A comment in the herald the other day about cycling really caught my attention (and many others) and seems to highlight well Auckland Transports attempt to shift the current debate on cycling away from the need for significantly improved cycling infrastructure by using the old “that’s some other place, we’re different” excuse.
Auckland Transport media manager Mark Hannan said: “I haven’t been to Copenhagen but a colleague has worked there and says geographically it is very different to Auckland … very flat with wide streets and footpaths.”
I call it an excuse as despite differences in geography and street width and even weather, many cities around the world that are not Copenhagen have been able to vastly improve their cycling infrastructure, especially over recent years. There is one universal constant that those cities share though, political will to make changes. That political will to make change is imperative overcome the shrieks from vehicle drivers who think the sky will fall if a car park is removed or traffic lane narrowed (removing a lane is like suggesting cutting off multiple limbs).
What many people don’t realise is that the cycling poster children of Copenhagen and Amsterdam (well all of the Netherlands really) weren’t always so cycling friendly. In the post war years through to the mid 1970’s they followed a similar path to many other cities in prioritising transport around cars. It wasn’t until the energy crisis’ of the 1970’s and auto-dominated transport culture developing that things started to change. The video below gives a good history from the Netherlands.
Putting those two cycling hotspots aside, what other cities are focusing on cycling and in particular what ones outside of Europe? Casting our gaze across to North America there happens to be a lot of great examples.
New York set itself a goal of doubling cycling commuting between 2007 and 2017 and tripping it by 2017. As part of doing that it has rolled out 590km of cycle lanes across the city ranging in quality from fully protected Copenhagen style lanes (class 1), cycle lanes on the side of the street (class 2) or traffic calmed streets so cyclists can share the lane with car drivers (class 3). The table below shows how many miles of each they rolled out while the video gives a good idea of what the lanes look like.
This video is of a great Ted Talk recently by Janette Sadik-Khan who has just finished up as the Transportation Commissioner for New York and who was instrumental in the roll-out of the cycle lane network. She also made a lot of other improvements to the pedestrian realm through quick and cheap changes. The part on the cycle network is from 8:50
And here are the maps from the video showing the size of the network
New York reached its target of doubling cycle commuting in 2011, one year ahead of schedule. This has led to a reduction in the number of people injured across all modes and has seen dramatic improvements in retail sales.
Portland has the highest mode share of cycle use of any major city in the US or Canada and it’s not surprising as they have probably put more effort into cycling infrastructure over the last few decades than any other US city as shown below.
Like other cities (many of who have probably copied Portland to some extent) they have implemented a wide range of cycling infrastructure from protected paths and on street cycle lanes down to shared streets (greenways) and off road cycle lanes. The video below shows the roll-out of the cycle network from 1980 through to now.
This graph below shows the results of cycle counts on the 5 main bridges in Portland. As the size of the cycle network increased so have the number of cyclists. The report which this comes from also includes a number of other interesting graphs including cyclist counts by gender showing that over time a larger percentage of women are cycling and cycle numbers compared to cycle crashes which shows a continuing downward trend despite there being many more cyclists in the city. Last year there wasn’t a single cyclist killed in Portland.
Vancouver is a city that we use a lot as a comparison as it’s a similar size to what Auckland is expected to be in a few decades and has had similar density and land use patterns. Commonly we also talk about its wonderful Skytrain system. Once again there is a mix of protected cycle lanes (like Kent highlights in this post), standard on street cycle lanes, shared streets and off street cycle ways. This is reflected in the earlier graph showing the mode-share of cycling to work in US and Canadian cities. Between 2008 and 2011 cycling in Vancouver increased by 40%
As is discussed in the video below and is a common theme in most of the cities that are putting effort into improving cycling is that the goal for cycling isn’t about catering to the road warriors but to making the streets safe enough that a child or elderly person can comfortably ride around the city.
They have also put a lot of effort in to connecting cycling up with public transport so that people can combine modes to complete their trip.
Lastly for this post I’m going to look at San Francisco which is another city that ranks quite highly on the mode-share graph above. It is also another city which has seen a huge increase in cycling with numbers up 96% since 2006. Of course San Francisco is also famous for its hills; which are one of the excuses that people love to through around about the lack of cycling in Auckland. The Herald even ran a piece during the America’s cup about how the locals cycle with the issue of hills.
Given the gradients of some of the streets – just looking at them is enough to send lactic acid searing through your quads – that’s one hell of a commitment they’re making to reducing their carbon footprint, I said to one of the locals.
“You know about the wiggle, right?” came the response. And thus, the secret of the smug commuters was exposed.
Well, it’s not exactly a secret – the wiggle really hides in plain sight.
It seems those with intimate knowledge of the city’s streets discovered a way to traverse San Francisco east to west without encountering any hills.
Following the old Sans Souci Valley, the aptly named wiggle zig-zags through the city from Market St, San Francisco’s main arterial, through Lower Haight to the Panhandle, which links up with the network of paths through to Golden Gate Park.
With the inclines averaging 3 per cent, it is literally the path of least resistance.
As with all of the other cities there is a hierarchy of cycle infrastructure and a focus to roll out an improved cycle network which is continuing despite sometimes hostile reactions from residents.
Lastly this graphic from Momentum Mag shows how many miles of cycle lanes were installed in 2012 and what the difference in ridership was along those routes.
Along with these cities there are heaps more all around the world that are putting increasing effort into improving cycling and it is mostly through the provision of good quality infrastructure that helps to separate traffic from cyclists as much as possible. For every excuse given as to why people aren’t cycling there is another city that also has that problem (or more). The only common element as to why they are cycling more and we aren’t doing better with cycling is that there hasn’t been the political and technical will to make it cycling infrastructure better. Auckland Transport needs to step up their game and our politicians need to start demanding that it happens.