14 Jul 2011: Opinion

On Biking, Why Can’t the U.S.
Learn Lessons from Europe?

Building bike paths alone will not get people out of their cars in the U.S. and onto bicycles. To create a thriving bike culture in America’s cities, people must begin to view bicycling as Europeans do — not just as a way of exercising, but as a serious form of urban mass transportation.

by elisabeth rosenthal

This spring, curiosity propelled me onto a New York City subway bound for Prospect Park West in Brooklyn, where a new bike path along the edge of Brooklyn’s largest park had angry residents worked up into a lather.

For those not familiar with the territory, Park Slope is one of New York City’s most prosperous and progressive neighborhoods, home to the famed Park Slope Food Cooperative and liberal U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. And yet... the creation of a simple green bike path — the kind that edges dozens of streets in Barcelona or Paris or Copenhagen — at the expense of one lane of car traffic and a few parking spaces evinced the kind of venom normally reserved here for The Tea Party.

I expected to find a diversity of opinion about the bike path, which was created last year by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. I did not. Almost everyone
In Copenhagen, 37 percent of commuters now use bikes to get to school or work.
I interviewed began with the following introduction: “Don’t get me wrong I love bikes, I ride all the time...” and then segued into a barrage of objections: The path was a hazard for old people and mothers with baby strollers crossing to enter the park. Riders pedaled too fast. They should just ride inside the park. The loss of a lane made parking worse and traffic slower. It made it harder to stop to drop kids at school. It was unsightly.

Wow.

I had spent much time over the last five years in Europe, where cyclists and bike lanes have become part of nearly every urban streetscape. If you are a European mayor, running a good bike-sharing program seems as much a barometer of success as having a good school system.

In Copenhagen, 37 percent of commuters now use bikes to get to school or work — a number that dips only slightly in the dead of winter. Sure, cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen have something of a bicycling tradition — certainly far more of one than in car-centric U.S. cities. But Europe’s bicycling enthusiasm extends to cities like Barcelona and Paris, with no cycling history. Even Rome has a bike-sharing program, though that city is supremely unsuited to travel on two wheels: Its roads are too narrow, its drivers mad, and its streets are paved with a kind of cobblestone that makes every meter a jarring experience.

Bicycles in Denmark
Eco Images
Bicycles parked in a Copenhagen square.
In comparison to these cities, major United States metropolises are bicycle deserts. When we talk about “bike friendly” cities in the United States, most are mere college towns and none boast more than 6 per cent bike commuters. According to the United States Census Bureau’s 2009 community survey, 76 percent of Americans drive to work alone in their cars each day, while only 0.6 percent arrive by bicycle.

What’s going on here? One key component that has enabled Europe’s successful bike revolution, I think, is not infrastructure, but sociology: While Americans still view bicycling as a form of exercise or recreation, a tectonic shift in attitudes has taken place in many parts of Europe, where people now regard bicycling as a serious form of urban mass transportation.

Last month, The Atlantic did an interesting survey of the top bike commuting towns in the U.S. They are Eugene, Oregon (5.6 percent of people commute by bike), Fort Collins, Colorado (5.2 percent), Missoula, Montana (4.8 percent), Boulder, Colorado (4.77 percent), and Santa Barbara, California (3.74 percent). The pictures that accompanied the survey were telling: bike riders with surfboards, riders with backpacks, and even riders traversing an empty forest. Students. Students. Students. A good portion of the bikes have drop handlebars, and many of the riders are wearing racing gear.

Now look at photos of bike riders in Paris or Copenhagen or Barcelona or Marseilles. They are men and women of all ages, in suits and dresses, fur coats and heels. They are riding sensible bikes. These are not sporting
There is more to making a city bike friendly than creating pathways – part of that is changing attitudes.
types, but a typical cross section of Europe’s working population, people going to the office on the vehicle that works well in their city.

There is more to making a city bike friendly than creating pathways, and part of that is changing attitudes: “In New York, there are lots of bike lanes, but not too many people on bicycles, so cars still think they own the road,” said Peder Jensen, head of the transport section at the European Environment Agency.

