Tag Archives: bikeability.dk

Copenhageners fear other cyclists and complain city is ‘not doing enough’ for bikes

Here’s an article from the Danish media I thought others might enjoy. I did a quick google translate of the original Danish so it’s a bit choppy. Sorry I don’t have the time to do a better translation myself.

It just shows how incredibly far advanced the Danes in cycling but also how you have to keep pressing for change even as some of the most incredible changes are already happening here. But it’s a bit of a silly article because the municipality knows this issue (the research is just confirming a known issue) and they are actually doing a lot from what I can see, certainly compared to most cities. Advocating better conditions for cyclists in Copenhagen seems a bit excessive to me. Ah Denmark, you don’t know how good you’ve got it!

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Cyclists fear cyclists
20th June 2011
They fear neither right turn accidents, doors opening or cars crossing the bike path. What the cyclists in Copenhagen and Frederiksberg fear most is other cyclists.
It shows the preliminary results of a survey in Copenhagen and Frederiksberg, says senior scientist at the University of Copenhagen, Hans Skov-Petersen:
– One would immediately think it was right-turning trucks or cars that run across the bicycle path that was the problem, but it turns out that most cyclists are worried about is other cyclists.
Mix concrete
When the cyclists fear cyclists, partly due to lack of space on the bike path, says Hans Skov-Petersen, and therefore local authorities look at the concrete that is reserved for cyclists:
– The problem is that there is not enough room for the many different riders. There must be room for both those who want to ride fast, those who want to ride gently with their children, and those who will ride with cargo bikes. There must be room for everyone and it could well indicate that the cycle path network is not adapted, there are many different riders simultaneously, says Hans Skov-Petersen.
Fine words are not enough
The Cyclists’ Union would also like to have municipalities mix concrete.
The league is pleased of Copenhagen’s high ambitions to become the world’s best, but it is no longer enough with fine words and lofty ambitions.
– We demand more action behind the words, because if they just need to reach near their ambitions, there must be something NOW in relation to multiple and broad cyclists, says head of media Cyclists Federation Fritz Bredal.
Bike lanes are on the way
The municipality of Copenhagen there is action behind the words. Better and wider bike lanes are already under way, assures program manager for Copenhagen bike area, Andreas Røhl.
– There is something concrete and we also have a strategy where this is clearly a focus area. The goal is to create a framework where it is possible for parents and children and colleagues to hold a conversation while they are busy, can get past, says Andreas Røhl. Copenhagen is just now starting to extend cycle paths on Nørrebrogade and build a bicycle bridge over the harbor.
Bikeability.dk
Approximately 4,500 of Copenhagen and Frederiksberg citizens have participated in the survey, which is part of the research Bikeability.
Behind Bikeability Among other things Aalborg University, Southern University and University of Copenhagen. The project aims to identify what motivates riders and ultimately create better conditions in the city for cyclists.

Bikeshare for robust cycle cultures

There are currently 238 bikeshare schemes in the world. This appears to be increasing at roughly 50% per year. If this rate continues, we will have some 1.200 bikeshare schemes by 2014. The next areas of major growth is in the US, Canada, and Australia, all of which also have pitiful cycling rates of around 1% of people biking in most cities. It will be exciting to see how these cities adapt European models for their local context.

But w hat about rapidly developing countries like India, China, and South Africa that have high cycling rates now but that are losting cyclists as the economy picks up and more people move to cars? They have many large contextual differences with Europe, but if they are to take any inspiration from bikesharin models, maybe they should consider looking at countries with robust cycling cultures like Holland, Denmark, and Germany- who are trying to keep people on bikes- not those with few cyclists like France, UK, or Spain who are trying to move people onto bikes.

Early innovation in bikesharing came out of robust cycling cultures like Holland and Denmark where about 20-40% of the population bikes. Most of the early growth in recent, high-tech bikesharing has come out of countries like France, Spain, and the UK where only  1% of the population rides a bike for transport.

