Wednesday, April 29, 2009

How do you get people riding bikes for daily transportation?

- Henry Cutler. Eyes on the Street in Amsterdam, the Netherlands

There is more to it than just wheels and concrete. It is a systemic challenge, and here for example is one small part.

In the Netherlands there's a tax rule that allows one to purchase a bicycle each three years with pre-tax salary.

You can buy any bicycle with a maximum tax-free price of €749 plus €249 of extras, but the great majority of bikes here are utility models. Given that both Dutch taxes and use of bikes as transportation are very high this rule is widely used. This tax benefit enables more new and better bikes to be sold but it's unclear how much it actually increases cycling usage. The Dutch cycle because it's the most practical, safe, cheap and enjoyable option ...and do so whether they're on new bikes or ancient, single-speed granny bikes. Nationwide the Dutch cycle an average of 2.48 km per day.

That cycling is so often the most practical, safe, cheap and enjoyable means of transportation in the Netherlands isn't just cultural; it's a function of cycling being a key element in the nationwide transportation infrastructure. It is widely recognized that bicycles are the most flexible, economical and space-efficient way for people to get around the densely populated cities. Private cars are the least.

Practically every point in the entire country is outfitted with bicycle roads, signals and storage facilities... and drivers who also cycle. Scary intersections and high-speed roads without separated bicycle paths are extraordinarily rare. To the contrary bicycle roads are often much more direct and convenient than those for automobiles. These traffic routes are planned out and implemented city wide.

A good example is the northern city of Groningen, which apparently has world's highest cycling modal share at 57% of trips. Until the 1970's there were no restrictions on driving cars through the city and bike paths were being removed. In 1972 the government designated the city center "living space" and integrated transport policy with town planning . Over the following four decades auto access was restricted, cycling infrastructure improved and new neighborhoods developed to encourage cycling. Some notable statistics: There are 0.4 cars and 1.7 bikes per person and the average speed of cycling within the city is 50% faster than driving.

How do you get the population riding bikes for daily transportation? Build your cities to make it safe, practical and fast so that cycling becomes something everyone will do instead of just a few hardy, bike commuter "warriors". Children must be able to cycle to school and elderly people to the grocery store. Tax benefits for bike purchases might help but not if the basic infrastructure isn't in place.


Henry Cutler,
WorkCycles B.V.,
Amsterdam, the Netherlands

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