Friday, June 29, 2012

Sydney's Separate Bike Lanes are Working

New research on cycling habits is in from Sydney, and it turns out that city dwellers are less likely to start biking if they're afraid a lumbering SUV might crush their back tire or that errant car doors will send them over their handlebars. Who knew?

The Australian city is in the process of implementing its 2030 blueprint for a greener city, and it's building a hell of a lot of bike lanes. As in 125 miles worth. City government is also spearheading a program to increase ridership amongst its citizens—it wants 10% of the metropolis biking by 2030. And its research on ridership reveals that there's a magic ingredient to success: separate bike lanes.

According to the Guardian, the lanes
have been successful in persuading previous non-cyclists to get out on their bikes. Research done by the council has shown that the likelihood of a resident commuting by bike increases exponentially with the proportion of their commuting trip made possible on a separated bike lane.
The city is now in the process of building 55 kilometers of them. Sydney also introduced a raft of other measures, including "decreased speed limits and extensive junction redesigns which give cyclists priority and improve visibility." There are also safe cycling courses, bike maps, and free bike bells. The result? Less accidents all around—and here's the kicker: "All these measures have combined to produce rapid growth in cycling over two years, with numbers up by an average of 82% across all areas of the city."

82%? That's almost doubling ridership. That's insane.

This, ladies and gentleman, is how you get people interested in bikes—safe infrastructure and concerted efforts to put cyclists first. They're after all, the vulnerable ones, exposed on small aluminum frames in dense, high-traffic roadways.
I know there's controversy around separated bike lanes—they're expensive, and it'd be preferable if we could "accomplish the same thing just by squashing this ridiculous notion that cyclists are somehow “second class” road users." But the fact is, they work. My friends who don't bike in New York almost always cite safety reasons. I don't blame them—I've nearly been clipped by swerving sedans plenty of times. To get the average citizen interested in biking, it has to seem like a safe, easy proposition.

Good thing then, that the investment pays off in dividends: decreased congestion, a happier, healthier public, and fewer accidents. Me, I'm not so concerned about the "Us vs Them" mentality some fear separated lanes may seed between cyclists and motorists—we should simply be striving to get more people biking. So let's build some lanes—and they will.


  1. Isn't this essentially how Amersterdam did it: by making cycling radically safer?

    1. It is more of a mix of measures that made cycling safer; we got the infrastructure and a change of mind-set. And most important: policy-makers were on the side of the pedestrians and cyclists. And it shouldn't be "Us vs Them". When it comes down to it, we're all pedestrians who just happen to travel by various ways. The main thing is, that everybody has the right to get from A to B without mishap. And the more people travel the smart and efficient way, the better.

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