Another big expanding market will be in rapidly developing countries like Brazil, China, South African and India which all have very high cycling rates which range from roughly 20-70% of the population. These are mainly ‘captive users’ who bike because they can’t afford other options.  As people get richer, they move to motorized vehicles, in part for speed and in part to gain higher status. These cities will need to develop their own local models, which are only just beginning to crop up in cities like Hangzhou, Buenos Aires, New Delhi, and Taipei.

These new models should develop from the local context up. However, if they are to take any leads from European cities, maybe they should look to those with a high modal split, like Denmark and Holland, not a low modal split like France or the UK.

In Holland, the OV-Fiets system is hooked into the national train company. Many people live and work in different cities, but when you have a huge number of cyclists, it is hard to fit them all onto the trains. Anyone who has ridden a train in Holland knows that there is virtually no integration for cyclists on the trains. It costs an exorbitant amount, you have to put them into the entryway of the car with no special racks (except on long distance international trains), the elevators are small, and none of this is easy given how heavy Dutch bikes are.

The solution, until recently, was to buy two bikes- one for the ‘home’ end and one for the ‘work’ end. You then bike to one station, ride to your destination city, and then pick up your second bike to ride onward.  OV-Fiets is integrated with the train operator. You pay only €10 per year in membership and then €3 per ride for up to 24 hours. This seems to be well enjoyed and used by Dutch I have spoken with.

Odense in Denmark is trying a similar concept geared toward commuters that is set to launch this spring. This program will cost you about €7 per week, €13 per month, or €33 per year. In the meantime, since October of last year, they have been using a phone based service where you pay about €2,50 per hour as a flat usage fee that comes off your phone bill.  JC Decaux, who runs many existing services, will operate it. It’s not clear to me how well used this service is since I haven’t met anyone who has used it yet.

Germany, with about 10% of the population biking, has NextBike and Call-A-Bike which I have written about in an earlier post. These are both floating systems, with no parking stations. Both use cell phones, not smart cards. Call-A-Bike is integrated with the DB train system and NextBike is a private operator, whose money comes from advertising and usage fees. NextBike is €1 per hour or €5 per day. Call-A-Bike is €0.08 per minute, €9-12 per day, and €45-60 per week. You can also pay €27-36 per year and then get the first 30 minutes free. NextBike uses extremely cheap bikes with no technology, while Call-A-Bike uses extremely expensive, high-tech bikes. Call-A-Bike bikes have to be placed in certain areas, while NextBike’s can be placed anywhere in the central city. Anecdotal evidence from one user suggests that forcing people to return Call-A-Bike bikes to a certain location is a deterrent, however given the spread of both of these systems throughout a multitude of cities in Germany and abroad, they must be doing something right.

These services pricing models are unlike systems like the oft touted London, Paris or Barcelona schemes which typically cost more like 50€ per year where the first 30 minutes is free and then there is a tiered hourly pricing thereafter. These systems for robust cycling communities are also more focused on daily commuters and many use cell phones, not smart cards. The German ones have also experimented with floating models which do not require parking spaces, and may help with the distribution issue.

As rapidly developing cities begin to implement bikeshare schemes, we will start to see new paradigms emerging. These contexts are dramatically different in that they consist of large, dense, cities coupled with cheap labor, high theft issues, massive social inequity, completely different cultural norms, and limited technology and data access. These cities have high cycling rates now but they are all dropping due to all manner of motorized alternatives, just as we saw in western cities 50 years ago with the entrance of cars.

This context provides its own limitations while also opening up new possibilities and local models will have to be developed. But if there is anywhere to look for inspiration in Europe, it could be from systems where cycling rates are high and municipalities are trying to keep them that way, not cities where rates are low and they are trying to increase them.

How to make biking for all, not just the rich or poor?

Why is it that cycling seems to be primarily for poor people in developing countries like India, rich people in developed countries with low cycling rates like the US and a middle class phenomenon in developed countries with high cycling rates like Denmark and Holland?

Most cyclists in developing countries are what is known as “captive users”. They are riding not because they want to so much as because they cannot afford other options such as busses, let alone cars.

