I’ve been thinking a lot about cycling lately. Vancouver just hosted the world’s premier bike conference, Velo-City, so cycling issues have been dominating the news and my twitter feed.
On Thursday night I went to a talk by Mikael Colville-Andersen, the man behind the Copenhagenize blog. It was a fascinating look into what cities can do to bring cycling into the mainstream. Mikael’s goal is to make cycling as common as vacuuming – you don’t need special training to vacuum, there are no “avid vacuumists”, and you don’t go to Vacuum Equipment Co-op to buy special gear – it’s just something you do. In Copenhagen, people don’t self-identify as cyclists and only a small percentage of people who bike do so for financial or environmental reasons. Most people do it because it’s the most convenient way to get from A to B.
After listening to Mikael and reading the reports coming out of Velo-City 2012, I realized Vancouver has a long way to go before it achieves the cycling mode-share seen in Copenhagen (37% compared to 5% in Vancouver). Here’s my list of things that need to change before cycling goes mainstream.
- Introducing a public bike share system.
- Scrapping the mandatory helmet law.
- Building a connected grid of separated bike lanes.
- Calming automobile traffic.
Progress is being made on all these fronts, but it’s moving at a glacial pace. The bike share system has been announced, but delayed by a year while they figure out how to work helmets into the system. Opposition to helmet law is mounting, but politicians are reluctant to speak out against a law that still has popular support outside of cycling circles. Vision Vancouver took a lot of flack for the new separated bike lanes they built downtown, but they were rewarded with an increased majority on city council. Hopefully they take this as a sign to keep building new separated lanes.
As for traffic calming, Vancouver has been on a road diet for decades, and vehicle volumes have been steadily dropping over the past two decades – they’re now at the same levels they were in 1965. The next step is to reduce the speeds that cars move at. According to Colville-Andersen, Barcelona is adding 30 km/h zones across the city, and 80% of all streets will have lower speed limits by 2015. Why? Because fast cars kill. If you get hit by a car going 30 km/h you have a 95% chance of surviving, but at 50 km/h it’s 55% and at 65 km/h it’s only 15%.
Hopefully the City of Vancouver, Mayor Gregor Robertson, and Vision Vancouver respond to Velo-City 2012 Conference by increasing the pace of cycling improvements.