Do you ride your bike in the city? If you answered yes, you probably live somewhere where you feel safe commuting. If you answered no, chances are the idea of being on a bike surrounded by cars sounds dangerous. Urban design plays a major role in determining how we answer this question.
The United States has been a historically auto-oriented society, not favorable to the everyday cyclist. Even our cities, where we value the walkability of their designs, have most often failed to incorporate the bicycle into their plans. But change is possible - just look to Copenhagen for an example, where 40+ years of investment in new infrastructure has transformed the city. Fortunately, work is being done right now to bring the bike to the streets of the U.S. in large numbers.
The Green Lane Project was started in 2011, by People for Bikes, to create protected bike lanes in cities across America. The program began in six sites - Austin, TX, Chicago, IL, Memphis, IL, Portland, OR, San Francisco, CA, and Washington, DC - and is now accepting applications from six more. There are challenges to building new bike lanes in car-congested environments, but those are validated by numerous benefits. This is the topic of the The Grid’s next tweetchat, at #thegrid.
Safety is a major barrier preventing ridership. Although the perks are clear - it’s an easy way to get exercise, it saves commuting time up to a certain distance and doesn’t emit greenhouse gas emissions - this means little to someone fearful of getting hit by a car. Riders need to understand crash statistics and survival rates from different cities in order to move forward with an effective pro-bike campaign. San Francisco is one such example, where green bike lanes are guiding thousands of cyclists each day along busy streets.
There is a thorough application process cities must go through to be a part of the Green Lane Project. While many characteristics are desired from chosen cities, one stands out among the rest - political will. San Francisco has support from politicians as well as advocacy from the SF Bicycle Coalition (SFBC), which has shown the enthusiasm and ability to make the City a home for bicyclists.
Leah Shahum, Executive Director of the SFBC, says in a couple of decades, “we’re going to see true health statistics going up. We’re going to see a healthier population, and we’re going to see a more mobile population.” The numbers are encouraging. Between 1872 and 2011, only 62 protected bike lanes, those being lanes that form a physical separation between the bike and car, were built in the U.S. Since the Green Lane Project’s inception, the number has doubled and is expected to exceed 200 by the end of 2013.
Each focus city faces in its own challenges with the program: geography, culture and weather are several. The right planning and collaboration can overcome these obstacles. How we develop those approaches will determine their success. For the sake of our future's sustainability and safety, let's hope one day every American city is laced with green ribbons of bicycle lanes.
While transit is necessary, building it is complicated and expensive. So as we wait for new rail and bus lines, let’s throw in some new protected lanes, take people out of their cars and put them on bikes. There’s a good chance we’ll see less accidents, a healthier crowd and maybe we’ll be able to cut down on those CO2 emissions we breathe every day.
How is your city making itself bike friendly?
Join myself and Renee van Staveren from The Grid and Michael Andersen from the Green Lane Project on November 20th, 2013 at 3PM EDT/ 2PM CDT/ 12PM PDT/ 8PM BST/ 10PM EEST for our #TheGrid Tweetchat. The discussion will last an hour. We’ll be exploring the world of bicycle infrastructure and encourage you to join us. Simply login to Twitter and follow the #TheGrid hashtag and include it in your tweets to join the discussion.
Credits: Data linked to sources: Video credit of the Green Lanes Project. Images credit of author and Lynn Coppedge.