By Dom Nozzi
I have over 20 years of experience as a senior city planner, am a lifelong bicycle commuter, prepared a master’s thesis on bicycle travel, and am a published author describing car traffic and sprawl.
I know of no simple, quick, easy ways to induce large numbers of contemporary Americans to engage in more bicycling. I do, however, know of tactics that can be effective, yet require a number of years, political leadership, political wisdom, and enlightened staff and citizens. For these reasons, the tactics are rarely used in America, which helps explain the embarrassingly low levels of bicycling in the US.
In no particular order, effective tactics include (and to some extent overlap):
1. Relatively high residential densities & commercial intensities.
2. A mix of residences both vertically and horizontally with jobs, offices, retail, schools, and other destinations. That is, destinations are proximate to each other.
3. The absence of market-distorting subsidies for car travel. By far, the biggest subsidy in America is free parking. One of the most important reasons why most all Americans drive a car for nearly all trips, rather than bicycle, walk or use transit, is that over 98 percent of all trips are to locations with free and abundant parking. As Donald Shoup points out, free [and abundant] parking is a fertility drug for cars.
4. A small speed differential between cars and bicycles by using traffic calming measures such as modest street dimensions, on-street parking, etc.
5. Expensive gasoline.
6. A modest number of travel lanes. Roads with more than three travel lanes (one lane in each direction along with center turn pockets) creates excessively high-speed, dangerous car travel that severely reduces the number of people willing to bicycle on that road.
When effective tactics are properly deployed for a reasonable period of time, a powerful, self-perpetuating virtuous cycle begins to evolve: When non-bicycling members of the community observe a large number of others bicycling, many are likely to be induced to begin bicycling because of the “safety in numbers” perception, the fact that bicycling seems more hip and practical (“If he/she can do it, so can I!”), and the growing awareness and expectation on the part of motorists that bicyclists are likely to be encountered (which also increases motorist skill in driving on a street being used by bicyclists).
Note that the above should not be taken to mean that I believe we should “get rid of all cars”, or that American cities should build auto-free pedestrian/bicycle zones. I support well-behaved, unsubsidized car use that is more optional than obligatory. Car use and design that is subservient to the needs of a quality habitat for humans, rather than the situation we find in most all American communities, where cars dominate (and in many ways degrade) our world. A place where cars are so dominating that transportation choice is lost. Where it is not practical, safe or convenient to travel, except by car.
Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.
Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com
My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607
My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:
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