Sustainable City Planning: On Two Wheels

Posted on 21. Apr, 2011 by in Business & Policy

The gentle wisp of wind in your face, a forceful turn of the crankshaft, and you’re off to work—on your bike.

What was once seen as a niche sport, catering only to enthusiasts or the awesomely fit, cycling is earning greater legitimacy in policy and planning circles as a mode of urban transportation. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recently announced that bicycles would receive as much attention as motorized transit in allocating government funds and developing federal transportation plans. He wrote on his blog, “[The federal government’s new policy] is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.”

Bicycles have been popular in land use policy circles for years. Cities recognize that large, sprawled metropolitan areas are costly, inefficient, and unsustainable. Many cities are placing a greater emphasis on high density, mixed use zoning and “complete streets,” roadways that cater to bicycles and pedestrians, as well as automobiles. California communities, for instance, have installed bike lanes on most city thoroughfares.

Can Bicycles Become the New Car?

Bicycles as the new cars sounds good in theory, but can it really work in the U.S.? To answer this question, let’s look at two cities where bicycles do work—Amsterdam and Portland—and why they work there.

Amsterdam is quite possibly the bicycle capital of the world. It’s ideal for bike travel—a small, flat, circular city with a densely concentrated population. Bicycles initially gained popularity among the Dutch working class, growing in acceptance and popularity in the early 20th century. Government embraced the bicycle as a mode of transportation, building bicycle paths, crossings, and road signs to aid the city’s throngs of cyclers. Amsterdam’s bicycle-commuting rate is nearly 40%. The city even has multi-tiered bicycle parking garages.

Portland, Oregon has the highest bicycle-commuting rate in the United States at nearly 8%. Portland completed its first bicycle master plan in 1996, using European cities like Amsterdam as a model for creating safe, user-friendly bicycle lanes and trails. Further, Portland’s commitment to high-density land use planning makes bike travel a reasonable commuting option for most citizens. Cycling related activity generated nearly $90 million for Portland’s economy in 2008.

So why are Amsterdam and Portland bicycle havens, while other U.S. cities are barren of bicycles?

Two reasons—high population density and incorporation of cycling into local plans. The U.S. cities with the lowest bicycle-commuting rates are also cities with low population densities. Among cities with over 500,000 people, Okalahoma City has the lowest population density and a bicycle-commuting rate of only 0.2%. Bicycling Magazine ranked the second least densely populated city, Jacksonville, Florida, as the worst bicycling city in the United States in 2010. High population density is essential for a high bicycle-commuting rate.

Good bicycling cities must also incorporate bicycle transportation into city plans. Cities such as San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Washington D.C. have transportation plans incorporating bicycle use. Minneapolis has the highest number of cyclists per capita, while Washington D.C. was home to the first public bicycle sharing program. Local government support for bicycles is essential to expand cycling use among citizens.

With Secretary LaHood and the federal government placing greater emphasis on bicycle transportation, cycling could become a more viable transit option in densely populated areas, if coupled with sound bicycle policy. In the early part of the 20th century, cars allowed people to live further from work and helped spur the urban exodus to the suburbs. Perhaps the bicycle will be the vehicle that leads the pilgrimage back to the city.

Article by Opportunity Green Insights contributor, Patrick Haase.

Related Links:

Southern California’s First Separated Bike Lanes Open in Long Beach, GOOD Transportation

Tour de OG 2009 – A 400 mile ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles to generate social media buzz highlighting the green business movement

A Look at London’s Barclays Cycle Superhighway

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5 Responses to “Sustainable City Planning: On Two Wheels”

  1. NIck Aster

    21. Apr, 2011

    Nice post. Yes, bikes will absolutely be an important part of future infrastructure for any modern city. The sprawl alternative, even with electric cars, just isn’t tenable or desirable.

    Ironically, LA is already the densest metro area in the country and would be ideally suited for biking and walking if the city would just commit themselves to it! Get the red line built to Santa Monica and a lot more bike lanes in place and you’ll see it become a lot more livable in no time!

  2. Sue Rigler

    21. Apr, 2011

    I want to move from LA so I can ride my bike without fear of angry motorists running me off the road! It’s not a biker friendly city…when indeed it has the weather to support cycling year round. Wouldn’t it be nice to reduce traffic on the 405? Way to go, Amsterdam and Portland!

  3. Joshua

    26. Apr, 2011

    I like the article.
    People in LA are in love with their cars. Bikes will continue to be second class until bike lanes and paths connect to one another and are not riddled with pot holes.

    The second part of the puzzle is creating showering spaces for people to use once they arrive where they are going. Even if this is the local gym allowing showering for a few dollars. This is usually not considered as part of the bike rack installation becasue of added expense.

  4. used cars

    09. Nov, 2011

    wow this is so nice that you Sustainable City Planning: On Two Wheels………

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