Better biking just up ahead?

Is bicycling gaining on us? I sure hope so, and some academic researchers give reason to argue that it is.

In an article entitled “Bicycling Renaissance in North America? An Update and Re-Appraisal of Cycling Trends and Policies” that is to appear in Transportation Research A, Professor John Pucher of Rutgers University and his colleagues report the results of their review of trends in cycling levels, safety, and policies in Canada and the United States and case-study data for the cities of Chicago, Minneapolis, Montréal; New York, Portland, San Fransisco, Toronto, Vancouver, and Washington (DC). Their paper is a follow-up analysis from one that they published over 10 years ago in the same journal.
Professor Pucher and his colleagues wanted to examine national trends in cycling levels, safety, and funding in general and in those cities that had “been especially innovative and successful at increasing cycling” (p. 4). The results are informative. According to their abstract,

Cycling levels have increased in both the USA adn Canada, while cyclist fatalities have fallen. There is much spatial variation and socioeconomic inequality in cycling rates. The bike share of work commuters is more than twice as high in Canada as in the the USA, and is higher in the western parts of both countries. Cycling is concentrated in central cities, especially near universities and in gentrified neighborhoods near the city center. Almost all the growth in cycling in the USA has been among men between 25-64 years old, while cycling rates have remained steady among women and fallen sharply for children. Cycling rates have risen much faster in the nine case study cities than in their countries as a whole, at least doubling in all cities since 1990. They have implemented a wide range of infrastructure and programs to promote cycling and increase cycling safety: expanded and improved bike lanes and paths, traffic calming, parking, bike-transit integration, bike sharing, training programs, and promotional events.

When I looked at the actual percentages, I have to admit that I found them disappointingly tiny. For example, the share of daily bicycle commuters in the US is only 0.6% in 2009. To be sure, the good news is that it has risen from 0.4% since 1990, so it’s up 50%. I’ll make my commute on my bike today and more frequently in the future, hoping to push that number up a bit…sigh.

The case-study analyses of policies are fascinating. For example, the authors write that “Portland does almost everything in terms of infrastructure, programs, and policies to promote cycling and comes closes to the fully integrated policy packages found in successful European cycling cities. It is the coordination and integration of all these measures that explains the 6-fold increase in cycling in Portland since 1990” (p. 37). Although Portland gets lots of praise in the report, Professor Pucher et al. note the successes of the other cities in the report, too.

I hope this is on the reading list for the Charlottesville-Albemarle planners. I’ll be passing it along to them. It’s nice that there have been some developments recently, the re-emphasis on bike awareness, etc. This report shows what cities can do.

Pucher, J., Beuhler, R., Seinen, M., (in press). Bicycling renaissance in North America? An update and re-appraisal of cycling trends and policies. Transportation Research A, 47.

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