For the last several years, sociologists at Lancaster University have been studying the factors that keep people off two wheels in Britain, where biking has been relatively slow to catch on compared to other European countries, despite large government investment. Their diagnosis is similar: “Many people barely recognize the bicycle as a legitimate mode of transport; it is either a toy for children or a vehicle fit only for the poor and/or strange,” wrote Dave Horton, lead researcher of the Understanding Walking and Cycling study.

That also helps explain why bicycle commuting is expanding only slowly in U.S. cities — 3.0 percent of commuters in San Francisco and 2.2 percent in Philadelphia and Washington D.C, according to United States Census Bureau 2009 data.

In New York it remains at 0.6 percent. Mayor Bloomberg has built us New Yorkers some really nice state-of-the art bike paths, but rank-and-file commuters aren’t much using them. Even at rush hour, the new bike path
New York has some state-of-the-art bike paths, but commuters aren’t using them much.
on Columbus Avenue near my home is a sparsely populated chute predominantly used by 20-somethings, bike messengers, and restaurant deliverymen.

Until we start thinking of bikes as essential transportation and not just a hobby, all the small changes that will allow working people to commute along those beautiful bike paths won’t happen.

Take me as an example: On paper, I should be riding to work. I live just blocks from a bike path along the Hudson River which would let me off at West 42nd Street, just blocks from my office.

But my apartment building sequesters bikes on high wall hooks in a basement storage room. That may be fine for a weekend ride in Central Park, but not readily accessible for daily use in work dress. On the bike path, many riders travel hunched over handlebars at death defying speeds. Could I ride here to the office — upright, slowly, and sweat-less? And then where would I park my “vehicle” once I got to work? There is nowhere convenient. So instead I take the subway.

The 2010 interim report of the Understanding Walking and Cycling study noted that “Walking and cycling are often thought of as simple forms of travel which require little equipment or planning. In fact this is not the case.” In truly bike friendly cities, the needs of bicycle commuters are taken seriously: The terminal stations in Bogota’s bus rapid transit lines have plentiful indoor bicycle parking. In Copenhagen, the European Environment Agency has 150 parking spots for bikes.

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Bogota’s former mayor, Enrique Penalosa, once told me that when he unveiled that city’s new Bus Rapid Transit System one of the biggest challenges was to “rebrand” bus travel so that upper middle class people would use it. When Zurich wanted to encourage more people to ride bikes to work, its ad campaign pictured a banker in a 3-piece suit with a bicycle clip affixed to his trouser leg.

But to follow this model, bike paths must be tailored to suit commuters, not hot shots. On Copenhagen’s bike highways into the city, lights are synchronized at about 12 miles per hour. On Beijing’s bike lanes the hordes of bike riders travel — fender to fender — at an even slower pace. If bicycling was rebranded and refocused as essential mass transportation, I think some of the objections I heard from the residents of Park Slope this spring would disappear as well. They wanted bicyclists to ride inside the park because they viewed them as sportsman who want to ride fast. Middle-aged professionals on clunky bikes don’t mow down the elderly or babies in strollers.

POSTED ON 14 Jul 2011 IN Climate Oceans Urbanization Europe 

COMMENTS


You are missing one very important piece of information. About 30 yards away, running parallel to the new bike path, is a loop in Prospect Park...it runs parallel....why is it a hardship to simply enter the park, all of 10 seconds away, and ride down a much wider, more pleasant berth? If that did not exist, I couldn't complain. But given that it's there, I cannot see a justification for the bike lane. A big, wide, car-free lane exists. it's a bike lane and then some...it's the width of about 15 or 20 of them.

Posted by jr on 14 Jul 2011


Great article except for your characterization of the Prospect Park West bike lane. From reading your article you would think everyone hates the bicycle lane - The local community board asked for it, DOT worked with the CB to plan the lane, and surveys have shown that Brooklynites support it. And it really misses the point to describe the whole project as a bicycle lane, as it is more about a 'complete streets' renovation. Pre- and post-implementation data from this project, and other similar projects here in NYC, show a reduction in injuries for all users - Cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers.

