Urban Bicycle Networks and Sustainable Communities

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Architectural challenges are inevitable as the world undergoes what seems likely to be a lengthy period of urbanisation. Yet as populations grow, current transport infrastructure will arguably come under more pressure than our buildings. In an attempt to reduce the strain on existing public transport and become more sustainable, cities all over the world are developing their bicycle networks, building bicycle lanes and implementing city-wide cycle hire schemes in order to begin to tackle the challenges that face our cities.

The lofty position of the bicycle in today’s cities is both surprising and unsurprising. As cars became more affordable from the 1950s onwards, many cities abandoned the bicycle as an everyday form of transport, instead opting for a climate-controlled, four-wheeled ‘upgrade’. Yet returning to the bicycle makes sense as cities struggle with population growth and sustainability challenges, acting as a tool for both reduced congestion, noise pollution, and improved air quality. For those running our cities, the opportunity to get populations off predominantly loss-making public transport systems and onto their own affordable and environmentally sustainable vehicles is unmissable.

But how might such a change affect urban populations? Can bicycle network developments bring more than just transport efficiencies and environmental sustainability, also positively contributing to the development of sustainable communities?

Exploring sustainable communities in an urban setting is logical. Cities are ideal venues for bicycle networks. As a result of the high building and people density that makes a city, places and people are concentrated. The shorter distances associated with this density are therefore ideal not only for cycling, but for the provision and maintenance of a bicycle network. Additionally, local urban successes with bicycle networks can get lost within the larger data samples required for national studies, making urban case studies an ideal microcosm for a bicycle network’s potential.

Over the next two weeks, This Big City will be covering just one topic – what is the role of urban bicycle networks in developing sustainable communities? To understand this question more fully, three cities have been chosen as case studies. Amsterdam, London and San Francisco have similar past experiences with bicycle use, though more recent developments differ. Active cycling communities are present in each city, though government support varies. The urban form of each city is also different. But before we get into the case studies, let’s explore the concept in a bit more detail. Starting at the very beginning… what makes a sustainable community?

Image courtesy of Amsterdamize on flickr