In the Seattle suburb where I grew up, the main transportation choice most residents face is what kind of car to buy. I moved to Seattle after college and, inspired by the “car-lite” lifestyles of several friends, decided to give cycling a try.
I fell in love with it. Urban cycling freed me from slow buses, parking meters, and mind-numbing elliptical machines. I arrived at work with more energy. I lost weight. I discovered charming neighborhood restaurants. I could smell fresh laundry and dinners in the oven while I pedaled home through residential streets. Getting from A to B on my bike became the best part of my day.
Recently, I won a fellowship and got to spend six months living life on two wheels in the world’s most bike-friendly cities. I brought home ten lessons, and thousands of photographs, for Cascadia:
1. It’s the infrastructure, stupid!
Amazing infrastructure makes cycling normal and safe in bike meccas, but not yet in the Northwest. For example, parked cars to the left of the bike lane not only provide a barrier between motorized traffic and cyclists, they also minimize a cyclist’s chance of getting “doored.” Most cars in Denmark (pictured) only have one occupant—the driver—and drivers get out on the left. Same goes for the Northwest.
Bikes move at different speeds than cars or pedestrians, so intersections are safer for cyclists if they have their own traffic signal rhythm. Cyclists in Copenhagen generally get a slight head start over cars so that they’ll be more visible as they cross the intersection. In the picture below, the light is red for cars, but the smaller light for cyclists is green.
2. Bike share! Bike share! Bike share! Bike share! Bike share!
Bike share programs are sweeping the world but not, as yet, Cascadia. They are very successful at boosting bike numbers. Apparently, people used to point and stare if you were pedaling in Barcelona. Bicing, Barcelona’s bike share program, has changed that in just a few years. Bicing started in 2007 and quickly tripled cycling trips, according to Miquel Ruscalleda, who directs Barcelona’s cycling efforts.
Currently, 46 percent of the people you see on bikes in Barcelona are on bright red Bicing bikes.
Ruscalleda also reports that the “safety in numbers” phenomenon is working in his city. Cyclists had a .008 percent chance of being in a traffic accident in 2005 and the rate has dropped to around .005 percent presently. About 130,000 trips are made each day in Paris on public bikes, thanks to the Vélib’ bike-share program.
3. It’s safer than a sofa
Sedentary living doubles the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and obesity. Combating diseases of sedentary living requires 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day—a minimum more and more people around the world are unable to meet.
“Why not introduce a broad, carefully conceived invitation to people to walk and bicycle as much as possible in connection with their daily activities?” asks Jan Gehl, a Danish urban quality consultant. Almost 40 percent of Copenhagen residents meet their minimum exercise requirements by cycling to work or school. Copenhagen’s Public Health Department calculates that even when accident costs are factored in, every mile of cycling translates to net health benefits worth US$1.30. A recent public health campaign in Copenhagen reminded residents that “you’re safer on your bike than on the sofa!”
4. Say “thank you”
Cyclists also save city governments money by reducing traffic congestion, stormwater run-off, air pollution, and road maintenance expenditures. Many cities are doing little things to show their gratitude. Barcelona recently installed a counter on a main route displaying the time, temperature, bike count for the day and progress toward the official annual ridership goal for that route.
Copenhagen has begun putting in footrests at intersections. They say, “Hi, cyclist! Rest your foot here… and thank you for cycling in the city!”
5. Forget speed bumps and “children at play” signs: turn streets into backyards
Dutch road engineer Hans Monderman hated traffic signs in cities and towns. His reasoning was simple. Most drivers don’t look at signs. Speed bumps and stop signs also don’t do much because drivers are notorious for accelerating to “make-up time” after each interruption.
Monderman redesigned Dutch towns so that drivers felt like they were passing through someone’s backyard. Monderman’s “backyard” plans called for street furniture—benches, picnic tables, sand boxes, pea patches, trees, flowerpots, and ping pong tables. Drivers either saw or sensed the presence of people and children, and basic social laws kicked in. It isn’t polite to speed through someone’s backyard. Many residential streets throughout Europe, like the one pictured below in Basel, Switzerland, now embody Monderman’s principles.
6. Let prices tell the truth
Donald Shoup, an economist and the author of The High Cost of Free Parking, writes, “People who want to store their car shouldn’t store it on the most valuable land on the planet, for free.” Street parking is typically $4.50 per hour in European cities. Filling up a tank of gas in Japan will cost you about $7.25 per gallon, and gas prices in most European countries are also much higher than in the Northwest.
7. You don’t need “bike clothes”
Most of the women and men I saw on bicycles throughout Europe and Japan didn’t wear special clothes. People just wore their usual outfits, heels and all.
Women from London to Tokyo looked beautiful, stylish, and feminine while they were cycling.
Men frequently pedaled in suits.
“Style over speed,” says Mikael Colville-Anderson, who started the Cycle Chic movement.
8. Electrify it
A cargo bike with two kids and groceries (below) can be hard to get up hills.
That’s why many parents in hilly Zurich, Switzerland, use electric-assist bikes. They can also help people who are battling obesity or recovering from a heart attack. A bike shop owner I interviewed in Zurich makes custom electric-assist bicycles (below) for disabled customers who would otherwise be dependent on public transportation.
9. Admit it: It’s emotional
Smell and touch are the senses most linked to our emotions. In Europe and Japan, I spoke with dozens of urban cyclists who talked about the curious happiness derived from activating your senses and connecting with your city on a bicycle.