When I was in India this summer, I learned that many of the people who are cycling are men who are delivering things, like milk or vegetables. What was really shocking was that many of these people earned so little money that they could not even afford to buy their own bicycles, even though they only cost about $50. Instead, they were renting them for about 10 cents/hour from local bicycle shops. To my knowledge, there is no one with a rent-to-own system, but it would be great to set one up if anyone is looking for a social entrepreneurship project.

Milk delivery man in Pune, India

Most anyone with any money in India will immediately start riding the bus or (in the case of delivery men) buy themselves a motor scooter. If they have a bit more money, they will buy a car and if they have even more money, they will buy a fancier car. If they really have some money, they will hire a private driver to get them around. Basically, the more money people have, the more likely they are to drive a motorized vehicle and the less likely they are to consider anything non-motorized (including walking).

There are a few crazy people in India who are wealthy but still ride bicycles. I think I spoke with all four of them while I was there. Personally, I feel that these are the people who will be able to make a push for cycling in India since they have the political and economic capital to make it happen. But this is the topic of another article to come.

I just recently came back from my home country, the USA. There are many exciting developments going on in the past few years and I truly applaud the efforts there. But one thing really struck me from my visit to DC and New York (see links for cycling maps): most of the cycling infrastructure being developed is in neighborhoods inhabited by mainly wealthy, well-educated people like Park Slope and Dupont Circle and not in poorer neighborhoods like the Bronx or Anacostia.

Innovative cycling infrastructure near Dupont Circle in DC

One could be cynical and argue that this because planners are themselves living in these neighborhoods. While there is perhaps a degree of truth in that (and I believe there are some race and class issues in the planning field that need to be discussed more), I think there is more going on.

In speaking with planners, they said that they had tried to make inroads in some of these communities, but that they had received lower adoption rates. For instance, the DC bikeshare scheme Capital Bikes has a station in Anacostia but it is not used as much as in other neighborhoods. They said that this use of the bikeshare system mirrored the cycling demographics in general.

 

Anacostia waterfront neighborhood in DC cycling infrastructure

I went over there and investigated that area. There was a big fancy new development near the station, but much of the rest of the neighborhood seemed a bit more lower class and black. Most people seemed to be driving around in big SUVs. I met a young white man on the train who said he liked my bike and that he had just moved to the neighborhood and wanted to get a bike but complained that there was no infrastructure.

My guess is that the neighborhood is gentrifying and that the people who are using the bikeshare there are the young, largely white and educated, professionals moving in- not the poorer, uneducated black population.

In Copenhagen, by contrast, cycling is a decisively middle class phenomenon. However, what constitutes “middle class” here would be considered quite upper class in the US or India: most people have a college degree (which the government will pay you to get), being able to afford a fur coat is practically considered a human (though not animal) right, everyone has free health care, and there are virtually no homeless people.

Middle class Danish SUV

In Copenhagen you will see ambassadors, politicians and rock stars riding bicycles next to the average Dane. What you won’t see, however, is many muslim immigrants on bikes, despite the world class cycling infrastructure. Is this a skills and training issue, or is it more about integration and culture? Is bike riding just a particularly nationalistic endeavor? Is it still something for rich, white, educated people here too and it’s just that Denmark is a more homogeneous society of rich, white, educated people?

I don’t know the answer to that question though I clearly have my suspicions. What we really need is more research, discussion and action on issues related to race, class, religion, culture and cycling. Otherwise, we run the risk of creating increasing inequities in cites under the auspices of creating a more equitable transportation infrastructure.

1924 report: “Cars are healthy and make you travel less”

My advisor, Thomas Sick Nielsen, dug this lovely piece out of the annals from the early 1920s. Apparently, back in the day, some people argued that car driving was in fact ‘healthy’- more so than walking even.

U. S. Senator Royal S. Copeland, former Health Commissioner of New York City cited in Motor,  July, 1922:

Of course motoring bestows its greatest benefits on the person who drives the car. Not only does the driver get the full benefit of open road and fresh air, but he gets actual physical exercise in a form best calculated to repair the damages wrought by our modern existence. The slight physical effort needed in moving the steering wheel reacts on the muscles of the arms and abdomen. Most of us get enough exercise in the walking necessary, even to the most confined life, to keep the leg muscles fairly fit. It is from the waist upward that flabbiness usually sets in. The slight, but purposeful effort demanded in swinging the steering wheel, reacts exactly where we need it most. Frankly I believe that steering a motor car is actually better exercise than walking, becauseit does react on the parts of the body least used in the ordinary man’s routine existence.

