Bicycling is beginning to be recognized as a legitimate mode of transportation in most western countries. The social, environmental and physical health aspects associated with bicycling as a transportation mode are impossible to ignore. Socially, it is a very affordable mode of transportation – making it extremely equitable. Environmentally it produces almost no noise or air pollution (at least as a part of everyday use – there is obviously embodied energy and pollution in the bicycles and facilities themselves) – in addition the bike facilities and bikes themselves take up a fraction of the space of cars. This can serve as a congestion relief if more folks get on bicycles. And finally, it is great for the physical health of a population, having influence on the chronic disease that plague so many western countries.
Through the chapters in this book a survey will be made into the specifics of these principles as well as the ways that cities of all sizes around the world grow the amount of bicycle infrastructure and make strides towards treating it as a more legitimate form of transportation.
Chapter 2 begins to paint a picture of the international bicycling landscape as it exists today. The share of the modesplit (the modesplit meaning the proportion of each transportation mode that exists in a region) ranges drastically throughout the developed world. On the low end you have countries such as Australia and the United States with about a 1% modesplit overall – and at the higher end countries like the Netherlands (26%) and Denmark (18%) lead the way. When you begin to break it down by city there are certainly some high spots in the United States such as Davis, CA and Portland OR – however the bright spots are few and far between compared to the number of cities in the United States.
One of the common refrains, at least In the United States, is that this difference can be explained by the fact that trips in the United States are typically longer than those in Europe. While this is generally true, if you look at the percent of population that decides to bike for trips less than 2.5KM it is drastically higher in the northern European countries. This suggests that there are plenty of short bike trips in the United States that we simply choose not to take a bike on. While car ownership alone cannot explain this discrepancy, the high cost of car ownership and operation in these European countries and relative low cost in the United States certainly does have an impact. In addition to car cost, bicycle safety can serve as a large deterrent to the use of bikes – especially on female, the elderly and children – who tend to bike less in the United States than they do in the European countries. The Netherlands, Denmark and Germany, some of the most bicycle rich environments, lead the way in terms of bicycle safety – whereas the United States highest fatality rate 5 times that of the Netherlands.
There are several other topics introduced in this chapter that will be covered in subsequent chapters surrounding the national policy towards bicycling – such as the implementation of training programs for children, and looking at regulations and training for drivers as well. In addition, the design of the facilities and traffic calming measures can be crucial to getting a large amount of people cycling. Overall the trend in this area, at least in some countries, the United States included, is towards programs and funding which will work to create safer environments for cycling and hopefully increase the amount of bicycling in these countries.
In chapter 6 of this book the discrepancies between several of the European countries and the United States are more directly approached. In general, the great divergence in the quality of the cycling infrastructure can be distilled into a single fundamental difference in the approach to bicycling infrastructure. This difference is that In the European Countries the belief is that the optimal bicycle design fully separates that cyclist from the fast-flowing traffic, taking the cyclist out of the car lanes and placing them on a separate street – and in the United States the belief is that the best way to allow for cyclist is to include them in the street and either a separate lane within the roadway or share the lane in general. This fundamental divergence of design approach has greatly shifted the way cycling has evolved in both locations and the United States is not better for it. The fact that there are stringent separation criteria written into Dutch design standards forces designers to consider them separately – the lack of this separation policy in American design manuals means cycling is usually considered as an afterthought when bike lanes or sharrows are installed.
Wearing my planning hat, I found the closing section of this chapter most interesting – The three major challenges to cycling in the United States were laid out as: A lack of popular interest, a lack of appropriate design standards, and, most crucially, a lack of funding for bicycle projects. A planner or engineer can have all the plans in the world but if there is no funding source they are all for naught. This section outlined a few of the suggestions for funding sources – Many of the suggested solution are political, such as passing laws required bicycles to be considered – however this still does not create money. I think that it will require systematic collaboration among several agencies, including such agencies as HUD, Medicare, and the CDC to fully realize the potentials bicycling infrastructure in the United States. Selling bicycles as strictly a transportation mode may not be enough to win the hearts of policy makers.