One Amsterdam father’s voice actually cracked with emotion as he reflected on his morning and afternoon rides with his son. His toddler sat in a front-mounted childseat. The father talked about how nice it was to smell his son’s head during the commute to day care.
Spending a fraction of the day exposed to the elements is refreshing for many people and the human-pace of cycling allows us to notice details about our community that we’d otherwise miss.
10. It’s a virtuous circle—or cycle
“Cycling isn’t just a part of the Dutch DNA,” Marc van Woudenberg told me in Amsterdam—where 47 percent of residents make at least one trip per day on a bicycle. The Dutch have the highest rates of utility cycling in the world because citizens have made it clear to politicians that cycling infrastructure is a priority. Better infrastructure recruits more people onto bikes, which creates more advocates for better infrastructure, which recruits more people onto bikes, and so on. Today, the Dutch continue to advocate for infrastructure that will facilitate cycling—like this secure bike parking facility at the train station in Groningen, Holland.
After six months on my bicycling wanderjahr, I’m inspired by all the creative ways cities are transforming themselves to meet the needs of the 21st century: low on carbon, high on physical activity, low on noise and danger, high on fun and style. Here in Cascadia, we have exciting opportunities to join the world’s great bike cities and redefine urban transportation on two wheels.
Like what you're reading? Check out more great cycling tips by Christine Grant here.
Christine M. Grant frequently wears heels when she cycles in Seattle. You can read more about the cycling cities she visited on her blog Shift. Alan Durning edited this article.
This is a terrific perspective on a lot of the missing pieces of infrastructure and (mostly) small cultural shifts that could make this more ubiquitous in our culture. For most of the 14 years I’ve lived in Seattle I’ve commuted by bus, but about 12 years ago I got a bike and sometimes did my to-the-eastside commute by bike and I have loads of fond memories of that mode of transportation (and remember essentially none of the other commutes). Now I work downtown and I run-commute a couple days a week and definitely prefer that but there’s no denying that bike commuting is mostly very enjoyable I think always dramatically better than driving (for my mental, physical, and metaphysical selves). One short anecdote: bike commuting *is* great, but running up Fremont on foot and passing the mayor on his bike is a better experience.
However, as you say, there are definitely some aspects that are in desperate need of transformation or evolution. The biggest one I see is that it’s still not as safe as it should be in Seattle. Ask anyone who has commuted through the Denny/Dexter intersection and I think they’ll agree. As a run-commuter I’ve seen three accidents there involving cyclists (not counting the cyclist killed in the hit-and-run last summer). I wouldn’t discourage anyone from biking because of this, but it’s really important to ride carefully.
These are not “missing pieces” Patrick…those who study active transportation know that these measures, and others, improve the cycling experience…Their problem is getting local governments to implement them. The biggest problem is a mental one…measures that prioritize cycles over cars are seen as inimical to cyclists – and politically risky…There are still many more drivers than cyclists. The second problem is an institutional one – active transportation has been “adopted” by traffic engineers – who can’t seem to shake the idea that increasing capacity for cars, widening roads and “organizing pavement” is the answer to all traffic problems.
…Sorry – I meant inimical to motorists
Good points, Patrick. Thanks.
(And small-world-wise, the author and I first met while we were both biking through the Dexter/Denny/South-Lake-Union mess. We chatted at a couple of stop lights about the inadequate, unsafe infrastructure there, and — because we seemed to be finishing each others’ sentences — the conversation grew longer. She mentioned her recent travels and the rest was, well, this blog post.)
Its a wonder what will happen when you actually make cycling a priority rather than “accommodating” cyclists. In Portland, we have unfortunately stalled and the City, with the acquiescence of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, are pursuing a separate but unequal strategy of designating side streets as bike boulevards. Fine as far as they go, but they don’t go where people want to go: like to shops and work destinations. Major streets are still car-heaven and bike hell.
Until we overturn the outdated paradigm that equates less Right of Way for cars as a loss we won’t ever see levels of cycling seen in Europe. When I helped found and led the BTA in the 1990s, I thought it would take twenty years to get to Dutch cycling levels and preached patience. Well, twenty years have passed and we’re not even close. For example, if I want to ride from downtown to the Hawthorne district, I lose my lane and am encouraged to detour a half mile out of direction to a bike boulevard. Going straight, like the cars get to, is to share a 10 foot travel lane with buses and all the other traffic. Ditto NE Broadway, E and W Burnside and the list goes on.
The simple act of turning four lane roads into three lanes with bike lanes would improve travel for everyone, even car traffic but is seen as an insufferable loss by the traffic engineers and the motorists. This is why Minneapolis took our “Best Cycling City” crown away. The Minne Mayor is committed to using the ROW better, not kowtowing to old paradigms.
The Bicycle Transportation Alliance has and will continue to push hard for separated bicycle facilities on arterials. This vision is embodied into our 20 year strategic plan that clearly states:
“Half of all Portland arterial boulevards have protected bikeways”. I have no idea why Rex would have stated the above. We have testified at City Council on this very issue.
Learn more about our vision: http://btaoregon.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/StrategicPlanExecSummary.pdf
Executive Director, BTA
I strongly believe that pushing for separated bicycle facilities is not enough. We need bike lanes on busy arterials. IMO, this is not only more radical than a sprinkling of short cycle tracks but also more achievable.
Hi Rex I completely agree! What shall we do about this here in Portland. Personally one of the reasons I don’t bike is I dont feel safe in traffic and I dont know where the bike streets are yet. (even though I have a map!)
