I’ve used a bicycle as my principal means of getting around NY for decades. It’s easier and safer now than it used to be. I often take a full-size folding bike when I do a music tour, and this becomes a way of exploring where I happen to be. Vibrant neighborhoods, odd museums, an explosion of suburban house buildings and wonderful cities bisected by freeways. Not always encouraging, but there are signs of change.
About 10 years ago, the mayor of Paris introduced the massive, pioneering bike-share program Vélib' to the city, and it keeps growing. A new bike path will be built in the middle of the Champs-Élysées, as part of a plan to double the bike lanes from 430 to 870 miles over the next two years, and there will even be “express” bike lanes, separated from traffic.
How did it change the way Parisians lived and worked?
People’s radius of what they felt was their neighborhood expanded. They used cars and taxis less, and trips became less odious. No more worrying about, “Will there be parking?”
When touring, I noticed how things were changing as I travelled around mostly North and South America. I was often shown by locals where change was happening.
This is The Ciclovía in Bogotá. Here, I visited and saw some of the work their former mayor, Enrique Peñalosa, had done (recently re-elected!). I read about a bike program he initiated and a weekend street closing. Years later, I saw that program become a model for New York and for other places.
Bike shares were adopted in Minneapolis, Chicago, LA, Washington D.C., Toronto, Montreal, London and many more cities.
Often these bike programs tie into other transportation innovations such as rapid bus transit.
Back in Bogotá... when Enrique Peñalosa stepped into the mayor's office, he was faced with a city with clogged traffic and no signs of it getting better. He faced pressure to do what Robert Moses did here in NY—what first world cities had done—build incredibly expensive freeways that would criss-cross the city and kill communities and neighborhoods.
He opted for something new at the time, something that had had been tried successfully by Mayor Jaime Lerner in Curitiba, Brazil—rapid bus transport. 85% of Curitiba uses the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), and Mayor Lerner's pride in the system is clear, “We started BRT in 1974; now 300 cities around the world are using it.”
This is what a rapid bus station looks like:
Using this system, they allocate parts of the existing thoroughfares and highways to bus lanes, like we do here, but for it to really work they make the penalties for driving in the bus lane severe or they put a concrete divider in so other cars can't even go in the bus lanes at all. As a result, the buses pretty much go as fast as subways or trains. This started in the Brazilian city of Curitiba and has been widely adopted around the world.
People buy tickets in advance of boarding, the way you would for a subway, so when you're on the platform and the bus comes, everybody just jumps on and the bus zooms off. There's none of that fussing about paying the bus driver that slows things down and creates bottlenecks.
Imagine if we had rapid bus service to Laguardia and JFK—it would be almost as fast as having a subway that goes all the way to the terminals, like many cities in developed nations have.
Mayor Gregor Robertson came to our show in Vancouver some years ago on a bike. The next time I came to town he asked, “Do you have a bike?”
“Yes, it’s here in the hotel room.”
“Got time for a ride?”
So, I got a tour of the city while Robertson explained what he was doing, what problems he faced and what possibilities lay ahead. Bike lanes were just going in there at that time and he was up against some resistance.
In many other places, there was similarly resistance at first, but soon the businesses realized bikes brought more foot traffic to the shops, so they began clamoring for bike lanes, racks and plazas. They had to see for themselves.
Back in 2012, the city of Vancouver set itself the goal of enabling 50% of all trips to be made by foot, bike, or public transport by 2020. The city achieved this goal within four years. The goal has now shifted towards making two-thirds of all trips sustainable by 2040. You definitely won’t need a car there.
Transportation Connects to Efficient and Sustainable Energy Practices
The larger goal in Vancouver is to be entirely powered by clean energy by 2050—not just electricity, but transportation and heating as well.
Curitiba has also created innovations in recycling that are reducing their carbon footprint. In 1989, Curitiba residents began to trade trash for tokens–four pounds of trash could be traded for one pound of produce. Today, 90% of the city participates in the recycling program. Where most cities develop mountains of landfills along the periphery, Curitiba recycles 70% of its garbage.
When we start thinking about transportation differently, it changes not only the way we get from A to B, but how we interact with our communities. It often reduces our carbon footprint, and, if you’re riding a bike or walking, it’s good for your health.