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Bicycle Friendly Cities

Some cities are way ahead of the coming trend. Copenhagen started more than 40 years ago. More than 30% of Holland citizens use bicycles to commute to work. Several cities in North America have created a much better environment for bikers and pedestrians: Boulder, Portland, and Vancouver to name a few. These cities have tried to level the playing field, reduce the dominance of automobiles, and even discourage urban car travel in the most congested areas of their cities.

Here's a great video of cities that have built shared transportation infrastructures and the resulting increase in quality of life.

Still many other cities around the globe are planning to re-design their streets to allow for alternate modes of transportation. The District of Columbia, for example, plans to add 40 miles of new bike trails, linking all areas of the city together. The city planner expects that no residence in the area will be more than half mile from a bike path.

Here's a well constructed short documentary of experienced urban commuters stories of using bicycles for urban transportation.

Pedal Power Final Cut from Mike Kurec on Vimeo.

Amstedam, The Netherlands

Copenhagen, Denmark

The bicycle has long been part of the Danish culture, even before they started planning roads that give priority to bicycles. Copenhagen has over 100 years of cycling tradition. Every child has a bike and is trained to travel on public roads in school. The bicycle is used many for daily transport rather then for recreation. The bicycle is a part of the everyday transport system in Copenhagen. The Danes claim it is good for your health, good for the environment, as well as being very flexible and individual. Many Danish own a car but find it more convenient and even faster to use a bicycle.

Bicycles in Copenhagen
Tens of Thousands of Bicycles in Copenhagen

Soren Pind, Mayor of Building and Construction Administration, says "...In a modern city, quality of life is very important. Standards of living can be improved by having a good healthy environment. Cycling in Copenhagen today signals those very qualities. It is very telling for us as a city the it plays so large a role. The emphasis on quality of life will spur competition between cities of the 21st century."

Bicycles in Copenhagen
Bicycles are an Integral Part of the Danish Culture in Copenhagen.

About one third of all transport is done by bicycle in Copenhagen. About one million kilometers are ridden everyday in this one city.

Copenhagen has developed a Cycle Policy. The objectives of the policy are to:

  1. Increase the proportion of cycles used for commuting to work to 40%.
  2. Reduce accident risks for cyclists by 50%.
  3. Increase feeling of security so 80% of cyclists are satisfied.
  4. Increase biker's travelling speed by 10%.
  5. Improve bicycle road comfort leaving less than 5% of surfaces unsatifactory.

Therefore, the city focused on transport quality for bicycles, including traffic safety, citizens health, riding security, travelling speed, and experience of cycling through the city. Basically they have made it more convenient to use a bicycle than any other mode of transportation.

Bicycles in Copenhagen
Special Bicycle Tracks have been created in Copenhagen.

Here are some interesting fact about bikes in Copenhagen:

  • About 3 million Euros are spend on bicycle infrastructure each year in Copenhagen.
  • Copenhagen has 323 kilometers of bicycle tracks (pathways) along roads.
  • On request, taxi must carry bicycles.
  • In the last six years car use has increased by 6% and bicycle use has increased by 21%.
  • More than 20% of road investment is used on cycle facilities.
  • About 90% of Copenhagen citizens own a bicycle.
  • They have determined that cycling saves many lives through health benefits.

Children on Bicycles in Copenhagen
Kids Learn to Use Bicycles in Copenhagen at an Early Age.

As much as possible on busy streets, officials have strived to separate bicycle tracks from sidewalks and motor vehicle lanes using elevated curbs. Intersections become complex with mixed traffic. Copenhagen has special traffic lights that allow bicycles to proceed through intersections before motor vehicles. They also paint bicycle tracks in the intersections with a bright colour to make them more noticeable to drivers.

Toddlers on Bicycles in Copenhagen
Even Toddlers Ride Bicycles in Copenhagen

So in Denmark, the bicycle is an integrated part of the culture. Soren Pind says "People don't even think about it they just do it." Older riders have been riding since early childhood. Younger riders don't even bother obtaining a drivers license. Babies begin riding with their mom when they are able to sit in the extra seat on the bike.

Bicycles in Copenhagen
Cargo is Often Carried on Bicycles in Copenhagen

Bicycles in Copenhagen
Copenhagen has a free bicycle training program for immigrants.

Copenhagen started a free bike program in 1995. Guests to the city simply submit a deposit for a free bicycle provided by the city. When they return the bikes they get their money back. The program can remain free because businesses advertise on the bicycles.

Bicycles in Copenhagen
Bicycles Free to Use in Copenhagen.

So why is Denmark so focused on alternative transportation? Soren Pind says "The level of knowledge about the environmental discussions the last 30 years has had an affect. On the other hand, people's comfort is always a very big factor. So, if it wasn't comfortable going by bicycle in Copenhagen, not many people would do it. It is a nice possibility, especially if the weather is nice. But even when its bad, we see a lot of people still going by bicycle."

