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Designing Cities for Bikes….not Cars

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There has been a lot of talk over the past few months about the movement towards electric vehicles. France and the UK have both announced that they will implement policies to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040, Norway is going a step further and is aiming to phase out these polluting vehicles by 2025.

Also, Volvo recently announced that from 2019 they will only make electric or hybrid vehicles, announcing the beginning of the end for the internal combustion engine. Such a move could be an intelligent business move by Volvo, but more likely it is in reaction to the growth of Tesla. At the moment Tesla are the only car manufacturer that are mass producing electric vehicles for the consumer market – with a continuous growth in their order book it is likely that the big manufacturers are starting to get a little bit worried.

At Cities Digest we encourage the movement from traditionally powered vehicles to electric, but we also feel that from a city perspective the focus should be diverted away from encouraging people to switch their type of car, to switching their mode of transport. The only 100% clean mode of transport that people can use (other than walking) is cycling – not only does it not pollute, but it helps to keeps the population healthy at the same time.

One of the biggest issues with cycling in cities is design, the majority of cities have been designed around the motor vehicle and they simply do not provide enough space for citizens to easily and safely use their bikes. So, whilst all the talk is about the change to electric vehicles we feel that cities are missing a big trick by still focussing their attention on the motor vehicle.

Forward thinking cities should be starting to speak to citizens about their cycling habits and trying to understand what they can do to persuade them out of their car or off public transport and onto their bikes. Cities could start by taking a look at what Copenhagen and Amsterdam have done to encourage bike use, but a change in mindset in city hall will also be needed to make cities more bike friendly.

When designing new areas or re-developing old ones city administrations should be putting in place policies that encourage the use of bikes as much as they possibly can – one simple policy in many cities would be to provide safe areas for people to store them when they are not being used. Another idea would be to insist that employees provide areas for employees to leave their bikes whilst at work. These are both simple policies, but will start the process and hopefully start to change the mindset of citizens so that they start thinking about cycling as an important part of their travel plans.

The main focus though should be on safety and prioritising the use of bikes over the use of cars at all times, creating no go zones for cars would be a great starting point. If you make it impossible to travel through an area by car then people will think twice about how they are getting from A to B. This should encourage citizens to alter their behaviour as they realise they can move around the city a lot quicker by bike than they can via car or bus.

Another idea could be to fit sensors to the bikes of citizens that are already using their bikes, the sensor would record the journeys that the cyclists make and this data could then be used to prioritise new cycle routes around the city. This could then go one step further and you could create new routes that are 100% designed for cyclists and where the motor vehicle is not permitted.

There will always be those that do not like change and for these it may take a while to convince them to change, but if you start with design and make it easy for people to cycle then over time the need for vehicles of any type will decrease dramatically.