In tangent with the city's revised cycling master plan process and further to David Van Beveren's timely piece on cycle-friendly Groningen, I wanted to take a moment to point out the obvious fact that when a city commits to building a coherent, continuous network of cycling infrastructure, many more people are willing to cycle.
While we marvel at the high cycling rates in many European cities, it's easy to forget that they weren't always this way. It was through transforming their transportation infrastructure that those cities achieved very high rates of cycling and walking.We see the same thing starting to happen today in a few North American cities that are following the same strategy, places like (big surprise) Portland and Seattle. Even New York, a city not traditionally known for bike friendliness, is getting in on the act and seeing tangible results:
Based on figures from an annual count of bicyclists conducted since 1984, the New York City Department of Transportation announced on Thursday that commuter cycling rose a remarkable 35 percent between 2007 and 2008.
"This growth is real," said Wiley Norvell, a spokesman for Transportation Alternatives, the leading advocacy group for cyclists and pedestrians in New York City. "It's born out by what I see on the streets every day, and we're reaping the rewards from the city's investment in bicycling over the last several years. More and better-designed bike lanes are producing more cyclists and more first-time cyclists."
Since 2007, 140 miles of new bicycle routes have been added to the on-street bicycle network.
A recent article in the Seattle Post takes an interesting look at the challenges of a city in transition from automobile-dependency to multi-modal choice. What jumped out at me was the following passage:
[Pedaling Revolution author Jeff] Mapes takes us to even more pedal-friendly cities. In Amsterdam, 40 percent of non-walking trips are by bike. He quotes, approvingly, Jack Wolters, the city's top traffic-safety officer: "The target of the police is not to control cyclists and pedestrians. It is to control the most dangerous part, motorcar drivers."
Can you imagine such an attitude from the local police force in a city like Hamilton?
As commendable as the city's revised cycling master plan is, the push to create a truly cycle-friendly network in Hamilton also needs to target the persistent institutional mentality that driving is the main attraction and other modes are just peripheral or at best complementary.
What places like Groningen teach us is that with the right political will, walking and cycling could be our principal modes with higher priority than driving - with all the tangible social, environmental and public health benefits that would accrue to such a shift.