I most civilly refuse to be pushed onto a separate, but most unequal, route. Several of the bike routes were, I believe, designated so BECAUSE they are miserable on ANY method of transportation (stop signs at least every other block, no way to cross the auto-centric arterials, poor sightlines, et c.). I frequently ride in the right-hand lane of those arterials (Ceasar Chavez, Hawthorne, Division) as, unlike their designated bike-route signed alternatives, they are smoothly paved, more evenly graded (compare the Clinton bike “boulevard” and Division), and more direct. I signal all turns and stops, ride in the right wheel track or even the hump, and don’t pass stopped traffic on the right (in other words, behave as a vehicle). We have plenty of “bike lanes” in Portland, they just masquerade as auto lanes.
Darryl from Loving the Bike
Great post. Thanks for helping to get the word out there and for sharing these 10 fantastic lessons.
UK Cyclists (Twitter)
Great post with some interesting ideas from different cities. Particularly like the foot rest!
Love the street counter in Barcelona, and the foot-rest. Did you come to the UK at all on your trip? Would be really interesting to see more photos from across the world – a Sartorialist equivalent for cyclists would be fantastic.
Yes, I did spend a few weeks in the UK and learned a bit about the “Boris” bikes (what Londoners call their bike share bikes for those not form the UK) and the efforts of Sustrans and other cycling organizations. Seems like the UK–especially London–has made vast improvements to their cycling infrastructure, although there is still a lot of work to be done to catch up with most of continental Europe.
I biked from London to Scotland and found myself in several places where the roads reminded me of…the USA. Fast speed limits, no spaces for bicycles, and drivers that weren’t used to seeing cyclists. Here’s one of my blog posts about my experience in the UK.
I honestly had a lot of fun biking in London; during rush hour it seemed like the cyclists were the only people moving! Cambridge also felt a little bit like Denmark. There were tons of cyclists, good infrastructure, and women with heels on (the sure sign of a utility cycling culture!).
Thanks for the comment!
I read your blog post with interest. I’ve often been tempted to take my bike back to the UK and ride from London to my folk’s home in Scotland. However, you brought back memories of riding a loaded bicycle down the 12 inch wide “shoulder” of the A74 near Glasgow as there was no other route for many miles.
I was amazed to discover bike lanes after moving to Portland. Yes, it could be better but there’s hardly a day that passes when I’m not thankful for living in a town with real bicycle infrastructure.
I like the sharrows on side-streets. When I lived in NE the Ankeny alternative route was so much better than riding on Burnside or Sandy. Also now that I live in North, There is a bike lane on Interstate but the Concord bike avenue is much more pleasant than riding on Interstate. It gets bikes off the main drag and out of view perhaps, but only a block off the commercial strip, and it is much much calmer. More akin to riding in a dedicated separated lane in Amsterdam.
I spent about six months in Copenhagen and totally agree with your #1– It’s the infrastructure, stupid! I hadn’t even considered urban bicycling until living in Denmark. I also agree that seeing everyday riders out in everyday clothes is an important goal. It took me a while to get back on my bike in the Pacific NW, but now I am in I love with it. But I do wear a bit more “bike gear” than I ever thought I would. While I agree that the Spandex riders make cycling seem less attainable to the would-be bike commuter, I ride 12 miles on the side of the highway versus my 2.5 mile Danish cycle-track commute in Copenhagen. My bright yellow coat and cycle shorts are a new must… As we get bicycle infrastructure and there is less need to ride with the cars, we’ll be able to slow down when we want and I’ll be one of the first out there riding in heels!
Wearing special gear isn’t just about staying safe or going faster. It’s also about comfort and practicality. High heels and business suits just don’t hold up well in the piss- and wind-fest that is Seattle weather.
If you’re commuting long distances, high heels and suits may not be as convenient as spandex, but for a short commute, dress clothing is fine. Just don’t put the hammer down, and you won’t show up sweaty or mussed. (Fenders help a lot.)
For everyday trips to the store, a restaurant, a museum, a concert, or any number of other places, everyday clothes and shoes work just fine. Most trips by car are the few miles that can also be comfortably biked without dressing like a racer.
There’s another cultural consideration that comes into play when cycling in regular clothes: tolerance of body odor. Europeans generally seem to tolerate it more than Americans.
This is most definitely not true. Time to get rid of that tired stereotype.
I run a cycle chic blog in Seattle and love your article!
I agree completely.
You’re not going to tell us what the name of your blog is?
Opus the Poet
Click her name to read her blog. Or mine to read my blog. My blog is about surviving riding a bicycle in the US as the infrastructure currently exists.
I just wish every city would learn from this and become more bike friendly.
I recently purchased my own custom fashion bicycle from http://www.villycustoms.com and I love riding it, the only problem is that to ride it in Dallas you need to drive it to lakes or trails, can’t really go around town on it 🙁
This is a great article and as many of us bike enthusiasts agree, there is a level of Utopia in the Dutch example. The patience necessary to inspire American Metro communities to prioritize the bike infrastructure is beyond just advocacy. Making the connection between a healthy alternative transportation must begin with small steps that create opportunities to experience the simplicity, and discover the perks. Then it is about educating the public mainstream and setting the trend. The way in which we get from point A to B on a bike is fundamentally different then by car. There are safer more enjoyable routes in every city, they just have to be discovered. Together we can inspire the bike integrated lifestyle! Smile and Enjoy the Ride!
Great post…. I wish that all of the photos had captions so I knew the city. Some did and I was able to infer others.
Ask and you shall receive.