Bicycle Lanes in Copenhagen
Soren Pind, City Construction Mayor in Copenhagen
Explains Bike Lane Separation.

Many still ride in bad weather because it is faster than other modes of transportation. In fact, 70% of cyclists continue to ride in the winter.

Bicycles in Copenhagen
Bicycles are a Big Part of Mixed Traffic in Copenhagen.

In comparing Copenhagen with other large cities around the world traffic movement is much less congested. And although Copenhagen is decades ahead, they continue to develop the bicycle infrastructure to include more parking facilities for bikes.

Davis, California

Davis, home to University of California Davis, has a very long tradition of bicycles. This is primarily because it is a college town, it is flat, and it has a friendly climate.

Portland, Oregon

Portland was not always a bicycle friendly city. It took quite a battle, politically, in the 1990s, to make policy makers adopt integration of alternative transportation modes in to the city. However, once several hurdles were passed, Portland has become one of the best bicycle cities in the nation, and adding more bike facilities and lanes all the time.

Mia Birk, Bicycle Program Manager for Portland in the 1990s, was tasked with developing a bicycle plan. She's says not only was local government an obstacle to bicycle introduction, but local retailers also considered it a joke. They didn't even want to provide bicycle parking.

Portland grew up like many metropolitan areas, where transportation was dominated by cars and freeways. Traffic and air quality became bad. Portland and the cities surrounding it established a perimeter boundary limiting urban sprawl. Green spaces and trails were established even before bike trails were put in.

In 1993 there were almost no bicycle trails in the area. Earl Blumenauer a city commissioner at the time and the Bicycle Transportation Alliance helped push the city to be more bike friendly.

Portland Bicycle Road
Portland Roads were very unfriendly to bikers prior to 1993.

However, Portland Roads were very unfriendly to bikers prior to 1993. The government bureaucracy of the Portland area had no bicycle vocabulary, because for the previous 80 or so years they had developed a political system designed to move cars around. They were completely baffled by the word bicycle. In addition to changing public opinion, the entire government structure had to be transformed. And, it wasn't going to happen overnight. It makes it even more difficult when most of them did not ride bikes themselves.

Then she turned to the business community for bike parking. Even the media criticized her actions. However, once bike lanes were approved and installed, it took awhile to get people to use. But eventually, ridership increased dramatically.

Later, after getting approval to begin incorporating bike lanes in streets and bridges, she found that in order to get people to use them, large celebratory events had to take place to get people to come out with their bicycles. The main point being, you want to lower the barriers to behaviour change and give positive reinforcement when change takes place. Subsequently, many large public car-free events involving bicycles were held in the city of Portland. She also implemented many personalized travel encouragement programs to work one-on-one with individuals to further lower barriers to using bicycles, such as helmet use, dressing, and traffic etiquette. Another program called Safe Routes to School was implemented to condition kids to use bicycles at a young age, so that they will continue use into adulthood.

Portland Bicycle Child Road Training
Safe Routes To School
Conditions Children for Bike Riding at an Early Age.

Mrs. Birk found that 60% of the population were interested in biking around the city, but were concerned about safety. So she determined that more bike trails were needed. However, 60% is really a significant number. That's the majority of the population. Permitting for new bike construction was extremely difficult, because through a given route, multiple agencies (sometimes as many as 30 different departments had jurisdiction for the same piece of land or waterway.) needed to give approval. Once a stretch of road was completed, you could expect criticism from the media and public, because change is difficult. Before long the same critics will praise your efforts.

Portland Bicycle Interest Profile
Portland Bicycle Interest Profile.

Today, the Portland metro area has more than 350 miles of bike lanes and trails. This is expanding very rapidly. Many neighbourhood side streets are redesigned to give priority to bicycles and limit car speed.

Portland Bicycle Neighborhood Street
Low Traffic Side Streets Used for Bicycle Paths In Portland.

All expenditures for bicycle road improvements amounted to less than 1% of total road improvements from 2000 to 2007.

Portland Bicycle Costs
Low Costs for Bicycle Paths In Portland.

Boulder, Colorado

Cities in beautiful places tend to want to protect their natural surrnadings. It could not be more true for Boulder, which is set at the base of the majestic Colorado Rockies.

Fort Collins, Colorado

Ranked 3rd on the Best Bicycle Cities list: League of American Bicyclists and - August 2011.

Breckenridge, Colorado

Breckenridge became a bicycle frinedly town in 2009. The town is winter ski vacation spot and the perfect complement for the town's seasonal industry is summer bicycling. It had always been somewhat of the summer biking destination for vacationers, but has recently invested in creating new bicycle lanes and other right of ways for cyclists. The city has earned a bike friendly silver award from the American Laegue of

Other Bicycle Friendly Cities

  • Easley, South Carolina
  • Normal, Illinois
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