After two weeks and fifteen articles, Urban Bicycle Networks and Sustainable Communities – our longest ever series of posts – has drawn to a close. And your comments have been consistently awesome throughout.
We kicked off the series by asking ‘what makes a sustainable community?’ I listed possible criteria, such as healthy local economies, access to services, and equality, though you swiftly chipped in with your visions. Cesar suggested that a ‘livable, thriving’ community could be aided by the development of bicycle networks, adding that the ‘slowness and contact that biking has positively affects communities’. Ntal15 added that people who choose to cycle will ‘respect themselves for traveling in a sustainable manner and thus care more about what happens in the broader city landscape’.
Moving on to the million dollar question, the role of urban bicycle networks in getting more people cycling was explored. Looking at 14 different cities, each of which saw an increase in cycling after investing in their bicycle networks, I suggested that, whilst not definitive, there was plenty to suggest a positive connection. Justin Nelson wasn’t convinced:
It is possible that some outside factor is driving both increased cycling and increased cycle infrastructure investment. It’s also possible that the causal arrow goes the other way, with additional cyclists driving a demand for more bike infrastructure.
Charles Martin suggested that suppressing the demand for car use is just as important:
The Dutch experience tells us that there has to be a suppression of the desire to use the car. The UK makes cars; so does the US. The Netherlands do not make cars; the Danes do not make cars. Has anyone studied the possible correlation between these facts?
The positive local economic implications of bicycle networks also proved controversial. Robert Lawson and Myron Belej raised the same point, expertly articulated by Robert, who said ‘when I drive, I have no money. This makes sense to me’, but not all were convinced:
Bikers spend less but shop more often, and that makes them better customers, you say. I bet senior bikers – who come in every day and buy one or two things; then take forever getting their money - are real premium customers.
I got burned.
Moving swiftly on, the role of urban bicycle networks in improving access and developing a more positive sense of place became our next topic of exploration. Rick Risemberg agreed unequivocally, explaining:
As a bicyclist, I see more of Los Angeles than any driver can ever hope to. I go by bike to meet someone in an area I haven’t previously visited, and when I exclaim over the charms of their neighborhood to them, they are usually puzzled because they’ve never seen them, as they always drive! This happens to me often.
James Gleave called it ‘an interesting discussion point’ though asked ‘does how we travel reflect how we see ourselves in society, or does it determine it?’
Our next topic was environmental sustainability and bicycles. I suggested that lower embodied energy, reduced carbon emissions, and less noise pollution meant bicycle use and bicycle networks could make cities more sustainable, and you agreed. Alex noted this could ‘also lead to better health of people’, though Steven Fleming noted that current urban sustainability frameworks actually encourage bus use and train networks over cycling, despite being less environmentally sustainable.
The potential of ‘transport opportunities for all’was then explored, which Enrique Peñalosa, former Mayor of Bogotá, did a better job of summarising than I ever could:
A protected bicycle lane along every street is not a cute architectural fixture, but a basic democratic right – unless one believes that only those with access to a car have a right to safe mobility. Quality pavements and bicycle lanes show respect for human dignity, regardless of the level of economic development of a society.
Yet despite Amsterdam’s status as one of the world’s most popular cities for cycling, there are limits to what a bicycle network can achieve, as my next post explored. With continued economic struggles, air quality issues, and portions of society who still do not cycle, Amsterdam shows that, whilst a bicycle network has many benefits, it can’t solve all urban challenges.
We then hopped over the pond to London, starting by looking at how the British capital attempted to emulate Amsterdam with its own London Cycle Network. I suggested that a lack of urgency and huge compromises on functionality meant the London Cycle Network had failed to transform London into a cycling city, though not everyone was convinced. David Arditti said ‘the big issue is that the cycle network attempts in London never tacked the issue of subjective safety, and that is why they failed.’
London’s cycle superhighways and cycle hire scheme were then explored, with Ed commenting that these developments were less about creating a bicycle network and more about ‘creating the perception of a cycling city’. I noted that, despite apparent successes with both schemes, their commuting focus and city centre location meant the development of sustainable communities was less likely. Though Chris Goodman wasn’t even convinced that these developments have been a success:
I’m not sure I’d agree with you about the existing schemes being deemed a success. Whilst the bike hire scheme might be, I think its becoming fairly well acknowledged now that in many places the Cycle SuperHighways are just blue lines painted on a road, usually offering no extra space for cycles or protection from vehicles.
In our final post from London, we explored in more depth how London bicycle network is good for commuters, but not so great for developing communities. With bicycle lanes bypassing poor areas, and a cycle hire scheme used predominantly by young, white men, there is obviously a lot do to make London a more universally cycling city.
Our final case study took us to San Francisco, where cycling increased by 58% despite no bicycle network developments whatsoever. I put this down to the culture of San Francisco’s citizens and the presence of numerous active cycling organisations, but one reader added: ‘Let’s not forget to that SF is generally-speaking a hotbed of cycling for sport and recreation, whether on road or off (it was the birthplace of mountain biking).’ However, not everyone agreed that San Francisco’s success could be replicated elsewhere. The EU Cyclists Federation added: ‘To get the masses cycling though, high quality infrastructure is essential’, though Feria Urbanism saw it differently, stating ‘I strongly believe infrastructure plays only a very minor role in raising levels.’
So there we have it. Thanks for all your great comments over the last couple of weeks, and keep checking out thisbigcity.net. As of tomorrow we’re switching our focus to South Africa for the next two weeks, reporting from COP17 in Durban with 17 ideas for creating sustainable cities (and more).