As a Seattlite who recently lived for two years in Copenhagen (without a car), I would point out another key factor that doesn’t usually get mentioned: they don’t have right-on-red. So when you’re waiting at a red light you don’t have to worry about being swarmed from behind by cars turning right. On busy streets in the US when you’re approaching an intersection there’s usually a queue of cars waiting to turn, leaving bikes with nowhere to go except maybe the sidewalk.
Instituted to “save energy” in the 70s, I think there have been studies showing that it neither saves energy nor speeds traffic. (help here, Clark!) sure makes it less safe for walkers and cyclists, whose danger and deaths probably outweigh any benefits to drivers
I remember reading something about this a while back, but I checked Google Scholar and couldn’t find it. The Department of Energy says the right-on-red rule saves fuel (see http://energy.gov/articles/right-turn-red). That’s almost certainly true for individual trips. But from the perspective of traffic systems, time & fuel savings at the individual level tend to lead to more & longer trips — negating at least some of the fuel savings. The size of that “rebound” effect is likely higher in congested urban areas, but is hard to gauge in the abstract. So I’d want to see some literature on the topic. But I can’t put my hands on it! Grrr….
Of note is the fact that the two countries that originated RTOR were the United States and…? EAST Germany!
Because of German Unification this vile practice has migrated to the former West Germany too. And also the mouse that sleeps next to the elephant, Canada, to paraphrase Pierre Trudeau.
New York City and Montreal do not allow Right turn on Red. It is time for all urbanized areas to adopt this stance.
It should be noted that the Netherlands had the same car centric problem as everyone else in the 1960’s and they decided to change it. They changed their streets even though they have narrow streets. We can too.
Actually what is notable about Dutch cities is all the bicycle infrastructure that has been installed on the broad avenues and streets that were built since WW2. Yes, parts of Dutch are old and narrow, but the rest of these Dutch cities are just as low-density as American cities.
Thanks for the article. Brought back great memories of riding free of fear. On the issue of “bike boulevards” vs main streets, when I ride my bike I do it to get somewhere, not to go toodling about. My life is busy enough as it is, I don’t have time to take out of the way detours, not in my car nor on my bike. Something i never had to do in copenhagen or amsterdam.
The only reason people prefer these bike detours is because our main street designs suck–bad for people and other living things. My experience of Dutch and Danish facilities — where cyclists are treated as people and citizens, not trash–is of being treated equally with people who drive cars, with real lives and real demands on our time. It’s not hard to make even a big streets safe and attractive for cycling. It’s called a cycle track!
Look up “John Forrester” sometime. Unfortunately his point-of-view has become gospel in the United States which is why there is only a 1% mode share versus the double-digit share in Denmark and Holland.
Not quite. His main theme is that cyclists fare best when they act like vehicle operators and are treated like vehicle operators. The problem is that in the US, many motorists refuse to treat bicyclists like other vehicle operators. It doesn’t take much harassment to get many people to give up cycling. American car culture is why there’s only a 1% mode share for cycling.
Notice what Lydia says, “where cyclists are treated as people and citizens… treated equally with people who drive cars..” That’s a tremendously different attitude than in the US. The key question is how to change that attitude.
I’m in Ann Arbor, MI, and people here often treat our bike lanes as the bike version of colored-only drinking fountains. That is, bicyclists *must* use the bike lane, and motorists can drive in them if they want. I even had someone question me once, “Did you know that in Ann Arbor, when the bike lane ends you have to use the sidewalk?” This, of course, was a motorist, who didn’t have a clue what the law really said.
From my experience, the values of a bike lane are in getting cyclists off of sidewalks, and forcing motorists to see that the local government says cyclists should be using the road. If you could get the police on board, there wouldn’t really be much value in bike lanes. But they’re often car-culture motorists themselves.
Wow. So many great comments.
We need to keep talking with our politicians about the need for well-designed active transportation infrastructure. Transportation dollars seem to be allocated based on demand. Sure, there is currently a high demand for car infrastructure—but that’s just because we don’t have good infrastructure for any other mode.
Streets are public property and we’re at a point in history where cars just don’t make as much sense as they used to in cities. Especially at a time when most Americans aren’t meeting minimum exercise requirements. 40% of trips in urban areas in the US are under 2 miles. These trips shouldn’t be made in cars—but most of them are.
A lot of people comment on blogs about how they want better bicycle infrastructure and that’s great—public discourse on these issues is very important. But, most politicians don’t read comments on blogs. We’ve got to keep sending them e-mails about how we want our tax dollars to stop being spent widening highways and instead go towards effective public transit and active transportation infrastructure.
Let’s get an amazing bike route through downtown Seattle! Let’s get a Copenhagen-style bike lane on Eastlake! Let’s keep building neighborhood greenways! Let’s tell Governor Gregoire that we’re disappointed in her car-centric transportation package! Heck, let’s get a bike counter on Dexter someday! 🙂
Our politicians will listen–they have to listen–but we must communicate with them.
One more thing. Alan just let me know that Rex Burkholder, who has written two long comments above, is a politician. He is a member of greater Portland’s Metro Council — the regional planning body. (Sorry, Rex, I’m a Seattleite!)
So, if you post comments about your visions for a healthier, more sustainable transportation system to Sightline’s blog–politicians in Cascadia like Rex and others WILL read them! So keep posting comments! I just think it’s important to communicate directly with with local leaders too if you feel strongly about something. It’s a habit I’ve only recently gotten into myself and I’ve been surprised by how responsive elected officials are.
As a local government planner, I agree that it’s important to get your comments to the politicians through their process as well as to continue these great blog discussions. Sometimes we see a lot of public interest in a project through comments in a local newspaper article, but much less participation in the local government review process. Both are essential!
