Monday, January 30, 2012

A bicycle superhighway

Transportation planners in Sweden are proposing a four-lane "bicycle freeway" between the cities of Lund and Malmö:
The proposed bicycle superhighway would, in addition to four lanes (2 in each direction) have exits but no intersections, two types of wind protection (low bushes as well as solid fencing), periodic bicycle service stations, and would take eight years to complete.

Total cost of the superhighway is estimated to be about 50 million Swedish crowns (US$ 7.1 million).

We already know that building bicycle infrastructure is magnitudes cheaper than building new car roads, and better for our health and our air quality. So, what will the first U.S. cities be to build this type of interurban?

I doubt Houston is going to be the first American city to build a bicycle superhighway, but this city has been making progress towards becoming more bike-friendly, with a growing network of bike trails (another segment will be opening this summer) and a bike-sharing program about to get underway. METRO put bike racks on all local buses several years ago, and the city's overall bike network is currently over 300 miles in length (map here; admittedly, the network relies heavily on on-street routes). Not too bad for a city that's not known for being a bicycle utopia, although there's always room for more progress.

But generally speaking, high-quality bicycle infrastructure like the Swedish bicycle freeway described above remains a fantasy in the United States. In my experience as a transportation planner, cycling is too often regarded as a recreational novelty rather than a legitimate form of transportation. Efforts to increase cycling are regularly met with excuses (e.g. it's too hot or too cold for people to cycle, bicycles get stolen too often, motorists will never tolerate the sharing of pavement with bikes, etc.), and attempts at providing amenities such as bike paths, bike lanes and bike racks are oftentimes regarded as frivolous wastes of money rather than the creation of useful infrastructure.

Which is unfortunate, given the fact that bicycles are an efficient and inexpensive means of transportation. They're pollution-free and they combat obesity. But until attitudes towards bicycling change here in the States, high-quality infrastructure like bicycle superhighways will only be seen on the other side of the Atlantic.

1 comment:

Will K said...

It's at least encouraging to see small improvements. But there does need to be a larger cultural shift, I think, before anything big really happens. It has a lot to do with the bicycles themselves - I got a folding bike last year, and I ride a lot more just because of how convenient it is. And I don't have to worry about theft (besides - cars get stolen too, right?) I think it's definitely possible to change attitudes, it's just going to takes some work.