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Urban Biking

Improving Urban Transportation Through Bicycling


Bicycles in Amsterdam

Bikes are chained to a fence along a canal on May 11, 2009 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. The 750,000 people who live in Amsterdam own over 600,000 bicycles.

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Bicycling has emerged as an increasingly popular form of transportation in many major cities across the world. Every day, people get on their bikes to get exercise, commute to work, or go on a leisurely ride with a friend.

Bike share programs, such as Paris' "Vélib" program, where people can pick up a bike at one station and drop it off at another for a fee, are one of the best indicators of rising urban biking. Vélib includes close to 20,000 bicycles, with 1,200 bicycle stations across Paris; it is the second-largest bike share program in the world, following Hangzhou, China, with its 61,000-bicycle system. The success of Vélib has inspired many cities to follow suit. Below is an overview of the reasons for public interest in biking, and the ways that cities may integrate biking into the urban transportation network.

Why Bikes?

From an environmental perspective, biking is one of the most eco-friendly modes of transportation available. Many environmentally conscious city planners and citizens are looking to encourage bicycles in cities in place of cars in suburbs. Alternate forms of transportation like public transit, walking, and bicycling curb gas dependency and carbon-emissions associated with suburban sprawl and major highway systems.

Not only are environmentally conscious citizens attracted to biking in cities, many cities want to integrate bikes in order to attract this dynamic population to bolster their economy. Young, educated people who make up what Richard Florida calls the "creative class" boost the economy of a city; and often want to reside in livable cities that allow for easy access to amenities, culture, and different forms of transportation.

Public health advocates also favor biking; in countries like the United States, a shift from sedentary to active travel can significantly affect obesity and related health problems. In addition, as one of the cheapest forms of transportation, biking is accessible to a wide range of people. Studies indicate that the most successful biking cities are those in which a diverse range of people utilizes bikes and bike infrastructure. The proportion of women that bike in a city is also one of the best indicators of success; in cities that are not as bike-friendly, cyclists are largely young males, while there are more women who ride in bike-able cities. In Germany, 12 percent of all trips are made by bike, and 49 percent of all riders are women; in the Netherlands, 27 percent of all trips are made by bike, and 55 percent of riders are women.

Major Bike-Friendly Cities

European countries are best known for bike-friendly cities, but bike-ability has spread to many other cities around the world. Amsterdam is one of the most renowned biking cities, in which over half of all trips in the center city are made by bike. Amsterdam has a comprehensive network of segregated bike lanes, bike traffic signals/laws, and bike-only streets, so that cyclists can ride safely and separately from car and pedestrian traffic. Copenhagan, Berlin, Rome, and Paris are some of the other European cities where biking is popular. London also has recently expanded bike transportation. In 2010 construction began on a network of 10 bike superhighways, among other similar designated bike lanes; with moves such as these, the amount of bike trips has increased dramatically in the last decade.

Bogota, Colombia is one of the most bike-able Latin American cities, in which one out of seven inhabitants use the ciclovia, or bikeway. Bogota also holds car-free Sundays, in which cyclists occupy the city's major roads. In the United States, Minneapolis, Minnesota boasts a 5.5 mile-long Greenway along a former railroad track, in which cyclists can ride through the city in paths separate from auto traffic. This, along with miles of on street lanes and off street have led many to name Minneapolis the most bike-friendly American city.

How to Integrate Bikes

Bike-friendly infrastructure is key to integrating bikes into city life. City planners can design with bikes in mind, or re-work car-centric infrastructure to be able to incorporate bikes. Dedicated bike lanes/paths, available and safe bike storage, clear traffic signals, and public transit that support bikes all encourage city-dwellers to begin biking. Smart biking areas are key to safe riding, and people are more likely to use bikes when they feel safe. Studies have shown that bike paths that are protected from cars and trucks are the most safe; one's risk of injury drops dramatically if riding in a dedicated or protected bike lane.

To encourage safety, schools in the Netherlands begin bike education early, emphasizing not only bike safety but also driving awareness, so that drivers are more aware of bikers and pedestrians. Early bike education is also a way to encourage a positive attitude towards biking and cyclists from a young age. In addition to infrastructure and policy, cultural attitudes must favor biking in order for the public to embrace a different mode of transportation.


Baker, L. (2009). Shifting Gears. Scientific American, 301(4), 28-29.

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