Are cycling cities fragile?

A few recent stories remind me how fragile a cycling city eco-system can be.

In London, concern with the new Mayor’s stalled projects and slow progress is palpable.  In Sydney rider numbers are in decline against a backdrop of heavy-handed policing and fines.  Even in Denmark – one of the world’s great bike riding nations – there’s a steady national downward trend in the number of trips by bicycle.

Sometimes transport isn’t planned, it just happens – despite the best intentions of urbanists and policy makers.  After a decade of decline in the number of cars in central London numbers are creeping up again, attributed to the rise of online shopping and the vehicles needed to deliver it all.  In New York, Uber and other ride sharing services are blamed with eating away at transit ridership levels and a rise in car trips there.

I recently took part in a presentation at Amsterdam’s Pakhuis de Zwijger examining how European cities are tending to their cyclists.  It was a great discussion, with particularly fascinating insight from Meredith Glaser at the Urban Cycling Institute (you know, the other UCI!)

While I discussed the campaign strategies and media tactics we employed in London to achieve change, Meredith explored Amsterdam’s apparent lack of awareness as to how it became such a special cycling city and why – too often – cycle planning and policy is bogged down in soundbites and assumptions.

Bike City #11 from Pakhuis de Zwijger on Vimeo. Meredith is on first, and my contribution begins at 34:16.

That event, and the stories from other cities highlighted above, has had me thinking more and more about cycling’s fragile status.

It’s increasingly obvious to me that not only must we take great care of transport policy – especially active transport – but that successful city cycling eco-systems require complementary pressures;

  • pressure from below, in the shape of community action and activism;
  • pressure from above, from politicians and policy makers prepared to make a commitment to cycling, and;
  • professional pressure; from engineers, urban designers and architects who have the knowledge and skills to shape our cities to serve people first.

Even in places traditionally regarded as cycling cities – even in Amsterdam – that’s a challenge.

What do you think? Are cycling cities fragile?  Share your thoughts on the Strategic Cities Facebook page..

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