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Bicycle Transportation Should Be Taken Seriously 26

Amsterdam4

“Beautyful Amsterdam” – Photo by Michael Stallmeister via RateMyVelo.com

Bicycles are a serious mode of transportation. It is about time we treat them as such instead of treating bicycling as a hobby, a sport, or a mode of transport for the working poor and students.

Bicycles are an often overlooked mode of transport that with some minimal government investments can easily support the same capacity as major public transportation systems at a fraction of the cost.

In my home city Toronto – a city of 2.5 million people – $1.4 billion is spent each year just to operate the public transit system. $1.4 billion dollars – with costs increasing year-over-year. This is to provide 25% of the population with a viable means of transportation.

In addition to the $1.4 billion spent each year to operate Toronto’s public transit, the city spends billions of additional capital funds to build new transit lines, upgrade buses, streetcars and subway cars. $8 billion of provincial money was earmarked for Toronto to build several light rail transit lines in the suburban areas of the city.

Public transit in Toronto is a serious mode of transportation – we spend billions of dollars on it every year.  And rightfully so – public transit is a vital service for maintaining the liveability of cities and helps keep the city moving while too many cars brings cities to a halt.

On the other hand, bicycling is not a serious mode of transportation in Toronto at the moment. In 2001 a master bike plan was developed, but little progress has been made – and in fact a reversal has begun by the current administration, which has removed several bike lanes throughout the city.

With a simple vision and some street design alterations, bicycling could support the current capacity of public transit in Toronto (25% mode share), without having to spend billions of dollars to build and maintain.

We can look to three different continents for examples of the scalability of bicycles as a viable mode of transport. First we will start in Beijing – a city of 19 million people with a climate almost identical to Toronto, Canada.

Beijing: Long before there were 15 subway lines and 5 million cars…

Prior to the influx of cars in Beijing, Beijingers were able to get around their city just fine – even before the government built the current 15 subway lines throughout the city. This was in a large part thanks to Beijingers primarily using bicycles as a vital mode of transportation in the city.

Prior to there being 5 million cars in Beijing it was estimated that there were 9 million bicycles in Beijing – the title of a song I have always enjoyed by Katie Melua.

The Beijing government has now restricted new car registrations to 10,000 per month (220,000 per year), down from an average of 15,500 per week in 2010 (806,000 per year) to try to address traffic congestion.

The problems that have surfaced in Beijing as a result of the 5 million cars were not issues previously and in many ways the quality of life in the city has declined – as can be attested by an American ex-pat neighbour of mine who lived in Beijing for 10 years and watched everything unfold (stay tuned for an upcoming interview with him).

Copenhagen: 30,000 bicycles a day on a single street

In Copenhagen, a city with an urban population of about 1.2 million, the bicycle mode share is about 37%. Copenhagen also has a similar climate to Toronto, and bicycle counts on certain Copenhagen streets log more than 30,000 bicyclists each day according to our friends at Copenhagenize.

Groningen: 57% of all trips by bicycle

A small city in the northern Netherlands called Groningen (population 190,000), with a moderate climate – boasts the fact that 57% of all trips are by bicycle.

Portland: A mile of highway, or…

In Portland, Oregon, a city of just under 600,000 inhabitants boasts a bike mode share of 8%. Portland has a warmer climate than Toronto, Beijing, Copenhagen and the Netherlands, but it does experience 914.7mm of rain each year (compared to 571 in Beijing and 709 in Toronto).

8% is a healthy mode split for bicycles compared to other cities in North America (Toronto is about 1.7%). And Portland’s entire bike network was installed at the same cost as just *one mile of freeway*.

Bicycle Transportation is cost effective

The cost of bicycle infrastructure compared to roads and public transportation is a drop in a bucket. But the capacity that can be achieved is comparable to cars and public transportation.

Unfortunately the negligible costs of bicycle infrastructure often works against progress. Politicians win votes by making big promises that cost loads of money. Even Toronto’s penny-pinching conservative mayor wants Toronto to bury all of its public transit to keep it out of the way of his car. The problem is that he doesn’t have a way to pay for it.

Bicycles can help achieve a similar goal and help relieve some of the pressure on public transportation and our roads without driving our governments into more debt.

It is time to treat bicycles as a serious mode of transportation and take advantage of this unique opportunity we have to improve the liveability of our cities.

James D. Schwartz is a Transportation Pragmatist and the Editor of The Urban Country. You can contact James at james.schwartz@theurbancountry.com or follow him on Twitter.

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  • http://www.fullfat.ca Octavian

    I agree with what you say.
    Something came into my mind though as I was reading the second paragraph, and I can’t seem to rid myself of it.
    You said “some minimal government investments”. I’d like to counter that.
    Government in most cases gets in the way of people trying to do things. I would go as far as to say that government is the problem in this case, and in many other cases. I’d like to see a private company get permission to carry out this kind of project, not funded with public moneys (so not a P3 or anything like that). Revenue generation would be up to the private entity.
    I’d go so far as to say Toronto would have a complete bike infrastructure within 2 years, with minimal costs. As long as local government gets out of the way.
    I know most of your readers won’t agree with what I say, but it’s something to think about.