Georgie Bright Kunkel
I agree with that bicycling builds muscle for body health but high heels? That throws your back out of whack. Take it from this
91 year old. It isn’t back friendly to hobble around in three inch heels. I know that in our culture it is a way for females to butt wobble in order to attract the male but isn’t that passe’?
As a nurse who generally considers high heels a threat to health and sanity, I would point out that at least when you’re wearing them on a bike, you’re not WALKING on them! Women bike in them around the world, so go for it – if that’s your style.
I really enjoyed this article, Christine, and I envy your travels! Looks like fun. We are car-free in Portland (go Rex!) and use a Danish cargo trike for most of our trips with our daughter. It’s wonderful to be able to have a little shred of Euro-style living here in the US and I hope that it becomes more so as time moves on.
Good article, Christine. The Dutch refer to the street design pioneered by Hans Monderman as a woonerf, or a place for living. If you google that term you will find a lot of information about the idea and various cities’ experiences. A planning consultant, Ben Hamilton-Baillie, has been to Portland a couple of times to inform us about woonerfs, and he has useful references on his web site, hamilton-baillie.co.uk. There are a lot of bureaucratic obstacles to creating woonerfs, even in new developments, but they can really improve quality of life–safety and esthetics and functionality– for people living in dense development where social life is partly out on the street.
Good article – thanks!
We lived in Copenhagen for three years before returning to Seattle in 2007 (our primary car was a Danish Christiania cargo bike). Cycling to work downtown here feels very dangerous in comparison, we have a *long* way to go before we are anywhere near their level. For example: the “bike route” along 2nd Ave feels very dangerous at rush hour.
One thing we can do right now is move the bike lanes to be *outboard* of the parking along city streets, so the parked cars act as a barrier between fast-moving cars and cyclists. We wouldn’t even need to widen the streets to do it, just paint the lines differently. I’d rather have the risk of a car door than a line of fast-moving cars.
sorry – one other comment :): Would love to hear your perspective on if/how well Portland compares to the great cycling cities such as A’dam and Copenhagen. Thanks!
One comment that I expected but I have not seen is: what about the lack of helmets? Is anybody wearing a helmet in the pictures? I don’t think so. Any stats about comparing places where helmets are compulsory and places where they are not?
I noticed the same thing about the helmets, but from a different angle. I think helmet laws significantly hold back the potential for bike sharing progams that are embraced by the mainstream. It is largely an issue of personal vanity, but regardless it is a real issue that drives peoples behavior. I would ride a bike in a suit to a meeting several blocks away, but I don’t want to be walking in with helmet head!
Mandatory helmets are proven to discourage cycling. It has certainly done so in Australia. One sees helmets more and more in Copenhagen and there is a push to have people wear them, but statistically, bicycling *at slow speeds* (“style over speed” as Mikael Colville-Andersen says) is no more susceptible to head injury than walking. Yes, you might get rammed from behind by an SUV because you were forced to ride in traffic by John Forrester, but then a bicycle helmet would not have helped you anyways.
More car drivers (and car passengers) are hospitalized each year in Denmark for head injuries than cyclists. And between 60 and 70 percent of people in Denmark don’t wear bicycle helmets. Growing up in the USA, I always just assumed helmets were effective, but it turns out that there isn’t scientific consensus about the benefits a helmet provides.
The EU-funded European Cycling Federation actually actively discourages helmet campaigns and promotion.
I am now a daily biker in Portland. The change came when my wife and I moved into the city from a suburb. Suddenly, it made sense to get around town on my bike. I always chuckle when we congratulate ourselves here in Portland for our bikey-ness. The truth is, we have SO much farther to go, as you have shown. However, the elephant in the room is American-style suburban development. You pictured people who were either commuting short distances or simply attending meetings within the urban core. (And, doesn’t it rain in those cities? ;-)) In the United States, people live vast distances from their workplaces in car-centric wastelands. One solution would be for more people to move into cities. Barring that, we must also create great bike infrastructure in suburban communities and then link these communities together via bicycle paths, lanes and so on.
Jim Wilcox (BikeLane
I became a cycling advocate in Portland during my last year of high school in 1973. We tried to stop I-205 from dividing Parkrose. Oh well.
Compared to then, Portland has come a long way. Compared to where it could be, it is about half way there. That’s 1973-2012, almost 40 years. At that early date we only had the concern over oil. Now it’s also obesity, livability, global warming, etc. to drive advocacy.
Beyond infrastructure, what efforts are made by cyclists to enmesh themselves with the conservative naysayers? Here in Eugene, BikeLane is part of the Chamber. Even when a Chamber event draws 300 people, I am the sole person who biked in. Where is everyone?
It’s understandable that those of a Bike Culture mentality would stay together for needed support in a car culture. But as long as cyclists differentiate themselves a different, they will continue to literally and figuratively ride in the margins. Instead, get out of comfort zones, integrate with the unconvinced and show them that cyclists are not a separate culture.
Thanks, great comment. One of the things I’ve been doing for several years as a “transportation nag” is to draw attention to the way organizations and businesses give “directions” on websites. Before nagging, most websites equate “directions” with “driving directions” and will sometimes devote paragraphs to detailed directions from the nearest freeway. With nagging, even very mainstream organizations have been willing to change “driving directions” to “getting here” directions, including information for bicyclists, transit users and pedestrians. One example: Seattle’s Bell Harbor Conference Center, located on a major bike path, within easy walking distance of downtown, and on numerous bus routes. After one email the website was updated to include all transportation modes. http://bellharbor.com/directions.php
So yes, act as if bikes belong. Because bikes really ARE transportation.
