Tuesday, November 25, 2014

It's silly to be anti-bike

I'm still seeing and hearing a lot of flak coming from people who oppose protected bike lanes at the expense of motor vehicles, especially in Calgary.

I had one person tell me that they didn't actually believe 'the line the city of Calgary is using' that every bike commuting to work removes a car off of the streets. Once I admitted that not every bike commuter owns a car, he insisted that none of them own cars. I felt that I needed to share some stories with him, because while I do agree that our city could do more for our human-powered two-wheeled brethren and sisterhood, what the city seems to have failed with is optics.

By the early 1960s, much of the cycling infrastructure that had existed in the pre-war era was gone, and the percentage of the population using bicycles for transportation fell to an all-time low of 10 percent. Then history intervened. “The energy crisis in 1973 hit Denmark hard. Very hard,” writes Colville-Andersen. “Car-free Sundays were introduced in order to save fuel. Every second streetlight was turned off in order to save energy. A groundswell of public discontent started to form. People wanted to be able to ride their bicycles again -- safely. Protests took place…. The energy crisis faded, but then returned in 1979. More protests. One form of protest/awareness was painting white crosses on the asphalt where cyclists had been killed. This time, things happened. We started to rebuild our cycle track network in the early 1980s. Fatalities and injuries started falling. The network was expanded. “What happened was that urban planners started thinking bicycles first and cars second. Building infrastructure to keep cyclists safe and save lives. We haven't looked back since.”

In another example, I spoke to him about what has happened recently in New York City, perhaps a penultimate example of gridlock on city streets in North America. Cycling commuters asked the city to provide them with at least a small network of protected bike lanes to get around Manhattan, and that's what they got. Cyclists now using these protected lanes feel much safer, which has led to an increase in bike traffic. This in turn has led to as much as a 50% increase in local retail sales on affected streets, compared to an average increase of 3%. Injuries also decreased as much as 58%. In an amazing example of timing, New York's new bike share businesses just happened to get their start as the latest batch of protected lanes were being completed. Needless to say, the bike share culture is booming.

I think what Calgary needs to do is tell the story of the average bike commuter. Make it common knowledge that this type of person not only exists, but is demonstrating an increase in numbers and is deserving of a safer route into, around and out of the core. OK, you want stats? Here.

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