They could never imagine just how sedentary one could be. This sounds like an argument that mousing and typing is sufficient daily exercise as is getting up from the sofa to get a beer from the refrigerator.

Here is also a physician describing the difference between working with a car as compared with the horse and buggy days. It is quite interesting to note that the modern communication and transportation technologies of the car and telephone made people travel less, not more. What I have found has always seemed to suggest the opposite but it would be interesting to do more detailed studies.

There were two doctors when I came here [rural Connecticut- my home area!]. At times there have been three. But now that I have an automobile I can readily cover the region. But the strange part of it is that I have fewer calls to make on the same people. The fact is that the automobile and the telephone have set people’s minds at rest. They don’t send for me in the middle ofthe night the way they used to. If it is only a slight matter they wait until morning. If a little more serious, they telephone. Only in emergencies do they ask me to come to the house at night.  In the past they wanted me to come anyway, in case there might be critical developments; but now they know I can get there in no time if needed, and they do not worry.

From John C. Long Source: Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 116, TheAutomobile: Its Province and Its Problems (Nov., 1924), pp. 18-21

Getting Britain on its bike – can Copenhagen show us the way?

Last month I visited Copenhagen, in my capacity as member of the International Scientific Advisory Board of the Danish research project, Bike-ability. Whilst there, as well as talking to lots of people about cycling, I got to ride around the city. Ezra Goldman, who’s involved in the project’s research, asked me to blog on my experiences of and thoughts about cycling in Copenhagen.

Richard Lewis, a principal town and transport planner at the London Borough of Newham, crafted a wonderfully thoughtful response to my blogpost. As part of that post, Richard probed me on whether or not I saw Britain as best following Copenhagen’s example, when it comes to building a cycling culture. Here follows my (perhaps less thoughtful and less crafted, but I hope equally concerned and committed) response. It’s posted here, rather than as a comment, at Ezra’s suggestion, and in the hope that it continues debates as to how – across the globe – we best boost cycling.

