If you live in a city, riding a bike can be a great option to get you where you need to go. More and more people are opting for bicycles instead of cars, but most American cities are lagging behind when it comes to offering safe roads for bicyclists. Many cities ban cyclists from riding on the sidewalk and expect them to share the road with passing cars. What can we do to encourage American cities to be more bicycle-friendly?
America’s best cycling cities
Not all cities fall short when it comes to bike-friendly roads — some of the best cycling cities in the world are right here at home. Atlanta took some of its unused urban railways and created “The BeltLine,” a 22-mile-long loop for pedestrians and bicyclists. City planners are extending it another five miles in the coming year, and more than a million people have used it since its opening.
Chicago has dedicated bike routes to help keep cyclists safe and out of the way of passing drivers. Baltimore has an electric-assisted bike-sharing program to make it easier for riders to navigate the sometimes-hilly terrain.
Moving away from car dependence
Most people don’t think twice about hopping in a car and driving to work, even if work is only a few miles down the road. We need to change our underlying infrastructure to move away from car-dependent transportation. That’s not to say we all need to stop driving our cars — people who commute long distances, carry cargo or transport other passengers will find it difficult or impossible to do these things on a bicycle.
Infrastructure changes give cities more control over traffic — both vehicles and bicycles — and allow them to separate or prioritize one or the other, depending on the conditions. Just adding bike lanes to the sides of existing roads isn’t enough — nor is expecting bicyclists to share the road with nothing to separate them from motorized vehicles.
Separating cars and bikes
When it comes down to it, a bicycle is never going to win in a fight with a car. In 2015, more than 800 cyclists were killed in accidents with vehicles. That’s more than two accidents every single day. The easiest way to prevent these collisions is to keep cars and bikes separate.
Bike lanes with planters or plastic bollards provide a barrier between cyclists and drivers and may help keep people safe. Cities can install a temporary setup for a reasonable amount of money to study how well it works, and if it turns out to be a good option for the city, city planners and officials can move forward from there.
Learn from cycling cities
When transitioning American cities to be safer for cyclists, planners can turn to cities around the world for inspiration. Europe has great ideas when it comes to making cities more cycling-friendly. For the Netherlands recently opened an 11-mile cycling highway that connects the cities of Arnhem and Nijmegen. This is a “fast path” for bicycling commuters between the two cities. There are slower roadside paths as well for intercity travel.
It isn’t just the infrastructure that the Netherlands has changed — it’s the “psychology of the commute.” By giving cyclists a direct and convenient route that keeps them separate from cars, it has allowed more people to ride bikes. The bicycling highway has even encouraged people to reconsider transportation for their regional trips.
Cycling is one of the best things we can do to help reduce our carbon footprint, so it’s important to make crowded cities safer for people who choose to leave their cars at home and opt to use bicycles. It’s better for your health and better for the environment, as long as we can keep cyclists safe during their daily commutes. City planners should stop thinking about cars and start focusing on public transportation and cycling as the primary forms of transportation for their citizens.