In the Copenhagenize Design Company’s 2017 Index of the world’s most bike-friendly cities (BFC), the top three were Copenhagen, Utrecht, and Amsterdam. The last time the U.S. was in the top 20 was when Minneapolis made it to #18 in 2015.
It’s not easy to be a BFC. Sometimes people want to be car-friendly.
Being bike-friendly involves attitudes, politics, and infrastructure. You need people that agree cycling is important, politicians who support bike-friendly policies and an infrastructure that enables efficient bike use. Also, a city’s layout counts as does auto ownership. On the Copenhagenize criteria list, they include the perception of safety, bike sharing programs, and the gender split among bike riders.
I wanted to share the following diagram on “city form” because it fascinated me. By city form, they mean whether a city’s layout is compact. The more compact the design, the shorter a cyclist’s trip length. Below you have different geometric forms for the same area:
The Biking Debate
In certain U.S. cities, bike-friendly projects have generated huge controversy. Because the average cost of building a mile of a five-foot wide bike lane is $130,000, people cite how the money might instead be spent. One Seattle commuter was irritated that his tax dollars were making “it more difficult for me and other Northeast Seattle residents to use our cars.” The city’s new bike lane, he said, would create gridlock. Others believed they were losing parking spaces. Even in NYC where the dollar cost could just involve painting a new lane and then protecting it with a “floating” line of parked cars, the opposition can be fierce.
Besides the car-bike split, you even have cyclists disagreeing. Opposing separate lanes and paths, some say the road should treat all “drivers” equally whether on bikes or in cars. Other believe bikes belong off the road on their own paths. And still a third group wants to force bike riders onto sidewalks with pedestrians.
Our Bottom Line: Tradeoffs
The bike lane debate (or is it a bike culture debate?) is classic economics. It reminds us that there is never a free lunch. So, if we want to enjoy the environmental, the fiscal, and the health-related benefits of being a BFC, we have to sacrifice being a CFC (Car-Friendly City)
My sources and more: My two mile walk last night was so much more pleasant because of this Outside/In podcast, “Stay in Your Lane.” From there I discovered the conflict in Seattle, here and here, and bike wars in NYC. But if you just go to one link, I recommend the Copenhagen Design Group. Also though, for the academic perspective, this paper is a possibility and for U.S. BFCs, this article appeared most accurate.
This post was slightly edited after publication.