Hi Richard
First off, thanks very much for such a thoughtful response to my observations of Copenhagen, and for so considered a set of questions. I ap0logise that it’s taken me so long to respond; in an ideal world, I would have done so immediately!
I will try to respond directly to your three specific questions.
1) Do I like Copenhagen’s cycling infrastructure?
Not really, no. But whether or not I like it seems slightly irrelevant. My main consideration is whether or not it transforms – or has the potential to transform – the city. And here my response is ambivalent. Currently I do not think Copenhagen’s cycling infrastructure is transformatory, and before talking to a range of experienced and knowledgeable people in Copenhagen I doubted the potential for the city’s approach to cycling infrastructure progressively to de-centre and displace the car. But now I am less sure of myself – precisely, I have more optimism that Copenhagen’s approach (the provision of segregated space for cycling, which means people are effectively pedalling down narrow urban corridors – in relative ‘safety’ but also in relative ‘confinement’) contains both the ambition and the capacity to move beyond the model of the corridor, and incrementally to re-colonise ever more urban space for people, and thus de-privatise it from the grip of parked and moving cars.
2) Would, in the UK context, dedicated cycling infrastructure increase cycling?
Yes, I think so. For the last year my colleagues and I have been doing extensive and intensive ethnographic fieldwork in four English cities, and we have talked to many, many people who say (and I believe them!) they would like to cycle, but who are too afraid to cycle under currently dominant cycling conditions. The provision of dedicated, segregated cycling infrastructure is an obvious mechanism for helping such people to cycle. But I would emphasise, it is only one such obvious mechanism. Such provision should be just one of the tools in our kit for getting Britain on its bike. Here I wholeheartedly agree with your suggestion that such provision makes most sense along wider, key arterial routes, and should comprise part of a cycling network which embraces the existing – but hugely civilised (through for example slower speed limits and changing cultural sensibilities and legal responsibilities across different mobility users) – road network.
3) Because of the precarious state of cycling, is dedicated infrastructure the only realistic way of triggering a step-change in cycling in the UK?
My response to this question depends on my capacity to imagine a set of British politicians prepared to bite the bullet, and instigate – and then survive – a broader and sweeping portfolio of progressive changes to Britain’s transport environment. Because if UK government is capable of civilising the car, then no, we do not need a comprehensive dedicated cycling infrastructure (there will always be a case for some, selective, such infrastructure) – Copenhagen has such infrastructure because it was not prepared so to civilise the car, although clearly it has managed to ameliorate some of the car’s worst effects.
However, adopting a (slightly!) more pragmatic perspective, then yes, I think the installation of very high quality segregated cycling infrastructure along key arterial routes within and between British cities, alongside a range of other measures, is perhaps the way most effectively and quickly to reach a tipping point for cycling, which can trigger its elevation to a qualitatively different level (in terms of both practice – say, 20% of all urban journeys across the UK by 2025 – and perception – so that cycling becomes a perfectly acceptable and unremarkable thing for anyone at all to do); i.e. the ‘normalisation’ of cycling. This range of other measures would include the implementation of slower speeds (30 km/hr) across the rest of the road network, and would be aligned with other changes; infrastructural (such as modal filters, as you suggest), legal (such as stricter liability rules), and cultural (such as the adoption of cycling amongst high-profile charismatic individuals, and the consignment – and commensurate stigmatisation – of ‘cyclist-baiting’ to the most reactionary fringes of the gutter press).
In general, I seem increasingly to be moving towards what I’d call a ‘messy vision’ for cycling in the UK. By this I mean that getting Britain moving by bike will require many different interventions, which produce multiple (and potentially unpredictable) synergies, which together ‘spin’ us into a qualitatively new transport culture. Relatedly, I seem also increasingly to be adopting a position marked less by fixed adherence to some model over another (which when it comes to debating ‘the proper place of cycling’ (on or off road; integration or segregation) in the UK might be seen as a hindrance to debate about progressive cycling futures), and more by recognition that a heterogeneous rather than homogeneous ‘cycling system’ might be the inevitable and best outcome of our current and future efforts. But going back to the thrust of your questions, I think increased provision of specific and segregated cycling infrastructure might be key to getting the velorution rolling. The current and massive problem with otherwise wonderful initiatives such as Bikeability (a UK cycle training scheme, not to be confused with the Danish research project of the same name!) is that, given the existing cycling environment, we’re destined to lose the vast majority of those we train. However well we train them, only the hardy minority will stay on their bikes for long. We have strategically to crack, and then mine, the current dominance of car-based urban automobility, and the establishment of cycling corridors – a la Copenhagen and (in a fashion) London – on key, highly visible arterial routes seems one way of doing so.
Finally, I want to alert you to an upcoming event which is designed to explore precisely these kinds of question. ‘Building Cycling Culture/s’ is taking place at The Phoenix Digital Arts Centre in Leicester on Saturday 4th and Sunday 5th June 2011. I’m co-organising it with Rachel Aldred, who leads the ‘Cycling Cultures’ research project at the University of East London, Andy Salkeld of Leicester City Council, and John Coster of ‘Citizens’ Eye’. We’ll be announcing further details soon, but suffice to say that our vision is both to recognise and celebrate the myriad ways in which many people are currently working for cycling, and also to explore and debate what now needs to be done to produce in the UK a broad and inclusive cycling culture.
They’re some thoughts pretty much off the top of my head – but I hope they clarify my views (though as I hope I’ve suggested, my views are always under construction and so in formation ….), and that we have more debate over these and similar matters into the future. All the very best, Dave

Can the Copenhagen model be applied to the UK?

I got this great comment from a transportation planner in London in response to Dave Horton’s post earlier about his experiences riding in Copenhagen and I decided to publish it. If you have something you would like published on this site, just send it my way or ask to become a contributor. The aim of this site is to get a wide variety of perspectives, not just mine!