Chapter 8 introduces some of the concepts and differences surrounding the integration of cycling with public transportation. This chapter suggests four main strategies for the coordination of cycling with public transportation. These strategies are
1. Include more and improved bicycle parking at train stations and bus stops. This strategy is one of the most common integration in countries such as the Netherlands and Germany – where there is so much demand for public transportation and bicycling that taking the bikes along the journey is not feasible. The strategy is sometimes to have 2 bikes – one kept at each end of the train route. I find this strategy quite funny from an American perspective where there is plenty of room on the train for even my huge mountain bike.
2. Making it convenient to take bicycles along the trip on busses and trains: Piggybacking from the above description this is more of a trend in areas where there is less bike parking available at the stations and more room to take the bikes on board. In some cities there are extra charges for bringing a bicycle on board – I have been frustrated at a train station in Switzerland before when the conductor told me that I was going to have to buy my bicycle a ticket to ride. The book suggests that while transportation may be better overall on other countries – because of the ability to take bikes along on transit trips, transit systems in the United States may actually be more bicycle friendly.
3. Including bike rental programs and bike sharing at the stations and busy bus stops. There are several different ways these systems can be implemented, such as the bike share where bikes can be rented for hourly rates, the dial-a-bike system that was invented in Germany. These are typically concentrated around the city center and can provide an excellent solution to the transit problem of final mile connectivity.
4. The coordination of bike routes with public transportation: This coordination requires much more thought in North America – where bicycling and transit infrastructure are less dense. As with bike sharing this can provide an excellent solution to the final mile connectivity issues. In Europe this overlap happens almost accidently because both networks have developed to be so dense.
Chapter 13 gets into the concept of bicycling in major cities and some of the initiatives that have been instituted to make bicycling around these cities more convenient. As with overall trends the European cities in Denmark the Netherlands and Germany have much higher rates of bicycle usage. This chapter really builds upon the content of the previous chapters and looks at 13 cities to see how they have each approached bicycling. Large cities are more complex than other areas and a greater mix of income. They are also more dense – which can be a ppositive because there is more public transportation and people biking, but also includes the negatives of more traffic congestion and large geographic areas that are not found in smaller cities. All the cities in the case study have adopted programs to increase the size of the cycling network and are experiencing a growth in the number of cyclists. Cities are the forefront of technological advances, therefore many of the innovative ideas in bike sharing, bike parking, educational programs for cyclist and motorists and integration with transit are moving forward in most of the cities studied. There is also a need in some of these cities that is being met by congestion reducing pricing schemes – these are used to limit car usage and can provide revenue to build out more bicycling infrastructure and encourage more cycling.
The final chapter I chose to read was Chapter 3 on the health benefits of cycling. I have one friend in particular who is getting his MPH from Emory and we have talked ag nauseum about the physical determinates of health. While in general I do not think these come as a surprise to anyone, the far-reaching nature of this and the substantial number of aspects of health that can be impacted are astounding. It is no secret that physical activity is good for human health, there are three areas where bicycling is suggested as an improvement to health: First, as a part of a workout at an Indoor cycling in a gym, secondly, as a recreational activity, and finally, and most crucially in my mind, as a form of transportation. This final reason is important because you are replacing an activity that was previously being done in a car or otherwise with an activity which improves physical health AND accomplishes the same goal AND can be faster in a city with congestion like Atlanta AND can be a cheaper alternative to driving. It sure would be nice to take some of the money we spend on chronic disease such as diabetes and cardiovascular issues and put that towards bike infrastructure to promote healthy life styles – I wonder how long it would take to break even.
A second aspect is the mental health side of the equation. Bicycling can lead to Mental health improvement, social health benefits as well as a reduction in the inequalities of health care access in this country. In addition to all of these wonderful things, there is also the added benefit of a reduction in the negatives of car usage – such as air pollution, noise pollution and greenhouse gas emission. Bicycling is a wonder drug.
Economic arguments are usually the most completing to politicians and the final section of this chapter starts to get into these. A recent study presented to Cycling England valued these health benefits of cycling at over $1000 per commuting cyclist and the benefit cost ratio in England from bicycling to be 2.5 pounds for every pound spent. These benefit cost ratios are on par with the benefit cost ratios which are required to justify other types of transportation investments which is around 2:1.
In conclusion, for the betterment of the world, we should all go ride bicycles.