    PS I think you meant to say “minor alterations” not “minor altercations”.

    • http://www.theurbancountry.com James Schwartz

      Thanks for the comments Octavian. I agree that the government in Canada does get in the way of making things happen. But I see the government as an extension of the will of the people, so to me it’s the people who are getting in the way. And the people are getting in the way because most people drive and they don’t want anything to get in the way of their car, so they aren’t willing to sacrifice a small amount of space to put proper bicycle infrastructure in place.

      I briefly touched on this topic in this article: http://www.theurbancountry.com/2012/01/democracy-is-good-but.html where I conclude that the government can be a force of good if they have their priorities straight. When it comes to sidewalks for pedestrians, the government does a fairly good job in ensuring that people have a place to walk away from fast-moving cars. If enough people cared about safe bicycling facilities, we would have a similar provision for bike lanes as the provision we have for sidewalks. Unfortunately the majority of Canadians don’t see bicycles as a viable means of transportation (I am trying to do what I can to change this).

      I think privatizing is good for some things, but I don’t know how well it would work for bike lanes, because a) People would still oppose it because they see it as a threat to the space available for their cars, and b) I don’t know how it would be profitable for a private company to operate bike lanes (unless you applied tolls or advertising on the bike lanes).

      Thanks for pointing out that typo too. I didn’t proofread the article carefully.

      James

  • http://www.fullfat.ca/ Octavian

    I agree with what you say.
    Something came into my mind though as I was reading the second paragraph, and I can’t seem to rid myself of it.
    You said “some minimal government investments”. I’d like to counter that.
    Government in most cases gets in the way of people trying to do things. I would go as far as to say that government is the problem in this case, and in many other cases. I’d like to see a private company get permission to carry out this kind of project, not funded with public moneys (so not a P3 or anything like that). Revenue generation would be up to the private entity.
    I’d go so far as to say Toronto would have a complete bike infrastructure within 2 years, with minimal costs. As long as local government gets out of the way.
    I know most of your readers won’t agree with what I say, but it’s something to think about.

    PS I think you meant to say “minor alterations” not “minor altercations”.

  • http://www.theurbancountry.com/ James Schwartz

    Thanks for the comments Octavian. I agree that the government in Canada does get in the way of making things happen. But I see the government as an extension of the will of the people, so to me it’s the people who are getting in the way. And the people are getting in the way because most people drive and they don’t want anything to get in the way of their car, so they aren’t willing to sacrifice a small amount of space to put proper bicycle infrastructure in place.

    I briefly touched on this topic in this article: http://www.theurbancountry.com/2012/01/democracy-is-good-but.html where I conclude that the government can be a force of good if they have their priorities straight. When it comes to sidewalks for pedestrians, the government does a fairly good job in ensuring that people have a place to walk away from fast-moving cars. If enough people cared about safe bicycling facilities, we would have a similar provision for bike lanes as the provision we have for sidewalks. Unfortunately the majority of Canadians don’t see bicycles as a viable means of transportation (I am trying to do what I can to change this).

    I think privatizing is good for some things, but I don’t know how well it would work for bike lanes, because a) People would still oppose it because they see it as a threat to the space available for their cars, and b) I don’t know how it would be profitable for a private company to operate bike lanes (unless you applied tolls or advertising on the bike lanes).

    Thanks for pointing out that typo too. I didn’t proofread the article carefully.

    James

  • http://www.barwhiz.com/ David Bar

    In most climates, the majority of people can make a good c of their trips by bicycle. The best part is that they save so much money. The second best part is finding easy parking.

  • http://www.barwhiz.com/ David Bar

    In most climates, the majority of people can make a good c of their trips by bicycle. The best part is that they save so much money. The second best part is finding easy parking.

  • http://profiles.google.com/har.3036 Har Davids

    The woman in the picture is a fairly typical example of bicycle-transportation in Holland: a sturdy bike with a front-take with a big crate of basket. This type of bike has become quite distinct in urban areas, as most people can do their shopping this way. This simple solution to urban mobility means: everybody can fight the flap, fuel-dependence and, maybe, filling silly for taking out a car to go and buy a loaf of bread.

  • http://profiles.google.com/har.3036 Har Davids

    The woman in the picture is a fairly typical example of bicycle-transportation in Holland: a sturdy bike with a front-take with a big crate of basket. This type of bike has become quite distinct in urban areas, as most people can do their shopping this way. Just think of the savings this simple solution to urban mobility means: everybody can fight the flap and fuel-dependence.

  • http://www.shipping2canada.com/ Shipping to Canada

    Well cycling is a cardio exercise and it is best for transport but only for short distance. If one want to travel a long distance than he or she has to think about the transport which helps you to cover long distance example ship, railways and so on.

  • http://www.shipping2canada.com/ Shipping to Canada

    Well cycling is a cardio exercise and it is best for transport but only for short distance. If one want to travel a long distance than he or she has to think about the transport which helps you to cover long distance example ship, railways and so on.

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