And regarding the other comment about the lane in the park itself - That is one-way, which obviously limits travel. And saying cyclists should just use the park is like saying drivers should just switch over to one of the streets paralleling PPW...

This is about creating safe streets that provide travel options and encourage active living. We need more of this throughout the city!

Posted by KCS on 14 Jul 2011


jr- The road in Prospect Park runs in a single direction, not two-way, at all times and cars are allowed to use the two car lanes at the busiest points in the day (7-9AM and 5-7PM), leaving about 6 feet for walkers, runners, rollerbladers and cyclists to share.

Drivers still have two moving lanes AND two parking lanes on PPW AND access to drive through the park. Get over it.

Posted by ar on 14 Jul 2011


Perhaps, but does the loop connect to city streets and allow people to commute? I think the author's point is that it's not about recreation, it's about commuting--or, it should be.

Posted by sw on 14 Jul 2011


The fundamental driver for greater bike use will be the rising cost of motorized transport -whether that is the capital cost of the vehicle, the price of gas and maintenance or the cost of public transit. Gas prices in the U.S. are low enough that the economic incentive to consider making the switch to a bike culture. Gas prices in Europe are high as is the cost/convenience of moving around the downtown.

Once riding bikes reaches an price crossover point for the majority of commuters, the result will be more and better infrastructure and a change in attitude that will make biking to work something for the general population and not just the strange, the young or the poor.

Moreover, this will drive a broader change in the structure of our cities - transport routes and density.

Posted by Ron Zukowsky on 14 Jul 2011


You should try riding to work! I ride down the Hudson greenway everyday and I love it. I admit there are a number of Lycra clad hot shots, but there are a good number of others riding at a leisurely pace as well (I'm in the second category). The route is flat and stunningly scenic, and offices are actually required now to provide indoor space for bike parking. My building has a bike rack in an underground garage (that most people don't know about) and i never have to worry about my bike not being there when I show up. I look forward to my commute every day! There are hairy moments, to be sure, but it's actually quite friendly out there.

Posted by Alex on 14 Jul 2011


Don't forget about the West Coast! Portland and Seattle - cities of REAL size compared to those mentioned here from the Atlantic article have lots of regular bike commuters folks in regular clothes headed to work. Our % may not be as high as smaller sporty cities, but there is a serious and growing bike commuter community here. Just cuz it isn't happening in NYC doesn't mean it isn't happening! San Francisco isn't the only city on the west coast!

Posted by C Lee on 14 Jul 2011


Let's not forget that there are more cities on the West Coast than San Francisco (which with it's ridiculous hills isn't exactly bike-friendly anyway)...that ALL of these European cities mentioned were built BEFORE the age of cars. Many places are walking distance or have trains and buses that are far more established, and amenities closer together. Even in Portland, OR (a VERY bike friendly city), if you live beyond the city limits, biking to work is not really an option unless you are willing to ride 50 miles a day. American cities are much more spread out. But that still doesn't explain what New York's problem is....

Posted by Tina on 14 Jul 2011


In LA the Metro subway and bus system is super bike friendly; but when you get to your destination - supermarket, bank, etc. - there is rarely a safe, secure place to park your bike. We need a major bike rack campaign to get private and public places to install good bike racks or even bike lockers. LA's weather is great for bikes year round so the more we can do here to encourage biking to work the better.

Posted by Chip Croft on 14 Jul 2011


In Toronto the reactionary mayor just pushed through a move to REMOVE a bike lane this week. Sadness.

Posted by Krupo on 14 Jul 2011


Just exactly who did you interview? It doesn't sound like a representative sample. Surveys, as well as the opinion of the community board, have shown overwhelming support for the bike lane.

It sounds like you just picked a few grumpy neighbors to interview. Maybe some of the people who are suing the city to remove the lane?

Posted by Ivan on 15 Jul 2011


CLee -- the hills in SF are not that ridiculous, especially with the bike routes around them. My 20
mile commute from north of the city is pretty sweet too. Golden Gate Bridge every day? Fuggeddaboutit!

