The last week has been tragic for cyclists. On Monday, Jenna Morrison, a 38-year-old mother of one who was expecting another child, was run over and killed by a truck while riding her bike in Toronto. Three days prior, 47-year-old Bruce Sims was riding his bicycle when he was killed in traffic in Shreveport, Louisiana. Cycling advocates are upset about what they believe are preventable deaths. Dave Meslin of the Toronto Cyclists Union said the death of Ms. Morrison highlights "the lack of proper infrastructure on the streets".
These deaths have highlighted the issue of bike safety - and how cities can be made safer for bicyclists. With that in mind, here are some ideas - and some inspiration - from bike-friendly cities around the world.
Change Is Possible - Washington, D.C.
In 2002, Washington, D.C. was bike unfriendly, with only three miles of bike lanes. As of 2010, it was named one of the most welcoming cities for bikes by National Geographic, and had increased ridership by 80%. How did they do it? First of all, with more bike lanes - the city went from three miles in 2002 to a full 50 miles in 2010, with 10 miles more in the works. One key to increased ridership was the creation of dedicated bike lanes, which are separated and protected from car traffic. City planners estimate these lanes brought 18 to 20% more riders into the system.
Sorry Drivers, Bikes are Better - Zurich
This probably wouldn't be a popular policy in some North American cities, but many places in Europe, Zurich included, have endeavoured to make driving a car in the city less pleasant and convenient. Their methods are designed to encourage more people to take bikes, and to make riding in the city safer. The Traffic Planning Department in Zurich has added closely spaced red lights on roads into town, removed pedestrian underpasses to slow traffic down, and banned cars on many blocks near one of the city's busiest squares.
You Need to Commit - Copenhagen
The bicycling infrastructure in Copenhagen is held up around the world as an example - but it didn't start out that way. The cost of turning the city from a place without many bike lanes to the cycling mecca it is today? Between $10-20 million a year. But that cost (about $25 per citizen per year) has paid off. More people now ride their bike to work than take any other method of transportation.
Sidewalks? Why Not Also Side-Rides? - Berlin
Across most of Berlin, a very large city that isn't, according to Guardian columnist Helen Pidd, "a classic cycling city", bicycles are welcome on the sidewalks. Admittedly, Berlin is blessed with extremely wide streets, but they've also made a conscious effort to create bike lanes on most of their sidewalks, keeping car traffic and bike traffic completely separated, except at intersections. That means a safer ride, and fewer opportunities for fatal accidents.
Billions of Reasons for Change - The American Midwest
Beyond the possibility of saving the lives of individual cyclists, a recent study from the University of Wisconsin looked at 11 cities in the upper Midwest of the United States. They found that the health benefits of swapping a car for a bicycle for trips less than five miles in length could save huge amounts of money by improving people's health: "$3.5 billion per year from the increase in air quality and $3.8 billion in savings from smaller health care costs". So in addition to saving lives, improving biking conditions could save billions of dollars.
If You Build Them, They Will Ride - Montreal
One Canadian city to look to for inspiration is Montreal. It has consistently been rated as "one of the top bicycle-friendly cities in the world during the past decade", despite the fact that it was known 20 years ago as a bad place to ride. The city continues to add bike lanes, and according to recent research from McGill University, it's working. Between 2008 and 2010, bicycle trips in Montreal increased 35 to 40%. On Laurier Street, a new bike lane led to a 125-per-cent increase in bicycle traffic, bringing the average number of riders pretty close to the average number of cars. Creating a more bike-friendly city, and getting people riding, is possible.