Agreed! I got them to do this at the PNA in Seattle: http://phinneycenter.org/directions.shtml
I also try to emphasize this when publicizing events. Instead of just “parking is available” I say “Route 5 stops in front of the building and bike parking is available” as well.
Hi, Great article I really loved the photos! Really educaional and engaging!
I’m Curious what fellowship you got to do your study?
It’s called the Mary Elvira Stevens Fellowship through Wellesley College.
Merritt Scott (Rusty) Miller
I thoroughly enjoyed this. It was informative and well-crafted. I also totally liked the idea of grants being available for first-person experience studies like these. I’m recommending it to my own readers. I’d love to see an article like this on cycling in inclement weather. I know there are covered pedal-powered vehicles with electric assist. I wonder how efficient they’d be in the schizophrenic world of Puget Sound weather. Again, Ms Grant, very nicely done. Merritt Scott (Rusty) Miller, Editor, The Northstar Journal
Be careful what you wish for. Bryce Lewis died in a Seattle bike lane, using it exactly as it was designed. So did Bret Jarolomek and Tracy Sparling in Portland, two people in Minneapolis, four in Amsterdam in one year, four more in Germany over the space of a few weeks, one in Massachusetts last month …. all because the bike lane had a fatal collision baked into the design.
A lot of infrastructure is dangerous. The next time someone tells you a bike lane is “separated,” you can reply, “If it’s not on a rail trail in the woods, it isn’t separated. A bike lane on a city street merely hides the collision participants from each other until the moment of impact. It victimizes the people who follow rules. It victimizes the innocent who don’t know how to out-think the bike lane designer.”
John Schubert, Limeport[dot]org
Four in Amsterdam you say. Compare that number to a similar sized North American or Australian city and bear in mind the massive difference in cyclist numbers. You’ll find it’s not that big a number and equally you’ll find the Dutch are working on it.
I don’t think you can say that the Dutch bike paths “caused” those deaths. We don’t know how they were caused. Even if the people died on bike paths, there are millions of men, women and children using them every day safely.
The vehicular cycling school of thought has been tried for the last 30 years. We still have miniscule numbers of people using bikes for everyday transport. I think it’s time we looked at those places that work and see what we can learn from them.
Yes, I _can_ say. I’ve been doing accident reconstruction for over 30 years. And I have the report from the Dutch government about those four fatalities, plus similar reports about similar collisions from all over the planet.
These are called “right hook” collisions. When you have a right hook collision with a truck, you are crushed under the truck’s rear wheels. The bikelane design really _does_ put the cyclist and the motorist where they can’ see each other — especially so with trucks, which have more and larger blind spots and a much more demanding driver work load than do small passenger cars. That’s why it’s not an exaggeration to say that fatal collisions are baked into the design.
The city of Davis, California experimented with just about every possible bike lane design in the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1970s, a team of researchers (Lott, Tardiff and Lott) published a series of very thorough studies, intersection by intersection, of every design. They found that some intersection designs were real data outliers for causing collisions, and that the reason why — hiding cyclists and motorists from each other — was the culprit. Unfortunately, most of today’s bicycle advocates seem determined to ignore the valuable information these researchers gathered, and the result is continued carnage.
We can have communities that are pleasant, easy to cycle in, supportive of bicycling, walking and public transportation, and have good transportation options for the elderly and disabled. And we can have it all without hiding road users from each other until the moment of impact. But the way to get there is not to be in denial about the well-known causes of collisions.
— John Schubert, Limeport[dot]org
I don’t think it’s fair to blame the safest way to cycle for the scarcity of cycling in the U.S. You can blame the undiplomatic nature of some of the people involved, but only for a little bit. What you call “vehicular cycling” (I try to avoid the term because it has so much baggage) has never been well funded or promoted. It has, however, evolved into a much more pleasant form — “bicycle driving,” which is easy to learn, easy to do, and well within the reach of elderly and slow cyclists.
But gee, let’s look at Copenhagen. Why do people cycle in Copenhagen? A car that costs $20,000 in the U.S. costs $60,000 in Copenhagen, because it has a 200 percent sales tax. Parking is intentionally scarce and prohibitively expensive. Gas is double the cost in the U.S. People make less money and are taxed far more heavily, and live in denser housing closer to their schools, workplaces and shops. I’d say the price mechanism is coercive in making people avoid motoring.
Yet, two thirds of Copenhagen’s residents drove to work today. Why? According one survey, about half of Copenhagen residents believe cycling isn’t safe. I’m sure many of them have been hurt on bikes, or know others who’ve been hurt. But the official statistics don’t reflect this, because you have to be pretty seriously hurt in Copenhagen before the police will write a report.
Even with all this, Copenhagen knows it has a crash problem. The study “Road safety and perceived risk of cycle facilities in Copenhagen” by Jensen, Rosenkilde and Jensen identified and counted crash types with and without Copenhagen’s cycle tracks. Many crash types went up dramatically, one went up 1762 percent (not a misprint). Google the names and you can read the study.
A dear friend of mine lives and works in Copenhagen. No car. Why? Too expensive and not necessary. Also far more comfortable, since Copenhagen’s summers and winters are both far milder than in most of the U.S.
