According to some estimations, globally, there are 2 billion bicycles. Country to country, and city to city, cycling levels vary. For instance, in Denmark, 9 out of 10 of Danes own a bike, and in Amsterdam, 48% of home to work journeys are made by bicycle. In contrast, studies suggest that in the US, only 53% of the population owns a bike, and 0.6% of workers cycle to work.
So why is there such a difference in usage? A lot has to do with city infrastructure. For example, are there separate cycle paths to keep cyclists safe? Are there convenient places to lock bikes? Additionally, attitudes and education come into play. In Amsterdam, cycling is considered "the norm." And of course, there are forces outside of human control that also impact ridership numbers such as weather and terrain.
Regardless of location, cycling is becoming more recognized for the whole suite of benefits that it offers to society. Read on to learn more about its advantages, as well as what can be done to encourage cycling in the long term.
In this article:
- The impact of COVID-19 on cycling
- What are the benefits of cycling?
- Multimodal travel
- What can be done to encourage cycling?
The impact of COVID-19 on Cycling
The coronavirus crisis had many environmental benefits. The lockdowns and movement restrictions caused cities around the world to witness bluer skies and improved air quality. Now with focus on post-COVID-19 recovery, the United Nations believes that the transportation industry requires the creation of a "new normal." To achieve this, member countries of the UN have begun a working group to investigate ways to make future mobility more environmentally friendly, placing a heavy emphasis on cycling.
What Are the Benefits of Cycling?
Cities with higher levels of cycling have many advantages for those living and working within them. Some of these benefits are listed below:
Congestion: With too many cars on the roads, modern cities are often choked with congestion. This, in turn, limits the efficiency of movement within them. For instance, in 2019, the average American commuter spent 99 hours sitting in traffic. Considering that 20 bicycles can be parked in the same space as one car, replacing cars with bikes would have a significant impact on congestion.
Financial: Cycling provides an affordable travel option to a wide range of people. In Belgium, pro-cycling group Gracq, calculated that it is 22 times cheaper to cycle than to drive to work. Perhaps a less apparent financial benefit is also to local economies. The average American spends 7% of their household income on gas; however, if they didn't need to spend this much on fuel, their money could go into local economies instead.
Environmental: Air pollution is responsible for millions of deaths a year, presenting cities with the challenge of how to reduce it. Considering transportation is an extensive pollutant of the air, and as traditional bicycles do not emit air pollution, they offer a great solution to this chronic problem.
Multimodal travel: With cycling generally suited to shorter trips of 5 miles or less, it is clearly not suitable for every journey. In the case of longer journeys, cycling can be used to complement other travel modes. For instance, traveling by bike provides riders a convenient and affordable way to get to a public transit station and stop, and in doing so, helps to solve the "first and last-mile problem."
Time-Saving: When compared to walking, cycling is estimated to reduce commute times by up to 75%. And in some areas, such as congested cities, cycling is even likely to be faster than driving.
What Can Be Done to Encourage Cycling?
Firstly, in order to encourage cycling, the safety of riders must be ensured. To do this, a well-maintained and connected infrastructure free of obstacles is needed. Most simply, it can be achieved by separating cyclists and drivers. Bike lanes can be added, which show the divide through road markings. However, this type of visual separation has received some criticism with certain studies finding that drivers actually pass cyclists closer than they would without the marker. For this reason, many cities have chosen to add protected bike lanes, which physically divide cyclists from cars. Protected bike lanes have been found to reduce injury risk to cyclists by up to 90%.
Secondly, cycling needs to be made as convenient as possible. In recent years shared bike schemes have risen in popularity in cities around the world. These shared bike schemes enable the user access to a bike when they want it, but also take away the responsibility of owning it. Another way for cities to make cycling as accessible as possible is to ensure that it is easy to park and secure bicycles. This is particularly relevant at popular locations such as stations.
Next, with a large proportion of daily trips work-related, getting employers behind cycling is vital. For employers, there are benefits in doing so: after all, a bad commute means employees are less likely to be satisfied in their job. In fact, nearly a quarter of workers have left a job due to a negative commuting experience. In the UK, employers can sign up for the "cycle to work" scheme, which operates a lease-to-own model allowing workers to receive discounted bikes. In the Netherlands, the financial incentives are even more extensive, and residents who cycle to work can earn up to $0.22 in tax credits for every kilometer cycled.
Lastly, to encourage a future generation of cyclists educating children is critical. The Portuguese Government hopes to achieve this through its introduction of compulsory cycling education for school children. Portugal has set itself the target that by 2030, 7.5% of all trips will be made by bicycle, and the school program is hoped to help reach this objective.
With urban centers growing, increasing the number of people who cycle will be an essential step towards creating more sustainable and liveable cities. To successfully increase the number of cyclists, cities must continue to improve infrastructures and convenience, as well as ensuring the support of employers, schools, and residents. If this can be achieved, cycling will play a dominant part in tomorrow's mobility.