Posted by JimS on 15 Jul 2011


Dr Dave Horton presented his interim findings at the Building Cycling Cultures Conference here in Leicester - One of the cities studied in Understanding Walking & Cycling Research Project - Jon Orcutt of D.O.T and Karen Overton of Recycle-a-bicycle (New York) also represented. Leicester is a provincial UK city (450k population) and has seen 130% growth rate in cycling since 2006 - daily numbers are now approx 12,000 riders. Like New York & London the increases are significant and demonstrate possibility of maybe tripling existing cycling numbers of people 'receptive' to short-term holistic pro-cycling initiatives.

The challenge for UK cites - and maybe most US cities - is to tackle the 'unresponsive' mainstream and facilitate cultures of 'inclusive', 'diverse' and 'family-friendly' cycling. The next Building Cycling Cultures Conference takes place in Leicester 9/10 June 2012 - Contributions welcome.

Posted by Andy Salkeld on 15 Jul 2011


One thing about Europe that helps: they have very high gas prices (compared to those in the U.S.), and much of that difference is a tax! Imagine!

Once gas prices in the U.S. get to a level corresponding to what they are in Europe, then we'll see a big increase in the cycling rate, and with it a change in attitudes and culture.

Posted by StephenB on 15 Jul 2011


The similarities between biking in Europe and the US are so few that they make the comparison moot. If there is any lesson to be learned from Europe it is to severely tax and regulate automobile transportation, and move the working population to within 3 miles of their job. Then you would achieve a high rate of slow moving bicycle commuters. I look forward to reading your article on how to convince the oil industry, auto manufacturers and American public to abandon their love of the automobile. I know I’m not giving mine up, I need it to transport my bikes.

Posted by Dave Holland on 15 Jul 2011


Regarding parking your bike at home and at work, you might be interested in a study we did at UC Berkeley last year on Bicycle-Oriented Design. You can find it here:

http://safetrec.berkeley.edu/TRB2011/orricktrbpape
r3543.pdf
Posted by phyllis orrick on 16 Jul 2011


In posts on my own blog, this attitudinal shift was exactly what I stress. You don't need the costume, the helmet or the super-expensive fixie bike to call yourself a cyclist. If more people just walked out their house and jumped on a cycle to go to the store, just as they might walk there, cycling would be seen as "normal", not something only super-fit (mostly) men in alien outfits do.

And of course, it does not help that even a paper like the NY Times depicts cycling in the same vein, rarely about people just doing everyday tasks.

Posted by c murthi on 16 Jul 2011


Here in St. Louis, we have few bike paths. And most serious cyclists aren't asking for more of them. Sure, the weekend "go out for a ride" people love them, but they don't work for transportation, nor for faster riders. Fortunately, state law specifies that bicycles are vehicles, with all the same rights and duties as automobiles. I use pedal power to go to the bank, the post office, the grocery store, and on many other errands. And when I do, I use the streets.

Posted by Nick Kasoff on 16 Jul 2011


Success of things like https://twitter.com/search#flightvsbike suggests people grow warmer to this change IF, along with convenient comfortable cycling, THE CHANGE ITSELF IS FUN.

It's possible that it can only be big fun if big money gets involved, which might mean fossil-fuel money (such as the marketing $ from jet blue that that impromptu bike/train/plain race piggybacked)...

Which might mean fun only fossil fuel fans like...

Which might mean no change...

well anyway.

Posted by hapa on 16 Jul 2011


Wow you mention Charles Schumer but don't mention he is behind the anti bike lane agenda in Park Slope!
Posted by macjohnson on 16 Jul 2011


I biked to work for years in Germany and in Colorado. Now retired, I find myself afraid to ride in most places in the U.S. So many drivers texting or talking on cell phones, others driving home from 2nd or 3rd jobs, half asleep at the wheel. It's just too dangerous for bikers on our city streets.

Posted by David Bacon on 17 Jul 2011


I am european and use the bike a lot for work (when i hve a work) and nearly everything
(including carrying quite heavy loads).

- First i think that teh article gives a kind of dual picture of cycling: sporty and nasty vs nice, wise sound and slow. I understand the rethoric and propaganda, but i personnaly think this is wrong. If you look the bikes in copenhagen, you will see that many of them are racing bikes.

