality of life will increase, and our society will be more democratic and inclusive of children, women and the elderly.

Of the 10% of North Americans riding bikes, less than 2% ride for transportation (5% in cities). Yet we also know that 40–60% of the entire population is interested and curious about riding a bike, but remain too afraid to, mostly because of the dangers they perceive in sharing the road with motorized vehicles. 

What do we need to do now to change this?

When 800 delegates gathered in Vancouver, BC, this summer for Velo-city Global 2012, we learned what other cities are doing to make their roads inclusive of all users and what we need to do now:

What We Need to Do for the Future of Our Cities

1 If we get it right for a child, we get it right for everyone else. If it’s not good enough for a child, it’s not good enough. This should be the fundamental philosophy behind designing every public space in our cities.

2 Bikes are public transit’s best friends. Bicycles can increase transit efficiency in cities and can be the fastest way for people to get door to door using sustainable and active transportation. Bikes are transit.

3 In any city, a bicycle travels faster than a car when we consider every factor of door-to-door travel time. In a car we get less time with our children, increased stress from congestion, face a greater risk of depression, and we have to spend more time working to pay for insurance, gas, parking and the car. A bicycle costs less, requires less work to afford and actually improves our physical and mental health.

4 More than half of city residents are curious about riding a bike more often. They don’t because they feel unsafe sharing the roads with motorized vehicles. To reach this “latent demand” we need inclusive and connected infrastructure.

5 Great streets mean great cities. Designing a city that makes biking, walking and public transit the fastest way to get from A to B gives people reasons to leave the car at home. Great streets also make cities more democratic: allowing everyone from children to the elderly to choose to travel by walking or biking.

6 When people start complaining, move faster. Disconnected bike routes and partial bike lanes make it harder to convince the general population that designing better and more bike infrastructure is the right thing to do. Take risks. New visions never start with majority support.

7 We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Best practices for bike infrastructure and city design exist today. We must learn and copy from successful active transportation designs in places that have successful high mode share of cycling, like Copenhagen.

Five Ways to Get More People Cycling for Transportation

1 Reduce speed limits on all residential streets and enforce them. Where people live, nothing greater than 20 mph (30 km/h) should be allowed.

2 Build more and better bike infrastructure. With 94% of people preferring to ride away from traffic and noise pollution, we need a separated and connected network of bike lanes.

3 Take bold actions and take them now. City planners and politicians must plan dramatic improvements within three years, not 10 years, to see the greatest results.

4 Eliminate helmet laws for adults over the age of 16. Helmet laws and the debates behind them distract us all from making real, effective and long-lasting changes that improve road safety for everyone.

5 Sell cycling as transportation. Don’t shy away from the sexiness (and profitability) of cycling. We need public, vibrant and informed discussions to constantly promote cycling as a viable means of transportation. We need these conversations to reach women and show them that it is possible.

To initiate action towards transforming our cities for good, change needs to happen at a local level first. Our message to all mayors and councilors, state and provincial elected officials and staff, and to the planners, engineers, community partners and advocates is: be bold. Saying that change cannot happen overnight is an excuse. We need solutions to our problems, not problems to the solutions.

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