In cities across the United States, bicycles are becoming an increasingly popular form of urban transportation. A survey of 55 major metropolitan areas in the U.S. found that bicycle commuting rates increased, on average, 70 percent between 2000 and 2009. Bicycle commuting is particularly popular in the Northeast and Northwest, with many cities in these regions seeing ridership double or triple. While bicycle commuting still represents a small percentage of overall commuters (the nationwide leader, Portland, still only has a 5.8 percent bicycle commuting rate), the rising enthusiasm for bicycles is undeniable.
The growing popularity of urban cycling has led to a proliferation of bicycle infrastructure in many cities. Over the past decade, Washington D.C. has laid down over 50 miles of bicycle lanes (much of which has been designed by landscape architect Jennifer Toole). Additionally, the District has instituted a popular citywide bicycle sharing program – Capital Bikeshare (see image above). Funded through a public/private partnership, Capital Bikeshare utilizes over 1,500 bicycles across 165+ stations.
New York City is preparing to launch a bike sharing program of its own, Citi Bike. Unlike Capital Bikeshare, Citi Bike is fully privately funded (the lead sponsor of the program is, logically, Citibank). The program will be the largest of its kind in North American, consisting of 600 stations and 10,000 bikes and covering a swath of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. Though Citi Bike is generally popular – a 2011 poll found that 72 percent of New Yorkers support the idea of a bike share program – some find it to be too expensive, especially compared to similar programs in Washington and London. Still, Citi Bike represents an entirely new transportation network and will likely have an impact on the bicycle’s role in NYC.
Even some sprawling, car-oriented cities are beginning to reconsider the bicycle as a viable form of urban transportation. For the past three years, Los Angeles, a famously car-oriented city, has temporarily prohibited cars from driving on designated streets for certain Sunday afternoons, says Places. The event, CicLAvia, lasts for five hours, allowing citizens to bike across their city free from automobiles. By making the roads open and safe to all riders, CicLAvia intends to change perceptions of Los Angeles. In a city famous for gridlock, the streets can be perceived as public space and disconnected neighborhoods can be experienced as continuous urban space. While only a temporary event, CicLAvia aims to convey the potential for cyclists and pedestrians to safely navigate a city traditionally viewed as inexorably bound to the automobile.
Though growing in popularity, bicycle ridership in America has not yet begun to approach the level seen in many other countries. According to a 2008 report by the Earth Policy Institute, in 2005 China had an estimated 435 million bicycles on the road. This staggering number actually represents a 35 percent decline from 1995. During this same time period, private car ownership has more than doubled, rising from 4.2 million in 1995 to 8.9 million in 2005.
While bicycle culture is expanding in America, in China bicycles have come to be viewed as utilitarian and old-fashioned, writes the Asia Blog at The Asia Society. Some Chinese cities have gone as far as removing bike lanes or banning bikes from certain streets. However, as the social and environmental cost of cars becomes apparent, the Chinese government has recently to promote efforts to rekindle enthusiasm for bicycles.
In 2007, a bike sharing program was launched in Hangzhou, a city of 7 million in southern China. The program has ballooned to over 50,000 bicycles across 2,050 bike stations, by far the largest bicycle sharing system in the world and is planned to expand to 175,000 bicycles by 2020.
Additionally, in an effort to ease congestion and air pollution, Beijing is getting ready to launch a bicycle sharing program of its own.
This guest post is by Benjamin Wellington, Student ASLA, master’s of landscape architecture candidate, Louisiana State University, and ASLA 2012 summer intern.