Let’s be clear: I’m not a ‘cyclist’.
I walk, ride the bus, ride a bicycle, take trains, rent a car when I need one, sometimes fly. Whatever’s appropriate.
Importantly, in this transport mix it’s bicycles that suffer the most neglect at the hands of transport planners and engineers. These people regularly cling to 1950s planning concepts that value motor vehicle flows above all other users of our streets and assume that traffic volumes will grow endlessly. Sadly, this often negates the strategic efforts of governments to provide their citizens with attractive alternatives to car dependence. Consequently, most urban streets are dangerous, unpleasant places to be if you are not encased in the metal armour of a motor vehicle. That includes your kids, your grandma, many of your friends and coworkers – also any driver who steps out of the car.
That’s the why of this blog.
In the 1970s, the number of motor cars rose quickly. With rising volumes of motor cars, the number of children being hit by motorists became a social issue, as did the increasingly clogged streets of once-vibrant towns. While some countries turned a blind eye, others – eg. the Netherlands and Denmark – reversed their car-first planning policies.
Politicians in these countries understood that motor cars are just a tool for getting around. Not the only one. Certainly not the most efficient one for short distances. Just a tool. Planning policies there now ensure safe bicycle infrastructure is as integral to their streets as safe walking infrastructure (eg. sidewalks). Planners have the know-how and responsibility to provide the safe and pleasant infrastructure needed for normal people be able to get around conveniently by bike.
There’s no logical reason that can’t happen everywhere. Our streets could be better, safer, more sociable places. It just requires the political will to care more about kids and community than cars.
“見義不為，無勇也” – 孔夫子, <论语> (“To see what is right and not to do it is want of courage.” – Confucius, The Analects)
The safest place in the world to ride a bike is the Netherlands. In the 1960s, roads in the Netherlands looked like the top photo below. Now they look like the bottom one – safe, modern, attractive. Where would you rather use a bicycle for short trips with your kids?
(In case you need more proof.)
And here’s how it happened:
Already a form of everyday transport in many progressive areas of Northern Europe, bicycles are rapidly gaining popularity around the globe as enlightened policy-makers look for long-term, affordable solutions to the complex problems below.
- obesity and heart disease
- mental well-being
- community cohesion and social capital
- support for local business
- property values and desirability/livability of the area
- traffic congestion (and ensuing stress and lost productivity)
- the effect of the traffic threat on the mobility of children and the elderly
- car dependence and aggressive driving
- social inequalities
- air quality and noise pollution
- rising petrol prices
- global climate change