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Cycling Is Smart But Cyclists Need to Get Smarter

Posted: 06/28/2013 10:18 am

Bicycles are an increasingly popular, affordable and practical transportation option. Many cities are making life easier for cyclists by building separated lanes, implementing bike-share programs and introducing regulations to reduce conflict between bikes and cars. You can now find bicycle sharing in 500 cities in 49 countries, including Beijing, Montreal, Chicago, Paris and Mexico City.

In my home city of Vancouver, we're still waiting for a planned sharing program, but cycling is the fastest-growing transportation mode here, jumping by 40 per cent since 2008, from about 47,000 to 67,000 daily trips. This is mainly thanks to an ever-expanding network of bike lanes and routes.

The personal and societal benefits of getting out of your car and onto a bike are well-known: better mental and physical fitness and reduced health-care costs, less pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, often speedier commutes and significant cost savings, to name a few. Studies also show the exercise benefits of cycling exceed negative health effects from pollution and injury.

Still, despite the many arguments in favour of cycling, increased infrastructure always incites criticism -- most of it unwarranted. And the behaviour of some cyclists doesn't help.

Let's consider some claims from opponents. Two main ones are that bicycling initiatives hurt local businesses and impede car traffic. Numerous studies show the opposite is often true: over the long term, business usually improves and car traffic is reduced. When bike lanes do affect car-commuting times, it's often by a small amount.

Research by the New York City Department of Transportation found retail sales increased 49 per cent along Ninth Avenue after a protected bike lane was built, compared to just three per cent for the rest of Manhattan. A Toronto study focused on Bloor West Village found far more customers arrive by foot, bike or transit than by car and "visit more often and report spending more money than those who drive."

As for impacts on car commuting, bike lanes often have a negligible or even positive effect. More people cycling means reduced car traffic - the real cause of gridlock and slowdowns. Not everyone can use a bike and sometimes cycling isn't practical. But as people opt for alternatives to cars, the roads open up for those who must drive. A study by Stantec Consulting Ltd. found Vancouver drivers thought it took them five minutes longer to travel along a street with a new bike lane, but it actually took from five seconds less to just a minute and 37 seconds more.

Studies around the world also show that bike lanes have significantly reduced accidents involving cyclists, as well as the incidence of speeding cars.

But if we really want to increase safety for cyclists - and pedestrians and motorists - we all need to take responsibility for our behaviours. People navigating on foot must be aware of surrounding bikes, buses, cars and other people and not wander with their eyes fixed on electronic devices. Car drivers need to follow road rules and be more aware of cyclists and pedestrians. Some cyclists just need to be smarter.

A lot of criticism of the growing number of cyclists in cities is valid: too many blast through stop signs, don't give pedestrians the right-of-way, refuse to signal turns, ride against traffic, don't make themselves visible enough and use sidewalks. Many seem to have a sense of entitlement compelling them to ignore laws. It doesn't take much to learn and follow the rules, and investing in proper gear - including lights and reflectors - is absolutely necessary. You'll not only be safer; you'll also be less likely to anger motorists, pedestrians and fellow cyclists.

Some jurisdictions have resorted to increased regulations and penalties to make cycling safer and to reduce conflicts between cyclists and drivers. In Chicago, bike riders face increased fines for disobeying traffic laws, as do motorists who cause bike accidents. The fine for "dooring" a cyclist (opening a vehicle door without looking and hitting a bike) doubled from $500 to $1,000.

There's really no doubt: anything that increases bicycle use, from separated lanes to bike-sharing programs, makes cities more liveable and citizens healthier. Cyclists must do their part to build support for initiatives that make cycling easier, safer and more popular.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Communications Manager Ian Hanington.

Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.

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  • Calgary

    Calgary scores <a href="http://blogs.calgaryherald.com/2012/05/15/new-bike-score-shows-strengths-and-weaknesses-of-calgarys-pathway-network/" target="_hplink">high in the inner city, older suburbs and northeast region</a>, thanks to its multiuse pathways.

  • Charlottetown

    While the prettiness of cruising Charlottetown on a bike is a real draw for tourists, it looks like only the very downtown core has any true 'bikeability' - <a href="http://spacingatlantic.ca/2011/06/14/connecting-the-dots-mapping-charlottetowns-cycling-infrastructure/" target="_hplink">Spacing magazine noted this could be due to the lack of connections between pathways</a>, and the lack of a usable map for visitors.

  • Halifax

    Halifax and nearby Dartmouth showed a similar pattern to other cities -- while the downtown areas had great 'bikeability', as you leave the core, it becomes more difficult. In the past, columnists have <a href="http://www.thecoast.ca/halifax/cycling-frustration/Content?oid=1663033" target="_hplink">complained about the lack of cycling infrastructure</a>, including paths and places to lock bikes.

  • Moncton

    Only a very small swath of land in Moncton is deemed bikeable -- <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/story/2011/07/18/nb-bike-lanes-moncton-kingston-139.html" target="_hplink">the city has had struggles when trying to enact a more bike-friendly attitude</a> and infrastructure.

  • St. John's

    Virtually unbikeable, the hills in St. John's make it difficult terrain to navigate by bike -- Newfoundland in general had <a href="http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2006/as-sa/97-561/table/t3c-eng.cfm" target="_hplink">the lowest rate of people who commute by bicycle in the country</a>, according to the most recent statistics. That, however, hasn't stopped the city from <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/story/2010/07/27/cycling-plan-stjohns-council-727.html" target="_hplink">attempting to create a cycling plan that works for everyone</a>.

  • Saskatoon

    With its flat lands, Saskatoon lends itself nicely to cycling, and in fact, scored <a href="http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/programs/environment-utsp-casestudy-cs77ebikeplanning-1177.htm" target="_hplink">second-place for cities where commuters bike to work</a>. It also has an extensive cycling network in development, with <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/story/2009/07/28/bike-lanes.html" target="_hplink">new paths and lanes being added all the time</a>.

  • Montreal

    It makes sense that <a href="https://montreal.bixi.com/" target="_hplink">the original home of Bixi bikes</a> would do so well on the cycling scale. Montreal's relatively flat terrain and condensed size -- not to mention its bike paths and Bixi stations -- earned it <a href="http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1915050_1915041_1915033,00.html" target="_hplink">a place on Time Magazine's Top 10 Urban Bike Trips list</a>.

  • Toronto

    Toronto's size plays a major factor in its bikeability -- bike-friendly areas are scattered throughout the city, but there are plenty of places where bikes still dare not go. And despite a much-publicized '<a href="http://www.theworld.org/2012/05/war-on-the-streets-of-toronto-motorists-vs-cyclists/" target="_hplink">war on cyclists</a>,' there are <a href="http://bikingtoronto.com/maps/bikelanes/" target="_hplink">plenty of sites</a> and <a href="http://www.ibiketo.ca" target="_hplink">people advocating for better resources</a>.

  • Vancouver

    Vancouver scores very high on the bike-friendly index, thanks to the topography, bike lanes, and the difficult-to-qualify-but-still-important bike culture. It has a ways to go though -- <a href="http://vancouver.openfile.ca/blog/vancouver/2012/vancouvers-bike-score-heat-map-shows-city-one-canadas-most-bikeable" target="_hplink">northern Europe does better than every Canadian city on the map</a>.

  • Victoria

    Victoria was right up alongside Vancouver in terms of bikeability, and <a href="http://www.gvcc.bc.ca/" target="_hplink"> its strong Cycling Coalition and "Cycling Master Plan"</a> make it easy to see why.

 

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