From Richard Lewis, a principal town and transport planner at the London Borough of Newham:

Very interesting post, David. I am struggling a little with the contrast between what you say here (in which you essentially like Copenhagen’s cycling culture even if it’s not for you) and what you infer in your five part article regarding the fear of cycling, published on Copenhagenize.com.

My questions are, (aside from your dislike of being ‘constrained’) do you on balance actually like Copenhagen type infrastructure or not, and if you do, then can you see it happening, albeit to a limited extent, in the UK–on condition of design excellence and other conditions as you see fit? From your professional perspective, can you see dedicated infrastructure (as opposed, for example, to networks of streets with ‘filtered permeability’ as in London) having a significant effect on levels of cycling? Do you think we have reached a stage where the fear of cycling in society, and indeed public and media ‘aggression’ towards cyclists as an ‘out group’ is now so embedded that only dedicated infrastructure can produce the ‘next wave’ and the ‘normalisation’ of cycling?

For my part, I was one of those people who was ‘anti-segregation’ for the reasons you’ve outlined until I visited Copenhagen, and now I’m unsure. I thought the approach taken in the Netherlands was somewhat ‘gold plated’ and therefore unlikely to be achieved in the UK. Copenhagen appears to demonstrate a highly achievable example: the design of infrastructure is simple and continuous, and features the repeated application of simple design principles. I particularly like the treatment at many junctions (share the right-turn lane with motors), which minimises conflict without adding extra signal phases. And I can see the system being implemented on selected major routes into and around Central London and outer London town centres, subject to some design improvements for pedestrians.

However, on the other hand, I also agree with the ‘Bikeability’ cycle training approach, which trains cyclists to ride in vehicular fashion, sharing the carriageway with motors, and to overcome their fear of motors (a fear that is highly embedded in our society). I’m unsure of the long-term benefits of this: certainly riders become more confident and it’s been shown that they ride in a wider variety of contexts (progressing from all off-road to riding on quieter streets, for example). But should they find themselves being intimidated or in a close shave once too often, might that confidence ebb again, especially if there is an intervening break in cycling?

My suggestion, which I would like you to consider, is that good infrastructure for cycling in the UK is a mix of all things: where cyclists ride the streets and roads with motors, then motor traffic speeds should be reduced, enabling fearless sharing; where direct arterial road routes provide the shortest link to key destinations (and the alternative routes are indirect, perceived as unsafe at night, or difficult to follow), then Copenhagen-style infrastructure should be provided where there is sufficient width and measures should be taken to increase the relative convenience of cycling compared with other modes, by introducing networks of ‘modal filters’ (road closures with gaps for cyclists) to maintain direct access for cyclists and reduce route options for drivers.

The key thing in any event, it seems to me, is good design of public spaces. I don’t think we should consider ‘cycling’ or indeed ‘walking’, ‘using public transport’ or ‘driving’ in isolation–movement is not an end in itself. I like the Copenhagen philosophy that actually ‘quality of life’ is what should drive policy development and decisions. It’s a holy grail, of course, since the problem we have in the UK is a cultural ‘silo’ mentality of ‘functionality of space’ and humans as the ‘units’ that ‘require mobility’. When the functions of planners, transport planners, designers, and so on are properly linked, by an enterprising political leader perhaps, as in Copenhagen, then perhaps you might agree real progress towards a cycling society can be achieved in Britain.

What is the role of bike paths?

There is a lot of discussion about segregated cycle paths, with most on the one hand suggesting they are a critical and necessary element of creating bike friendly cities but then a few more radical John Forrester anti-bike lane advocates who suggest that we should all ride together with car traffic. I’d like to suggest that bike lanes are an important component of what makes a bikeable city, but may not always be the most critical factor. Bike lanes may also increase cycling in cities that are starting to see the cracks in a car-based life style (e.g., Europe), but may have minimal if any impact on cities where people are just getting their first car (e.g., India). Finally, if you create compact cities with severe restrictions on car usage and easy integration with a strong transit system, you may still be able to get good cycling rates even without any lanes (e.g., Japan).

