The Future Looks Rosy for Urban Cyclists

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

Today is the first day of your cycling future, and that future is exciting. I don’t have a crystal ball but I am certain that cycling in cities will be very different and much more fun in 2030 than it is today. The reason is no secret. The bicycle is now considered to be an essential part of global efforts to reduce greenhouse gases so that everyone can breathe more easily. To achieve that end, more people will be encouraged to ride their bikes, and efforts are already underway to make their cycling experience safe and enjoyable.

In February of this year, the European Parliament drew up a “Motion for a Resolution on Developing an EU Cycling Strategy” that has as one of its aims “that cycling should be recognized as a fully fledged mode of transport; [and] asks the [European] Commission to develop a dedicated European cycling strategy with the aim of doubling the number of kilometres cycled in Europe by 2030.”

Another notable recommendation in the motion, of the 18 listed, “encourages Member States and local authorities to significantly increase investments in the construction of separated cycling infrastructure, to integrate affordable e-bike and bike-sharing schemes into their mobility plans’ networks and reflect cycling as a vital last-mile solution in urban nodes.”

If adopted, the EU’s cycling strategy will completely transform the cycling experience in urban areas as bikes become part of a connected multimodal transportation system that will define the so-called smart city. According to the strategy and design firm Artefact, making cycling a vital part of a city’s sustainability solution “requires extensive urban planning and investment in significant cycling infrastructure.” In the meantime, municipal governments are already implementing small but important incremental initiatives “to build a cycling culture that will support a smart city ecosystem.”

For example, Copenhagen installed railings at intersections so that cyclists have a place to lean while waiting for the light to change. And the London Borough of Hackney commissioned the creation of a small, mobile mini-park that provides a temporary haven for cyclists, with protected seating and parking for bikes, and which can be moved near different businesses. This was not only a convenience for cyclists but it also brought more sales to participating businesses, which will encourage their continued support.

Bicycles in Copenhagen
Cities across Europe aim to create a cycling culture that will support a smart city ecosystem. © Profimedia

If the EU’s goal of doubling the number of kilometres cycled in Europe by 2030 is achieved, that will make for crowded bike paths and streets. To achieve that objective, safety must therefore be the primary concern for those engineering our future cities. With that goal in mind, the World Resources Institute’s (WRI) Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, in collaboration with the Dutch Cycling Embassy, the League of American Bicyclists, the Danish Urban Cycle Planning, and Norway’s Asplan Viak, has put forward four safety proposals, such as installing bike lanes in car-free zones.

This will enable cyclists to safely share the street with pedestrians and other non-motorized road users. Bidirectional cycle lanes are wonderful additions to recreational areas and can turn these car-free streets into attractive public spaces, with the possibility of adding other activities while providing a safe space for cyclists. The Slovenian capital Ljubljana has been redesigning its city centre to accommodate car-free zones for some time. Since its first implementation, in 2007, there has been a steady increase in the city of pedestrians and cyclists, and CO2 emissions have fallen by 70%.

Another idea put forward is the establishment of bicycle boulevards on low-traffic and low-speed limit streets, especially in residential and school districts. Road signs, pavement markings and speed and volume management measures are used to discourage car journeys and create safe bike crossings on major roadways. The US city of Portland has developed more than 70 kilometres of bicycle boulevards and managed the impressive feat “of placing cyclists above motorists in the hierarchy of road users” on these streets.

The use of pop-up bike lanes to separate cars and cyclists is another important idea, especially for streets with speeds of over 30 km per hour and where up to 6,000 vehicles travel every day. It takes time to develop well-marked spaces dedicated to cycling, so these pop-up bike lanes are a very useful first step toward creating permanent spaces.

The city of Berlin managed the impressive feat of creating 25 kilometres of bike lanes in 18 months, using temporary elements such as bollards, poles, mobile signs and yellow foil. Signs and attention-getting markings alert drivers, indicate the right of way and draw attention to speed limits.

Finally, the WRI has suggested the use of heavy-duty physical boundaries – such as curbs, bumpers, bollards or other barriers – between cyclists and roadways on which speeds can reach 50 km per hour and which are travelled by more than 6,000 vehicles a day. It is important that the barriers do not pose a safety hazard for cyclists in case of a crash. So polyurethane, heavy-duty plastic or flexible rubber bollards are preferred over concrete, steel or other hard materials.

If all goes as planned, these steps are only the beginning of a movement that will turn large cities into paradises for bikes. Imagine cycling through your city with the same insouciance you feel on country roads. Now, if they could only pave over those cobblestone streets.