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The naysayers always have an excuse, don’t they? Cycling lanes wouldn’t work in the UK, they tell you. If it’s not because of the wind, it’s because of the rain. Or the hills. Or the old infrastructure. Or the narrow streets. This isn’t Holland, y’know.
Sure, they wouldn’t function well everywhere, but for the most part, this is codswallop. Because, as we’ll explore below, if these five cities from across Europe and beyond can transform themselves into ‘bike cities’, so too can any city.
With temperatures in July rising on average as high as 36°C, Seville is without doubt among the hottest cities in Europe.
And in recent years, it’s also become one of the hottest spots for cycling across the continent, too, thanks mainly to the building of countless segregated bike lines almost overnight which completely transformed the Spanish city.
A Guardian report in 2015 suggested as few as 0.5 per cent of journeys across Sevilla were made by bike for many years, but change was afoot in the early 1990s when campaigners began pushing for enhanced cycling provision across the city.
Plans were eventually put in place and have proved an unmitigated success. A full 80km of segregated lanes were designed and completed in one go by Manuel Calvo, on what were previously parking spaces for cars.
As a result, the average number of bikes used daily has risen from roughly to 6,000 to in excess of 70,000. It has boosted the economy, too, with about 50 bike shops in a city where formerly there was only roughly ten.
Even in temperatures this demanding, it seems, people will still make the most of bike lines. They just have to be there in the first place.
Notorious for its impatient drivers and busy streets, Paris is suddenly gaining a reputation for being another of Europe’s most progressive and simply best cities for cycling.
New protected bike lanes across France’s capital have triggered a huge surge in the number of riders, with Curbed reporting that, by September 2019, the number of Parisian cyclists had risen by 54 per cent on 12 months prior.
Meanwhile, the iconic Champs Elysées is now lined with segregated bike lanes, and more residents of the greater Paris area are now choosing bikes than the busiest line of the city’s Metro system. The left bank of the Seine River has been virtually free of motor traffic since 2016, too.
Paris’ success can be mostly attributed to the endeavours of Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who has fought tirelessly for improved cycling infrastructure since her election in 2014. A year later, she unveiled ‘Plan Velo,’ a £135 million project to double the number of bike lanes by 2020, from 700km to 1400km. The plans are about halfway through completion, but it’s already done enough to change the way of life in the city.
The statistics don’t lie, either. In Paris and its surrounding Île-de-France area, cyclists now make on average 840,000 trips per day, more than motorbikes or scooters. It also jumped leapt from 13th 2017 to 8th in 2019 on Wired’s list of the 20 most bike-friendly cities in the world.
And with the passion and the money put into the project to transform Paris, it’s not hard to see why it’s become one of the best cities for biking.
America is renowned for being a car-loving nation; that much is obvious. But in Portland, the largest city in the state of Oregon, that trend is being bucked somewhat. There, bikes have been on the rise for some years now, and show no sign of slowing down any time soon.
It’s an extremely safe place to ride as of June 2020, only one fatality in the city involved a cyclist, following on from just two each in the whole of 2019 and the entirety of 2018.
Why is Portland Oregon a good city for biking? Because they’ve done cycling provision right, clearly. Writing in Grist in early 2014, Heather Smith said of visiting her sister, a resident of Portland: “When I visit her, I don’t have to look at every car that I pass and gauge the risk of being doored, because, in a lot of places, the bike lane is wide enough for both me and an open car door.
“I rarely have to merge into car traffic and route myself around someone who has double-parked in the middle of a bike lane, because some traffic engineer has thoughtfully placed a barrier between car and bike traffic.”
These days, Portland boasts the highest rate of bike commuters of all US cities with seven per cent, and reportedly saves $115 million in healthcare costs thanks to the benefits of cycling. As recently as 2017, 374 per cent more people in the city rode to work than in 2000, many of which using their near-400 miles of bike lanes.
What is the most bike-friendly city, you ask? Nowadays, most people would say Amsterdam, and rightly so – after all, it’s home to almost 900,000 bicycles and more than 500km of cycle paths.
But it’s not always been this way. Indeed, for many years in the 1950s and 1960s, cyclists become increasingly sidelined by motorists, as cars became the next big thing. During that time period, in fact bike use fell year on year by roughly six per cent.
It’s thanks mainly to constant activism, especially in the 1970s through the ‘Stop de Kindemoord’ (‘stop the child murder’) movement, that bikes have reclaimed the Amsterdam streets. This particular campaign came about because too many cars was seen as dangerous – and they had a point; in 1971, for instance, more than 3,000 people were killed by them, 450 of which were children.
Now, the numbers are staggering. Amsterdam citizens cycle a total of 2 million km per day on average, with 58 per cent of those older than 12 riding daily, many of whom will no doubt make use of the combined 767km of cycle paths and bike lanes in a city really like no other.
Not just among the best cycling cities in Europe, but the best cycling cities in the world, too.
London (and Manchester)
Another extremely busy city brimming with narrow streets and well-established roads, London has incrementally managed to make itself a much better and safer place to cycle.
The a public bicycle hire scheme scheme commonly known as ‘Boris Bikes’ was introduced by then-mayor of London Boris Johnson in 2010, which has gone to be the source of more than 73 million journeys across England’s capital city.
This showed the first real glimmer of hope for the biking community in London, who have since gone on to make use of the city’s new cycle lanes, known as ‘Cycleways’ and ‘Cycle Superhighways’.
They’re certainly not stopping there. In late 2018, an eye-watering £214 million was projected to be spent on improving cycling infrastructure, in a bid to capitalise further on the success that saw the biggest annual increase in cycling numbers since records began in London in 2018. The average daily volume of cycling in the city is now estimated at an impressive 4 million km.
In many ways, London could be seen as following the lead of Manchester, too, whose own Bee Network plans aim to see it became one of the best cities for cyclists.
It aims increase journeys on foot or by bike by 2.5 million every day, halve some journey times and save the NHS £6.73 billion due to the improvements it will doubtless have on public health.
The plans could provide a national blueprint for others, not least London, to become bicycle cities, mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burham said in January 2020.