Bicycles have been around for well over 100 years (see a brief history here), but the push to make bikes a viable alternative to automobiles seems to be truly hitting the mainstream. This weekend’s edition of the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) contains a prominently displayed article entitled “Building a better bike lane: Can the U.S. catch up to European cities?” (subscription required).
As a standard-bearer for free-market principles and conservative politics, the WSJ is seldom associated with alternative transportation issues.
But it seems that even financial executive-types are beginning to recognize the environmental, public health, and traffic benefits of replacing cars with bicycles for short trips and daily commutes. In fact, the article practically gushes over the good life enjoyed by bike-riding Europeans in cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen – where more than a third of commuters use pedal power to get to work. Biking in these and other European cities is so ubiquitous, convenient and safe that helmet-less kids, business executives and pregnant women can all be seeing going about their daily routines atop a bike. The result of these high levels of bike ridership is drastically reduced traffic congestion and countless improvements in quality of life for all of the city’s residents – including non-riders.
And with growing concerns over global warming and concomitant efforts to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, biking is becoming even more important. The article notes that,
a report published this year by the Dutch Cyclists’ Association found that if all trips shorter than 7.5 kilometers in the Netherlands currently made by car were by bicycle, the country would reduce its carbon-dioxide emissions by 2.4 million tons. That’s about one-eighth of the amount of emissions it would need to reduce to meet the Kyoto Protocol.
To reach these goals, both cities are planning aggressive policies to increase bicycle use, including doubling spending on bike infrastructure in Copenhagen, and constructing a 10,000 bike parking garage at the central train station in Amsterdam.
And it is not just the Netherlands and Denmark that are moving in this direction. A host of other cities are aggressively promoting cycling while discouraging the further spread of cars.
Norway aims to raise bicycle traffic to at least 8 percent of all travel by 2015 double its current level while Sweden hopes to move from 12 percent to 16 percent by 2010. This summer, Paris will put thousands of low-cost rental bikes throughout the city to cut traffic, reduce pollution and improve parking.
Unfortunately, the article does a poor job of answering the question it poses in its headline: “Can the US catch up to European Cities?” Plans like the proposed congestion pricing scheme in New York City seem to indicate an increasing political will to wean Americans off our addiction to cars. Nevertheless, many challenges remain before we will see 1/3 of Des Moines, Cleveland, or Salt Lake City residents with access to sufficient bike infrastructure and services to allow them to make cycling an integral part of their daily lives.
To see a video promoting well designed bike lanes, click here.