For those who prefer not to drive them, it often feels like cars rule the road. Highways and by-passes snake across countries like the tentacles of a squid made of tar. Every day, these urban arteries become clogged with the pollution-belching vehicles of the masses, inciting road rage and causing costly accidents.
The bicycle, a vehicle that has remained virtually unchanged in its design and function for over 100 years, is the antidote to this car-centric madness. Although relegated to the realm of a child’s plaything for many decades, the bicycle is making a comeback as a serious form of personal transportation.
The cities listed below prove there’s a bicycling revolution afoot, and those in charge of infrastructure had better get used to it.
A new report from Transport for London revealed that 24 percent of vehicles on the road during the city’s morning rush hour are bicycles. “At Theobalds Road near Holborn, bikes were 64 percent of all vehicles heading west, while Elephant and Castle, one of London’s most notoriously frightening roundabouts for cyclists (which Boris Johnson once said was ‘fine’ for cyclists) saw 903 cyclists per hour head north to the city centre between 7am and 9am,” reports The Guardian. Alternative transportation advocates say the figures are a sign that it’s time to start taking cyclists seriously, and to dedicate more of the city’s transportation budget toward making it safer and more convenient.
This European city fell in love with the bicycle in the early 1900s, and despite the popularity of the motor vehicle, the affair is still going strong. It’s impossible to visit the Netherlands’ capital city without noticing this unique characteristic–the 780,000 people who live in Amsterdam own an estimated 881,000 bicycles. Yes, that’s more bikes than people. In case you’re wondering, there are only about 215,600 cars. Unlike London, which is struggling to cope with the cycling boom, Amsterdam embraced it early, and set about building a city that would encourage bike use over cars. “The city boasts an extensive system of bicycle paths that allow riders to bypass traffic signals and shortcut through neighborhoods. Residential neighborhoods restrict speed limits to 30 kilometers per hour to improve safety. Bike parking facilities are located citywide, while vehicle parking downtown is highly restricted,” reported WorldWatch.
Long-recognized as one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world, a whopping 36 percent of Copenhagen’s 559,440 residents are said to cycle to work or school on a daily basis. The city has endorsed the cycling craze, pushing for 50 percent bike commuting by 2015, but some say achieving that goal could create big problems. Just like cars, cyclists clog the bike lanes and greenways during morning and afternoon rush hours. Some inexperienced cyclists and children are intimidated by the aggressive nature of this congestion. Parking, normally only a problem for four-wheeled vehicles, has now become a problem for cyclists as well. While the city has no plans to discourage cycling, it agrees that education and expanded infrastructure are needed to handle the boom.
Despite the fact that this Japanese city has terrible bicycle infrastructure (few sidewalks and almost zero bike lanes), almost everyone living in Tokyo has and uses a bike for regular transportation. According to figures from Japan’s transport ministry, 14 percent of trips in Tokyo in 2008 were made by bicycle. Although it doesn’t deter them from sharing the road with car, the lack of safe biking lanes and education on cycling safety laws has created problems. As this Tokyo cycling blogger notes, there are “more than 150,000 accidents a year involving bicycles [in Tokyo], one of the highest rates in the world.”
It may seem low in comparison with the international cities mentioned above, but 6 percent of commuters go by bike in Portland. This is the highest percentage of bike commuters for a large American city and means more than 17,000 workers in Portland choose to bicycle almost every day. Nationally, only 0.5 percent call themselves bike commuters. One reasonable explanation for this is, unlike other American cities, Portland helps cyclists keep their distance from motorized traffic. According to Portland.gov, the City has 319 miles of bikeways, with more than 50 more miles funded to be installed in the next few years. Fifty-nine of these miles are neighborhood greenways, while 181 are bike lanes. Additionally, 15 intersections have bicycle-specific traffic signals to improve safety by reducing conflicts and unpredictability and to make traffic move more efficiently.
For more information about the world’s most bike-friendly cities, check out the Copehagenize Index.