Changing lanes & lives
Cycling towards success
Dr. David Suzuki prefers to travel by pedal power
Most arguments against bike lanes are absurd. We have wide roads to accommodate cars. On either side we have pedestrian sidewalks. In most large urban areas, we also have bus lanes and transit systems. When cyclists ride on roads, drivers often get annoyed. If they ride on sidewalks, pedestrians rightly get angry.
Human-powered transportation will only get more popular as gas prices rise and the negative consequences of our car-centric culture increase. We should be doing everything we can to discourage single-occupant automobile use while encouraging public transit and pedestrian and pedal-powered movement.
The reality is that drivers are slowed more by increases in car traffic than by bike lanes.
According to a study by Stantec Consulting Ltd., traffic delays because of bike lanes were mostly imagined. Drivers who were surveyed thought it took them five minutes longer to travel along a street with a new bike lane. But the study showed that it actually took from five seconds less to just a minute and 37 seconds more.
There’s also the argument that slowing car traffic down is a good thing. In some European cities, planners are finding that making life more difficult for drivers while providing incentives for people to take transit, walk or cycle creates numerous benefits, from reducing pollution and smog-related health problems to making cities safer.
In Zurich, Switzerland, planners have added traffic lights, slowed speed limits, reduced parking and banned cars from many streets. “Our goal is to reconquer public space for pedestrians,” chief traffic planner Andy Fellmann told the New York Times.
Where streets were closed to cars in Zurich, store owners worried about losing business, but the opposite happened: pedestrian traffic increased 30 to 40 per cent, bringing more people into stores and businesses. In the long run, most cities that have improved cycling and pedestrian infrastructure have seen benefits for area businesses.
Building bike lanes also creates jobs and other economic spin-offs, according to the Political Economy Research Institute. Researchers found “bicycling infrastructure creates the most jobs for a given level of spending.”
It’s important to note that European cities have matched disincentives to drive with improved public transit. After all, not everyone can get to their destination by walking or cycling. But with fewer cars and reduced gridlock, those who must use automobiles have an easier time getting around.
Fortunately, the backlash against cycling appears to be subsiding. As oil becomes scarce and pollution and climate change increase, people are finally realizing that transporting a 180-pound person in two tonnes of metal just isn’t sustainable.
Post City Magazines’ environmental columnist, David Suzuki, is the host of the CBC’s The Nature of Things. David is also the author of more than 30 books on ecology.