If you are upper class, you live close to your job in europe, than that is fine with a normal bike, like a dutch bike. Besides you can get it fixed by somebody else even if it has fancy protection against mud and oil. If you are middle class going down the social ladder like many people taking to bikes (including me), you need a fast bike that can be readily fixed (breaks, gear and tires) like a race or hybrid bike becuase you live far in the suburbs and need to go fast. This is why you need nice clear dedicated bike lane where mother with babys wont walk because they are walking on the pedestrian lane (they usually do not walk in the middle of the road unless they are pop stars having problem with alcohol). Moreover in hilly towns, the suburbs are up hill and nobody will commute up hill with a heavy ducth bike.

Biking is the most serious means of transportation since it is 80 times more efficient than cars in term of energy and nearly as fast in packed city. So if people where not joking about climate change and oil we would be at a much more advanced stage.

So nothing wron with being a hot shot, many people in copenhagen have winter bike clothes and can bike in incredibly tough conditions without any pain.

- The question is why it does not happen... well because this is a political joke. Everybody know, especially country producing cars, that biking is an enourmous threat to the modern economy. Just imagine the chinese people actually refusing to buy cars and wanting to keep to their bikes !

Going to bikes implies a strong reduction of the economical growth, much less consumption of metal, oil, plastic, a reduction in jobs. Because riding a bike is utterly cheaper than riding a car, so the consumption would just drop sharply.

Unlike the so called green energies, there is no possible gain for the economy and those who owns the capital in downsizing our needs to bikes. There is only loss. So everything will be done to prevent this change, because money is a strong power (who finance the election in the US).

By the way, Danmark is not a car producer.... look at sweden next door, they are bike lanes but much fewer bike commuters.

Posted by kervennic on 17 Jul 2011


I don't live in Park Slope but I've seen that bike lane, and it is a hazard. The way it is designed is dangerous for pedestrians, particularly the elderly. I appreciate that the writer is trying to make a point, but lumping concerned neighborhood locals in with an anti-bike path movement is not really considering both sides of the conflict. And yes, I'm pro-bike path but I think that one is a danger to pedestrians.
Posted by Maggie da Silva on 18 Jul 2011


Thanks for all the thoughtful comments. I will (again) to ride my bicycle on the Hudson Greenway here in NYC when I return from a reporting trip, next week. As for my straw poll on the Prospect Park West bike path in Brooklyn: I interviewed the people I found walking on Prospect Park West at 6 p.m. on a Wednesday. Admittedly, those are probably the people most immediately and consistently affected by the bike path -- and those most likely to have a NIMBY-esque reaction. But the reaction of that group in my small survey was resoundingly negative. I realize that broader surveys of Brooklyn residents show support for the bike path.

Posted by elisabeth rosenthal on 18 Jul 2011


I've lived in "bike-mad" Portland, Oregon, and in Copenhagen over the past two years, and agree with the sentiments of this article. I've realized that even in Portland, biking was still a hobby, something that you did to leave that "dirty" car at home. In Copenhagen, there are no such thoughts - you don't ride your bike because gas is expensive, or because it is environmentally friendly. You do it because it is convenient, and often faster (and, safe). It's the first option of transportation (yes, a 200% car tax preventing multiple car ownership does play a role, too). It's a complete reversal of attitude, where it's a bike-first mentality. A car is always at fault, even if it is a bike that negligently hits the car. Despite all this, commenters are correct that US and European cities are built completely different - American cities have a lot of land, and they use all of it. Not so nice for bike commuting to work.
Posted by Yusing on 18 Jul 2011


The points about copenhagen should be taken in context: 1) the public transportation system is terrible. 2) the core part of the city is TINY. my 45min subway commute from park slope to midtown would put you in sweden.


