Creating Liveable Cities: bring back the bike

14269106304_83b5d6508e_z By Maria Dahl

With 54 per cent of the world’s population currently living in urban areas and an estimated 66 per cent by 2050, it’s clear that liveable cities are very important for an increasing number of people. Developing liveable cities may however seem like a daunting task; one solution which has many positive impacts would be to bring back (or indeed introduce) the bike.

Favouring the bike in cities has a win, win impact on the city and its inhabitants. It will curb CO2 emissions, helping to tackle the realities of climate change and clear the air we breathe.  The regular exercise of inhabitants will keep them healthier and thus welfare states more financially sustainable – with less health care needed – and our companies more efficient – less sick leave. These healthier people will also be happier people. What’s more they will be economically freer: biking is an efficient mode of transport which is accessible to a large majority of people – look at how bikes made women more independent and make it possible for poor children in Africa to get to school.

To make this a reality the city centre should be accessible only to public transport, taxis, ambulances, police cars and trucks that service the shops (the latter should only be allowed to enter the city at night time when they will cause as little inconvenience as possible). There are lots of people that argue that this kills local commerce, however, Nante, Copenhagen and these other cities have proved them wrong!

A star student of this bicycle movement is Copenhagen – the city has some of the best bike infrastructure in the world! This article describes the city’s many initiatives, including its green wave traffic lights, foot rests at intersections and bicycle highways. Most people assume that cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam have a certain bike culture that has organically appeared throughout history, which has made them some of the best cities for cycling. Yet this blog shows that theory wrong! Guess what, segregated bike lanes make people feel safer. Also, lanes that are actually set up to get people from A to B in the most direct route will attract more bicyclists. Cities like London and Paris often paint bike lanes onto smaller roads scattered around the main arteries in an attempt to get bicyclists off the most dangerous roads. It’s a good attempt at making people safer and therefore more likely to cycle, but cyclists – just like drivers – want to get to their destination in the shortest possible distance. It’s not rocket science!

Since the invention of the automobile, cities were forced to be organised differently. Roads needed to get bigger and pedestrians and cyclists needed to be kept out of the cars’ way. Even in cities like Copenhagen where the standard of living is high, big boulevards with 4+ plus lanes still exist. Washington used to have a tram before the 70s before the automobile industry lobbied the government to get rid of it (find out more here). One of the reasons Amsterdam is so bike friendly is due to demonstrations in the 70s that protested “Stop the Child Murder” – there had been over 400 traffic child deaths. This pushed the government to install segregated bike lanes and many of its other bicycle friendly infrastructure that you find all over Holland today – it had nothing to do with culture but everything to do with people’s welfare (see here for the whole story). Any city can do the same with the right approach.

 See Maria’s original blog which was the inspiration for this article. 

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