See this video of the history of Dutch bike lanes, which is similar to Denmark (thanks to worldstreets for the tip).

First, while there is a lot of evidence to suggest that places with high cycling rates (mainly Holland, Germany, and Denmark) also have a lot of segregated bikeways, I haven’t read any reports yet that prove demonstrably that this correlation is causative. I found the video above interesting but found it to be lacking in serious discussion about why bike lanes were built at different times or the effect they had on ridership during different eras.

An alternative reading of the history of the bike lane could be that the initial cycle tracks were designed for cyclist comfort (let’s say roughly 1890-1950).  There already where a ton of cyclist on the road (somewhere around 70-80% mode share in many Dutch cities around the 1930s, 50% in Copenhagen), so this was mainly just for their benefit not to attract more riders.

When the car entered the scene around the middle of the 20th century, there was a push by modern planners to clear the roads to make way for them to increase the flow of traffic. At this point, most European cities had their cycling rates drop by 50% or more- including cities in Holland and Denmark- despite having bicycle lanes. In Copenhagen at this point, some lanes were even reduced.

Around the mid to late 1970s, after the oil crisis, the more progressive European cities began advocating to get lanes and infrastructure back and most experienced increased rates of cycling, particularly in cities where they also employed a cocktail of other pro-cycling measures (not just bike paths) combined with restrictions on car ownership and use. It wasn’t really until the 1990s, I would argue, that bike lane construction really started being advocated as a way to increase bike ridership. Rates in Dutch and Danish cities have since gone back up but only to half or less of their original rates from the early part of the 20th century (about 40-50% modal split in Amsterdam and 25-40% in Copenhagen, depending which data and who you ask).

Quite possibly, it is not until people have become sufficiently tired of cars and traffic and they start looking for alternatives that bicycle infrastructure can truly have an impact. There are several stories I have heard and seen of bicycle paths being constructed in Delhi and Pune in India and Cape Town in South Africa where there are probably twice as many bicyclists as in Denmark or Holland but the bike paths are not being used or being misused. This is a question worth exploring. Are they not designed properly? Do motorists, law enforcement agents and cyclists just need time to learn about them?

My hypothesis would be that these places are more comparable to where Holland and Denmark were in the 1950s and 60s, with their first intoxicating taste of cars. Here, most people are “captive users” biking because they have no choice. The second they get money, they buy a scooter or car. Even if you build bike lanes in this context, you will likely still see declines in cycling rates. However, it may lay the groundwork for subsequent increases when they come down from their “car high” in a generation or so.

Finally, cities in Japan have pulled off cycling rates that most would dream of without hardly any bicycle paths of any sort. Tokyo has rates of 20% and Osaka has rates of 25%. Compare this to US cities that typically have 1% or less aside from a few places like Portland, Oregon that get 8% share on the nicest day in July. Japan’s secret is probably its huge density, a solid train system with good bike parking and making car driving almost impossibly difficult and expensive in the city. Therefore, people live far from their jobs but ride their bike to the nearest train station which they take into work. No bike lanes. At least, not yet. Cyclists do cause conflict with pedestrians on sidewalks, so there has been some discussion about putting them in but it’s unclear where it is all heading.

Bike lanes are an important element of a mix of strategies, but we should not become overly convinced of their silver bullet power. Building a cycling city takes a lot of time and patience and requires a large variety of supportive bicycle infrastructure and policy combined with restrictive policies toward cars and integrative strategies with transit. Furthermore, different strategies are required for cities with different relationships with car ownership.

More research should be done trying to demonstrate that bike lanes are a cause of ridership (rather than as an effect of it). More research is also needed to show to what extent it is possible to transplant infrastructure designed for northern European cities which have a very particular socio-cultural, historical and urban context. Where does it work? Where does it fail and why? We also need to better understand and advocate on reducing car usage if we want to improve cycling rates. We can’t get there just with pro-bike advocacy alone.

Don’t get me wrong. I love riding on Copenhagen bike paths and now I have been spoiled into not being able to ride on the road together with cars. But I also want an explanation as to why there are also examples (even in Denmark!) of segregated bike paths not being used. Anyone have a good explanation?