Posted by matt. on 18 Jul 2011


Not until we have bicycle lanes that are separated from traffic & are outside the car door zone ( 3 ft width for an open door on a 4-door car plus 12” for one side of bike handlebars, plus 1 ft extra to avoid swerving should a door open- all of which comes to 5-feet clearance needed to be safe from open car doors) will there be a feeling of subjective safety that will bring out the older riders wearing normal street clothes. Expensive gas prices will not do it if people do not feel safe riding in traffic. Check out http://hembrow.blogspot.com/ (A view from the cycle path) an excellent blog written by a British cycling advocate who relocated to The Netherlands - a mecca for bicycling. There is a battle raging on the streets between cars and bicycles. One of the perceptions that must change is that people do not only ride for recreation but commute or do errands on their bikes and need direct routes just as cars have direct routes.
Posted by Rebecca Albrecht on 18 Jul 2011


"On the bike path, many riders travel hunched over handlebars at death defying speeds. Could I ride here to the office — upright, slowly, and sweat-less?"

Not in Portland. I lived in Europe for eight years, and moved to the Portland, OR area when it was time to come back to the USA because it was supposedly bike friendly (among other reasons), and I thought could ride the way I did in Europe - upright, slowly and sweatless. But I was wrong. In Portland, you have to have a top-of-the-line racing bike and you have to ride it FAST. And my girlie bike won't fit on the light rail here - and I'm not strong enough to heft it up on the required bike hook. Bike commuting in the Portland area is only for people who are dressed and can ride for the Tour de France. There can be only one kind of bike commuter in Portland, apparently.

Posted by Jayne Cravens on 19 Jul 2011


Good read but I'd hardly say that Paris does not have any cycling tradition. It being July and all there is a small near 100 year old bicycling event being held. Which just so happens finishes in the middle of Paris in a few days. Some of the other first recorded bicycle races were also held in Paris in the mid 1800s.

I hope to see more bike share programs like the Velib program in Paris pop up in the U.S. But like any transportation system the key in not just in providing the connection but completing what happens at either end. If the route is there but there is no safe parking at either end what use is it?

Posted by CG on 21 Jul 2011


"where people now regard bicycling as a serious form of urban mass transportation."

Bicycling is personal transport as it is done by the individual.

Posted by davidj on 21 Jul 2011


"I realize that broader surveys of Brooklyn residents show support for the bike path."

And yet you omitted that fact from your article.

Why let reality get in the way of a juicy lede?
Posted by Morris Zapp on 21 Jul 2011


I really wish planners would stop this trend of looking to Europe for all the answers. Ever since I started grad school I have heard the incessant whine of "Why are Americans not as [insert positive adjective here] as Europeans?" I agree with you that bicycle transit is healthier, less wearing on infrastructure, and more environmentally sound. But I would prefer if you'd take this lack of community buy-in as a challenge: create a bicycle-friendly transit landscape that works well within the community's structure, aesthetic, and lifestyle. Get creative, and don't simply plop down an IKEA one-size-fits-all bicycle path just because it's popular in Europe.

If you think there's a problem with bicycle transit acceptance, then do something about it - and
make the planners of Copenhagen write an article on how the Danish should think of bike paths the way New Yorkers do.

Posted by Derelict on 25 Jul 2011


If you took 5 minutes to research the Prospect Park West bike lane you would know that issue has been divisive. However, at every turn there has been more support FOR the bike lane than against it. Maybe you should talk to more people than Marty Markowitz and Chuck Schumer.

Posted by ChesterDarlingtonIII on 25 Jul 2011


Upright, sweat-free cycling is possible almost anywhere once you get the hang of it... I bike to work, and lots of other places, in a skirt and heels, in Atlanta. But that's beside the point. Honestly, there is a lot of emphasis put on commute mode share because we are so concerned about rush hour congestion. But the commute is the longest trip most people make on a regular basis. I think a smarter approach is to make sure we are accommodating all the trips under 3 miles, which are going to the store, to dinner, to school, to the train station, to the gym, etc. That means local connectivity, bicycle parking at activity nodes, routes designed for destinations rather than recreation. This is a more likely start for bicycle transport than the 20 mile commute. Also, like it or not, this may be the key to attracting women to bicycles - we still bear more responsibilities for household and child care, which makes those connections to the school and the store even more important.