I want to make conditions safe and pleasant for cycling, walking, wheelchair users, and so on. In so doing, I am wedded to actual data and unwilling to pretend I don’t notice actual causes of collisions. I’m also unwilling to believe that any facility in the U.S. can generate a Copenhagen-like mode share unless the price mechanism makes a dramatic change. And if you want to marginalize bicycling in the U.S. even more than it already is, you need only get all the bicycle advocates to impose Denmark-like taxes on motoring. Today’s politicians, even the most liberal, will jump all over each other to disown you.
I’m pretty worried about Peak Oil and what’s in store. Our best preparation is to make more people proficient riders. Then they have the option of being utility riders with a low risk of accidents. And, yes, making people proficient means you need a good education program, just like they have in most of those northern European countries.
Thank you for your reply (both of them). I had a look at the Jensen, Rosenkilde and Jensen study and realised I had already downloaded it to my hard-drive. I appreciate that right turn collisions (particularly with trucks) can be a problem. There was a spate of fatalities in London where cyclists were crushed by turning lorries. That happened in the absence of decent cyclist infrastructure. I think the problem is one of inappropriate vehicles in the middle of cities rather than bike lanes specifically. In the Jensen study, as I interpreted it, the number of cyclists also increased on those roads thanks to the infrastructure.
Whether it is called vehicular cycling or bicycle driving, my view is that it has failed to increase cyclist numbers in any country where it is practiced. Encouraging cyclists simply to share the road does not work. Practices such as taking the lane are entirely inappropriate for children. They also suffer from the hope that motorists will behave as expected. Regrettably they make mistakes and regardless of who is in the right, the cyclist always comes off worse.
It is true that two thirds of Copenhageners did not ride to work (although many of them took public transport rather than the car) but a third still did. No other country on the planet other than the Netherlands has anything like that proportion.
In the Netherlands, children as young as 8 make their own way to school on their bicycles. There is no way children here in Australia could do that. It is simply too unsafe. Teaching them bicycle driving will not change that I fear because their parents will not let them loose on roads. Imagine if by some miracle we had the same proportion of children riding to school as they have in the Netherlands (close to 100%). How could that possibly work in practice? What would motorists do with all of those young schoolchildren riding on roads with speed limits of 50 mp/h? Thankfully, there is no way it could happen.
In those countries that are hostile to cycling (like the UK and over here in Australia), a quick glance at some of the road layouts reveals why so few people cycle. For example, the large roundabout at Elephant and Castle in London is a complete nightmare for cyclists. Only a few are brave enough to negotiate it; the sort of people who would still ride a bike regardless of what you throw at them. Compare that to large roundabouts in the Netherlands and you find that not only are there separate bike paths leading up to them but those same bike paths intersect each other away from the roundabout by way of underpasses so cyclists never once have to try and negotiate all of that motorised traffic.
It is not difficult to drive in the Netherlands. Parking is not as expensive as we are led to believe and congestion is not at all bad. The main difficulty for motorists is that they cannot just drive through any road they choose. Roads are properly categorised. Residential streets are treated that way and cannot be used as ratruns. Cyclists on the other hand always have a safe and direct route to their destination so that for short journeys cycling is usually the quickest way to travel. The consequence is that many people (50% in Groningen) choose the bicycle for their journey – because it is the easiest and most pleasant way.
I think that places like the US and Australia can increase the number of people using bikes (especially for short journeys) by investing in decent infrastructure. We drive so much as a reaction to our built environment. Compared to driving, riding a bike to my local shops feels like an obstacle course with cars speeding past me and when I get to my destination, there is nothing other than a lamp-post to lock it against. Riding in the Netherlands is a completely different experience.
I think this is one of those issues where we both agree with the desired outcome but might have differing views on how we get there. That is of course what makes it so interesting.
Interesting comments. Just a few clarifications.
The separated cycle tracks in Copenhagen feel very safe and, in fact, 60 percent of Copenhagen residents report feeling safe on the cycle tracks according the to 2010 City of Copenhagen’s Cycle Account. Also, two-thirds of Copenhageners don’t drive to work. 36% ride their bike, 28% take public transport, 7% walk, and 29% drive to work.
Separated cycle tracks seem to be working in Copenhagen.
John S. Allen
The author’s highlighting play street (9th illustration from the top) reveals a naivete all too common with people who like to think they are making things better for bicyclists. Bicycle travel at more than 5 mph would endanger the bicyclist as well as all the other people walking around. This is a good example of *one* kind of treatment which Monderman advanced. He also advanced treatments which allow safe bicycle travel at speeds which give bicycling an advantage over walking.
An effective means of increasing cycling is shifting road funding toward public transit. Although public transit will take away cyclists and pedestrians, I suspect there will be a larger shift from the automobile toward public transit, making cycling more attractive.
Very good point. One thing I learned in Tokyo is that many residents can live car-free because their subway system is so extensive and complete. The combo of the subway and a bicycle with a big basket makes life without a car pretty easy in urban Japan.
In Ottawa, Canada, city council is rapidly laying out a bicycle network which includes a mix of multi use paths, segregated bike lanes and on road bike lanes. the recently opened Laurier Bike Lanes, attracted 200,000 rides in just over 6 months (that is including the winter months). Virtually all 24 city councillors believe in cycling, something that is unheard of in North America. 6 new bike/ped bridges are planned. Over the next 3 years, 24 million dollars is allocated for cycling, making Ottawa one of the most exciting cycling places in North America currently. My blog keeps track of recreational and commuter cycling in the Ottawa region.
Wow–loved it all! Cyclists for Sightline and Sightline for Cyclists say I. Oh, maybe I’ve said that before.
