How do you go from being able to hardly get out of your chair to running a marathon? You start by walking. Then you walk a bit further. Then, once you are pretty good at walking, you try jogging. Really short distances with many breaks, then fewer breaks, then longer jogs. Then you do a 5km run. Then a 10km. Then you build up to the half-marathon, and with a lot of training, and probably a few setbacks, you attempt the real deal: the full marathon.
I’m quite certain that absolutely no one would think that a reasonable way to approach the situation is trying to run a marathon straight from the couch. Why is that? Because we all know that success usually happens in small measures and is immune to shortcuts. Some people take longer and some adapt quickly, but you don’t get to skip steps. It takes time for your muscles to adapt. For you heart to get stronger. For the excess weight to be dropped. For your mental fortitude to improve. For better running technique.
How many times have you heard someone who isn’t really all that interested in making the place you live better for cycling say, “We’re not Amsterdam/Copenhagen/Denmark! That will never work here!”
That’s just stupid. Those places were just as car-centric as the best of them, and how do you suppose they changed that? Not overnight, that’s for sure. They decided that they needed change, and worked for it. They put the time in, and now they are reaping the rewards.
Sometimes people that are actually interested in improving their city’s cycling infrastructure or the collective attitude towards cycling get caught up in the same thinking. The thinking that says, “because it works so well in other places, it should just be able to be plugged into our own city and work the same – a fully equipped and functioning network of segregated cycleways with signal phasing for cyclists at all crossings, bridges, tunnels, presumed liability, and all the rest.”
Clearly, that’s the goal, and it would be really, really great to see happen. It sounds easy, technically. We can see what works, so why not just make it happen? With so many competing interests across different levels of government and among the community, it’s never that straight forward. So how do we get there? How do we get our cities to be the same as where all our references for cycle-friendly cities come from?
By going through the necessary steps and ensuring that we lay a good foundation for each following step. By persevering. By being prepared to get it wrong, but getting back up and trying again when it does.
What is needed is an overarching commitment to improvement, but one that considers the bigger picture of healthy communities, sustainable environments, safe streets, and active people, rather than the immediate interests of politicians towing the line of the status quo simply to get re-elected.
While it is easy to be dismayed at the apparent self-interest of our leaders (combined with an uninterested and complacent population), we can at least find hope in the fact that all over the world, cycling is on the rise. More people are taking to the streets upon two wheels and cities are responding, if often slowly.
Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way, and so it helps to take a look at what is happening around us to get an appreciation of where things are heading more generally, so let’s take a look at some statistics.
The first group of statistics are courtesy of the League of American Bicyclists and take in the years 2000-2010. Things are likely a bit different now in some of those locations and different studies always result in different figures, but this will give us an idea of what has been happening in the longer term.
So, looking at the percentage of change in bicycle commuting from 2000-2010, we see the following increases:
- Portland, OR: 238%
- Pittsburgh, PA: 269%
- Cleveland, OH: 280%
- Washington, DC: 169%
- Anchorage, AK: 196%
- Atlanta, GA: 180%
- Chicago, IL: 159%
- Detroit, MI: 109%
- Kansas City, MO: 168%
- Seatle, WA: 93%
- San Francisco, CA: 75%
- Los Angeles, CA: 56%
- Denver, CO: 131%
- New York City, NY: 64%
- The USA as a whole: 39%
It is worth considering that the larger centres here that appear to have a less impressive uptake in cycling to work, like NYC, where the percentage is “only” a 64% increase, but that in a population of over 8 million people, Los Angeles with nearly 4 million, Philadelphia 1.5 million, and Chicago with a huge increase in a population of 2.7 million people, even a smaller percentage could mean huge numbers of additional people choosing the bicycle as a main mode of transportation.
In other statistics:
- London: 100.8% (with inner London increasing 144.2%)
- Bristol: 94.5%
- Manchester: 82.8%
- Leeds: 48.9%
- Liverpool: 47.8%
In Amsterdam: “Within the whole city, the modal share for cycling increased from 33% in 1986-1991 to 47% in 2005-2008 (but see the note below). Within the inner ring road, this increase was from 39% to 62% of journeys by bike.
In Copenhagan, the cycling mode share went from an already astonishing 30%, to 36% of the population from 1998-2010. It has a target of 50% by 2025.
In Germany, cycling’s mode share went from 10%-13% in Berlin between 1998-2008, from 10%-14% in Munich between 2002-2008, and from 12%-19% in Hannover between 2002-2011.
Vancouver, BC saw in increase of 26% between 2008-2011.
In change-averse Australia, things are improving, although at far from a reckless pace. With a culture that is generally not welcoming of anything that challenges the “Australian ways”, or some such, I suppose any amount of improvement should be encouraging, though much patience and persistence is required…
Bogota has been in the spotlight for a long time because of their CicloRutas, which was a large driving force behind the total daily trips by bike rising from 0.2% of the population in the year 2000, to 4% in 2007. Four per cent may sound pretty meager, but coming from nearly zero, it’s a pretty solid improvement and should be encouraging for places that also have to start from a very low mode share of cycling. There are many other statistics about cycling in Bogota to be found here, but it might be worth ending with what C40 consider to be required for making the CicloRutas a success, which is no different from any other city. We need:
- political will
- independent paths from car lines
- origin-destination linked (people, especially low income groups, should find useful the CicloRutas to go to school, universities, to work;
- connection with other transportation modes
- bike parking facilities in private and public premises especially in transportation mode exchange places (if parking facilities are not available using the bike becomes a mayor problem getting in to any office or building, or changing transportation mode);
- rules for bikers, pedestrians and car owners;
- good intersections and signals;
- bridges to keep continuity and to cross wide avenues;
- Many business will grow along with CicloRutes: bike parking services, bikes and spare parts shops and production, clothing, and the like
These are all pretty straight forward, in theory, but as most will take significant change on many levels, persistence and patience are required, and along with a drive for change, an understanding that it won’t all happen at once.
There are some encouraging statistics from all corners of the globe to give us hope. The tide is turning and people are slowly waking up to reality that we can’t keep building new roads and driving away from our problems on them.
Header image: source