Posted by step-through on 26 Jul 2011


Another article prising Copenhagen without considering that in Denmark when you buy a car you need to pay a tax of 180% of the value of car!!! Apply that in U.S., U.K. or wherever you like and you will soon see roads populated with bicycles.

Posted by Simon on 27 Jul 2011


What a great article! I love the European idea of city planning favoring the pedestrian and the biker. I currently work for an environmental magazine founded by a Yale alum entitled Izilwane, and have been writing blog posts about my experiences during my summer in Switzerland about this very topic. Please check it out here: http://blog.izilwane.org/category/fieldnotes/

Posted by Altaire Cambata on 01 Aug 2011


In many US cities the weather is the key issue why one cannot ride a bike like in Denmark !! Central-Europe has a far milder climate .. hardly any snow in Denmark. Try cycling in Dallas or Tampa or Atlanta in the F%$# heat !! Not doable !! Or NY or Philadelphia or Boston in the winter .. very harsh/cold !!

Posted by Thomas Beyer on 03 Aug 2011


I am guessing the author has not been to Portland, OR recently. Go read Joyride by Mia Birk which details how, as bike coordinator for the city, she helped transform it into a European style biking city. Thousands of people bike to work every day in this rainy place. If Portland can do it, any city can.

Posted by Russell on 10 Aug 2011


Once I tried cycling to work, about 8 miles away, while living in in the U.S., which was highly inconvenient as well as highly dangerous. Now when I use my bike in Europe, which is 70 per cent of the time, I ride paths that are hi-tech, that takes me through wonderful scenery and fresh air, through nature. It makes you happier and healthier. You can also lock up your bike at train stations for a euro or two for the day. America wasn't designed for this sort thing and it will cost a lot to redo it. What also has to be re-done is the American mentality. Americans are egocentric oriented while Europeans are socio-centric oriented.

Posted by R James on 13 Aug 2011


I agree, but your argument doesn't go far enough. Bike transportation should be looked at and pitched to cities as a way to stimulate the local economy. One study showed that if you reduce car ownership in a city by 15,000 cars, it would keep an estimated $127 million in the local economy, annually. All that spending on cars goes out of the local economy. Taking cars out of the economy directs that spending locally.

Posted by Neal Gorenflo on 19 Aug 2011


Yeah, the extremely flat, broad, old, no-subway, canal laden city of Amsterdam is exactly like the hilly, dense, subway laden city of NYC.




Posted by Andy McGill on 08 Oct 2011


Please stop with the comparison to european cities. They are smaller, richer, more homogenous, and with radically different settlement patterns. Also, most Europeans don't even bike. It's a silly, naive position to take, and Eurocentric.

Why not pry into some of the massive bicycle initiatives underway in American cities like Rio,
Mexico City, Buenos Aires, and Los Angeles, in addition to NYC. That would be a more more
revelatory comparison.

The lack of rigor in this analysis is lame.

Posted by faslanyc on 09 Feb 2012


I live in South Florida, and I bike and bus to work and bike to do everything else, i.e.: visit parks, get my hair cut, even shop for groceries. I am 6'3" and about 270 lbs, so I sweat and I ride in my work clothes, but once I get to work, I freshen up, and no one would ever really know that I rode my bicycle to work. It can be done.

I must admit, though, that it gets lonely out here because I'm usually the only one in my neighborhood who bicycles with traffic. Many Americans do want to ride their bicycles for more than recreation, but they are absolutely terrified by the idea of riding in traffic. Though riding in traffic and commanding the lane has shown to be much safer than riding on the sidewalk and even in bike lanes, it still does not speak to the way people "feel" when they ride in traffic.

I am not a proponent of bike lanes, necessarily because they become problematic for short trips that includes a lot of turns and lane changes, but, at the very least, they help to create a sense of safety for those transitioning from bicycle riding to street riding, but here in goofy Florida, it is state law that streets with bike lanes MUST be used by cyclists. Thankfully, though, it is often not enforced.

What we need is to educate people, implement road diets where side walks are widened and driving surfaces are lessened, and stop building highways. Studies have found that building highways increases car usage, which -- in turn -- makes things more dangerous for pedestrians
and bicyclists.