Great post! Only let-down is the absence of great photo’s of the ultimate bike city: Amsterdam. You have not seen cycling when you have not been to Amsterdam!
I find “Bike Boulevards” to be the worst idea anyone could possibly come up with for bike infrastructure.
Problem 1: Stop signs on almost every block. How are you supposed to get places in a timely manner when you have to stop at almost every single block on your path????
Problem 2: Bike Boulevards are not “interconnected”. If you do take a bike boulevard, you are not going anywhere near where you need to go and then you have to attempt to “re-integrate” with traffic until you find the next bike boulevard.
Bike Lanes: Bike lanes are not “contiguous” – they often stop just before the most dangerous sections of a road. In Portland, try biking over the west hills. Tell me how far you can ride on bike lanes, vs just on the shoulder of a fairly high traffic roadway. (slightly better now that they put the bike lane on “part” of Hwy 26 shoulder (Where’s the rest of the !@#$ lane?????)
Great post. I hope Seattle can be bold and implement some of these ideas – particularly #1 (it’s the infrastructure). I’m fairly experienced and confident on a bike but being a urban cyclist (though often extremely efficient and fun) makes me feel quite vulnerable sometimes. I often wonder if kids or the elderly will be our “indicator species” i.e. when these groups once again feel safe biking to school or the store, we’ll know we’ve been successful at taming car traffic and creating appropriate cycling infrastructure.
Great article, especially the first lesson! Yes, it is all about the infrastructure. After visiting Copenhagen in 2010, I quickly decided that the infrastructure is the primary factor that gets most of the people out on there bikes. Most of those same people, even with all their culture and experience, would not choose to ride a bike if it meant lots of out-of-direction travel or bike lanes, even for a short trip. The cycle tracks on the major arterials made all the difference. Separation is the key to people choosing to bike.
Great post! African cities are so focused on roads networks for cars that they forget the pedestrians and creating opportunities for cyclist commuters. The urban road networks (specifically Nairobi, Kenya) are being expanded without regard for a future that will see citizens contribute to lowering Carbon emissions, and maintaining Africa’s status as a low emissions continent.
Nice article. I commute in the Seattle Eastside area (Redmond/Kirkland/Bellevue/etc). One thing I want to point out that I notice in every photo where people are commuting in suits and such – it is FLAT!! My commute generally is around 10-18 miles including several 400 foot climbs. In summer, I am drenched in sweat by the time I get to work (yes, even Seattle summer!). Luckily, my employer has showering facilities available. I think if more companies offered showers more people would bike to work.
I daresay that Seattle accommodates bicycling better than on the east coast, where I have commuted in the clothes I wear in the office for over 25 years. You just have to want to do it and you can. I always liked riding a bicycle and the trip was 2 miles. I go home for lunch. I hate it when I have to drive.
So when do bicyclists start paying road taxes via licensing and start following street and road signs and signals?
Well it is important to understand that bicyclists must obey the road laws and maybe one day the government will make us pay for registration. Then we will need to fit a number plate to our bikes.
Hi, good article and massive comments. In Australia, we have mandatory helmet laws, which are actively policed, and hot weather in summer. After a recent trip to Paris and seeing the amount of use of the Velib bike hire (we have the same in Brisbane) it is obvious the helmet laws act as a big disincentive to cycling generally and for the bike hire schemes. The Brisbane citycycle has tried to counter the helmet issue, by …providing shared helmets which are hung from some of the bikes for hire. Apart from issues of health and safety of a shared helmet it is evidence in itself the laws don’t work. Cycling needs to be a normal part of life where consideration is given and shared between road users for multiple coexistence. Where this is drowned through numbers / traffic etc, then creation of separation etc is necessary. Let users rule the roads not roads rule the users.
You might be interested in our article specifically on helmet laws and bike sharing, which discusses Australia.
Thanks for writing!
Georgie Bright Kunkel
High heels on a bike? High heels throw a peron’s balance off and twist the spine. But what else is new when women have to wear high heels so that their butts wobble to attract a male.
We have an ERA in Washington State which allows supposedly for women to be equal to men in employment and elsewhere. Women don’t have to focus on attracting a partner as first priority anymore.
They can make their own living and then partner when they feel like instead of looiing for a breadwinner.
Georgie Bright Kunkel
High heels on a bike? High heels throw a peron’s balance off and twist the spine. But what else is new when women have to wear high heels so that their butts wobble to attract a male.
We have an ERA in Washington State which allows supposedly for women to be equal to men in employment and elsewhere. Women don’t have to focus on attracting a partner as first priority anymore.
They can make their own living and then partner when they feel like instead of looking for a breadwinner.
Do Seattle’s hills play a role? I’m an occasional biker, but the hills on the north-south commute downtown can be a drag (especially heading north above the cut). It’s hard to imagine making that ride in a suit. I’ve seen biking in Berlin and London, and people did often look like they could step off and hit the town. The lack of helmets — which arguably goes to infastructure — strikes me as one factor, but the generally flat topography seems to be another potential influence. I saw the reference to Zurich being hilly, but are there studies considering a city’s natural terrain?
Whilst I fully agree with points 1, 7 and 10, might I suggest reading up a bit more on the difference between shared (Monderman as used in just 5 junctions in Drachten ) and segregated cycle lanes + filtered space (nearly every other road in every other Dutch city)?
The ideas which have been taken as “sharing” are often anything but, and these can be extremely dangerous and misleading – look up Poynton or Exhibition Rad in London, and legal challenges to it from visually impaired users.
We have also been told by city authorities here that shared space has reduced accidents, when actually they have gone up.