How and Why Cities Are Catering To Bicyclists

Cities are building bicycle-friendly infrastructure and also experimenting with new technologies to make cycling and alternative transit more appealing


What Happened?

A growing number of cities across the country are not only building bicycle-friendly infrastructure to meet growing demand, but also experimenting with new technologies to make cycling and alternative transit more appealing.

The goals of these efforts include:

  • Strengthening bicyclist and pedestrian safety
  • Increasing use of alternative/active transportation
  • Reducing traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions
  • Boosting public health, wellness and quality of life

According to the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, state and federal investment in bicycle facilities between 1999 and 2011 has exceeded $7 billion. To ensure this money is used efficiently, cities are searching for bicycle-friendly best practices.

Where To Start?

Municipalities of all sizes should understand the needs of local residents who opt to get around via bicycles rather than personal cars. As more people become less car-dependent, the makeup of the community shifts to favor cyclists and pedestrians not cars. Therefore, the responsibility to protect these populations falls on city planners.

Wendell, for example, recently received a $32,000 Bicycle and Pedestrian Planning Grant from the North Carolina Department of Transportation. One of 10 cities statewide awarded the financing, Wendell will use the grant to plan much-needed sidewalk improvements and expand local pedestrian opportunities, News Observer reported.

The city will leverage the funding to:

  • Examine the existing pedestrian system throughout the entire jurisdiction
  • Identify any gaps or obstacles standing in the way of improvement
  • Lay out future extensions and projects to support a growing pedestrian population
  • Create a strategy to ensure future grants are acquired to keep the projects moving forward

The goal of the state grant program is to provide funding for a variety of pedestrian and bicyclist focus strategies that include facility upgrades/construction, safety services and regulations, and public awareness programs, News Oberserver reported.

What To Consider?

To encourage more residents to bicycle around the community - or provide the necessary amenities for an already robust cyclist population – cities must promote strong bicycle networks that make alternative transit easy, safe and efficient.

According to a recent study conducted by the University of Minnesota, two factors are key in predicting bicycling commuting success: connectivity and directness. While previous research found correlations between quantity of bicycle infrastructure and community ridership numbers, little was understood as to how the quality of a bicycle network directly impacts riders.

To determine how quality affects ridership, the researchers evaluated existing bicycle networks in 74 municipalities and tested the relationships between network analysis and the number of cycling commuters in the city. The goal was to see if detours and gaps in a bicycle network that require riding through uncomfortable conditions would impact ridership.

The study found a city’s bicycling commuting rate is associated with a number of bike network quality measures including:

  • Network density
  • Connectivity
  • Fragmentation
  • Directness

Density had the greatest impact on the level of bicycle commuting. Therefore, cities should consider increasing the density of a bicycle network to maximize its impact on ridership before expanding its breadth. Planners should also be conscientious of excessive small fragments of bike facilities that can damage ridership volumes.

Furthermore, the U.S. Federal Highway Administration has created a Separated Bike Lane Planning and Design Guide to provide insight on how to build bicycle infrastructure and what key missteps to avoid.

What’s New?

For cities already full of bicyclists and infrastructure to support them, the next best thing is adding new technology to further drive safety and efficiency. In New York City, for example, the Citi Bike bike-sharing initiative is working on a new smartphone app that will provide riders with new information and capabilities.

The revamped app will allow riders to access detailed fitness stats while they are using the bicycles, such as how many calories they have burned or miles traveled on their trip. The app can also be used to report a variety of issues regarding the bike-share program including flat tires, broken seats or other complaints.

In Boston, the city’s Transportation Department, Department of Information Technology and its New Urban Mechanics group are analyzing citizen-reported data from Waze, a crowdsourced traffic app. The goal of the data mining effort is to find streets where double-parked and illegally-standing cars are most prevalent throughout the city, GCN reported.

Once the city has identified the problem areas, bike-riding parking enforcement officers are deployed to get the cars moved and out of the way. Because double-parked cars create traffic congestion, they also increase public safety concerns for both pedestrians and cyclists on the road.

Likewise, Houston Ghost Bike has promised the city’s police department with a free device used to monitor the distance between cyclists and passing cars. Placed on the handlebars of police bicycles, the devices utilizes lasers to determine whether cars leaving at least 3 feet of space between them and bicyclists – as is required by city ordinance. The goal is to make local police more aware of dangerous driving habits that can lead to increased bicycle crashes, injuries and fatalities, Houston Press reported.