Posted by Roger G. Williams on 14 Mar 2012


Comments have been closed on this feature.
elisabeth rosenthalABOUT THE AUTHOR
Elisabeth Rosenthal has covered international environmental issues for the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune. She previously was a correspondent in the Times’ Beijing bureau for six years. In earlier articles for Yale Environment 360, she wrote about society’s addiction to flying and about why Europeans tend to have greener lifestyles than Americans.
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U.S. High-Speed Rail: Time to
Hop Aboard or Be Left Behind

In recent months, several conservative governors have rejected federal funds to begin constructing high-speed rail lines in their states. But a high-speed rail advocate argues that such ideologically driven actions are folly, as other U.S. states and countries around the world are moving swiftly to embrace a technology that is essential for competitive 21st-century economies.
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Green Roofs are Starting
To Sprout in American Cities

Long a proven technology in Europe, green roofs are becoming increasingly common in U.S. cities, with major initiatives in Chicago, Portland, and Washington, D.C. While initially more expensive than standard coverings, green roofs offer some major environmental — and economic — benefits.
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MORE IN Opinion


Animal ‘Personhood’: Muddled
Alternative to Real Protection

by verlyn klinkenborg
A new strategy of granting animals “personhood” under the law is being advanced by some in academia and the animal rights movement. But this approach fails to address the fundamental truth that all species have an equal right to their own existence.
READ MORE

A Year After Sandy, The Wrong
Policy on Rebuilding the Coast

by rob young
One year after Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of the U.S. East Coast, the government is spending billions to replenish beaches that will only be swallowed again by rising seas and future storms. It’s time to develop coastal policies that take into account new climate realities.
READ MORE

Why Pushing Alternate Fuels
Makes for Bad Public Policy

by john decicco
Every U.S. president since Ronald Reagan has backed programs to develop alternative transportation fuels. But there are better ways to foster energy independence and reduce greenhouse gas emissions than using subsidies and mandates to promote politically favored fuels.
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Should Wolves Stay Protected
Under Endangered Species Act?

by ted williams
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has stirred controversy with its proposal to remove endangered species protection for wolves, noting the animals’ strong comeback in the northern Rockies and the Midwest. It’s the latest in the long, contentious saga of wolf recovery in the U.S.
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No Refuge: Tons of Trash Covers
The Remote Shores of Alaska

by carl safina
A marine biologist traveled to southwestern Alaska in search of ocean trash that had washed up along a magnificent coast rich in fish, birds, and other wildlife. He and his colleagues found plenty of trash – as much as a ton of garbage per mile on some beaches.
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Our Overcrowded Planet:
A Failure of Family Planning

by robert engelman
New UN projections forecast that world population will hit nearly 11 billion people by 2100, an unsettling prospect that reflects a collective failure to provide women around the world with safe, effective ways to avoid pregnancies they don't intend or want.
READ MORE

As Extreme Weather Increases,
Bangladesh Braces for the Worst

by brian fagan
Scientists are predicting that warming conditions will bring more frequent and more intense extreme weather events. Their warnings hit home in densely populated Bangladesh, which historically has been hit by devastating sea surges and cyclones.
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As Final U.S. Decision Nears,
A Lively Debate on GM Salmon

In an online debate for Yale Environment 360, Elliot Entis, whose company has created a genetically modified salmon that may soon be for sale in the U.S., discusses the environmental and health impacts of this controversial technology with author Paul Greenberg, a critic of GM fish.
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Should Polluting Nations Be
Liable for Climate Damages?

by fred pearce
An international agreement to study how to redress developing nations for damages from climate change illustrates how ineffective climate diplomacy has been over the last two decades. But this move may pave the way for future court suits against polluting countries and companies.
READ MORE

Hurricane Sandy Relief Bill
Fails to Face Coastal Realities

by rob young
As part of the sorely-needed aid package to help victims of Hurricane Sandy, Congress is also considering spending billions on ill-advised and environmentally damaging beach and coastal rebuilding projects that ignore the looming threats of rising seas and intensifying storms.
READ MORE


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