Pleasant weather is on the horizon here in London. I am extremely excited to start to bike again. I took in my bike to a bicycle repair shop here to get it tuned up and ready. Biking is my main method of transport in spring, summer, and fall and is an activity I enjoy for a variety of reasons. Being a student, I prefer that biking is an affordable alternative to driving. I can ride without worrying about the price of gasoline. Upkeep is also cheaper for my bicycle (I prefer to get my bike tuned up often since I ride it as my main method of transport, however others are just as happy to not get their bikes maintained at all and that is fair). The continued growth of bicycling in our communities has environmental benefits as well. Getting more cars off the road will reduce air pollution, toxic waste, and environment destruction.
Luckily, I have lived in two areas that are somewhat friendly for biking. Back in Rochester, there are a number of biking trails along the lakeshore and river. They include scenic overlooks and lead to natural or city destinations. Along the Erie Canal is a bicycle path that lasts for 100s of miles spanning from Buffalo to the Hudson River. This makes bicycling an enjoyable experience. Here in London, the Thames Valley Parkway trail is a long, fully paved and connected set of trails that are fun rides.
Despite this and I have heard horror stories of biking experiences in many North American cities and have even had many issues with bicycling in London and Rochester. Compared to cities that take bicycling seriously, our city is lacking. There are a number of factors that can make a city bad for bicycling.
For instance, topography is often cited for the lack of strong biking communities in certain areas. While biking paradises such as Denmark or the Netherlands are flat and conducive to biking compared to mountainous areas, this is not able to solely explain the gap in bike-friendly cities. Many cities, such as Detroit, MI or Austin, TX are just as flat as Copenhagen but still not seen as good, bike-friendly cities. And the opposite is sometimes true as well; San Francisco, a city famous for it’s steep rolling hills, harbors a large biking community.
The climate of the city is also frequently cited as a deterrent to having a bike-friendly community. While certainly commuting in rain or snow is an issue, it is again an argument that does not hold too much water. Again, cities such as Los Angeles or Houston are cited as being unfriendly to bicycles and those areas, by climate alone, should be bicycle paradises. Meanwhile, in rainy Vancouver and snowy Montreal biking is an increasingly common transport method.
When people ask ” What makes a bike-friendly city” these two topics inevitably come up. However climate and topography are not make-or-break factors. What is much more important is infrastructure and community support. Infrastructure includes making protected bike lanes along roads. In London right now, most bike lanes are just lines of paint on the asphalt. However, for bike safety and bike promotion, these lanes should be well protected from the adjacent motorways. Inevitable budgeting increases are often cited by antagonists to prevent bike support in a city. And this is not unwarranted completely; a study in San Francisco showed that 1 mile of fully protected bike pathing would cost roughly 0.5 million taxpayer dollars. However, this is for permanent and strongly protected bike lanes. What some initiatives are trying to show, however, is the benefit of cheaper, more temporary changes. At it’s cheapest, this is the inclusion of a bike lane separated by bollards. This cheap method allows protection for bikers, a factor which will help get more people to use them. As drivers and bikers continue to get used to these cheaper bikeways, more substantial protections can be added later.
Another important factor in making a bike-friendly city is community support. As more communities become educated on the benefits of biking, more bike lanes will be demanded which will continue to make a city a bike-friendly city.
These factors are not alone, and a number of indexes are used to rank the most bicycle- friendly cities. There is often not one answer, but by starting to make infrastructure changes and community changes, London and other cities can become more and more bike friendly.