Separate bikeways are the lead actors in bike-friendly cities, but many supporting actors complete the cast: bikes on transit facilities, good traffic law enforcement, even bike “lifts” on steep hills. Three more worth mentioning are blue lanes, parking cages, and cyclibraries.
(Photo courtesy of Jayson Antonoff, International Sustainable Solutions.)
My youngest son often bikes to drama rehearsals. It’s about three miles from our home in Seattle, mostly on traffic-calmed neighborhood streets and a bike trail — pretty good bikeways, overall. The only parts I worry about are the intersections where he has to cross especially busy streets, like six-lane Highway 99.
Oregonians share my concern about crossing big roads on two wheels: they told the state’s Bicycle Transportation Alliance that unsafe intersection crossings are the biggest barrier to cycling (PDF). On many routes, and particularly for children, busy intersections are the weakest links in the emerging bikeway network in our city and others.
One cure is Blue Lanes. Pioneered in the cycling meccas of northern Europe, they are bicycle lanes through intersections boldly painted to demarcate which road space is reserved for pedal power. Typically, they’re accompanied by traffic signals specifically for cyclists. The city of Portland has installed 10 blue lanes to date.
Once my son arrives at his drama rehearsal, he leaves his bike locked outside for hours, exposing it to the risk of theft or vandalism. A good lock and a secure public bike rack help. (Seattle has about 2,300 public bike racks; that’s more than New York City [PDF; see page 273].)
But bikes locked to racks remain vulnerable. Thieves can cut locks or strip bikes with surprising speed. Better than racks are cages, rented by the hour — an innovative technology detailed in this short video from streetfilms.org.
I often find myself somewhere without my bike, needing to take a quick round trip to some nearby location: a business meeting or a local shop. Years ago, Portland sparked a bevy of North American imitators when a nonprofit group there began refurbishing old two-wheelers, painting them bright colors, and leaving them on the streets of the city for anyone to use. Originally attempted in Amsterdam, this program of free-range bicycles eventually foundered; the bikes disappeared.
Such libraries of bikes persist inside certain manufacturing companies, such as Boeing, where company-owned fleets of shared bicycles have long been used for quick, job-site errands.
A commercial form of cyclibraries has emerged in the past two years in Europe, originating in Lyon, France, and launching this year in Paris. Like airport luggage-cart stands that automatically rent carts, then refund a deposit on the carts’ return, a network of sidewalk kiosks — little bike libraries — dispense simple bikes on demand, for the cost of a deposit and a little more than $1 an hour.
Paris has sold a license to an outdoor advertiser to place 21,000 bikes at 1,500 kiosks this year, partially in exchange for advertising privileges on the bikes and kiosks, as described here.
Portland is exploring how it might do something similar. I wonder whether car-sharing companies might get in on the act, too, since they’ve already built the billing and transaction systems. Flexbike? Zipbike?
What does bike-friendly look like? What is Bicycle Respect? It’s blue lanes with bike signals at all major intersections. It’s an abundance of secure bike parking — perhaps with bike-parking cages installed in place of some metered car-parking slots. It’s hundreds of cyclibraries scattered through the cityscape, each automatically renting out a dozen two-wheelers by the hour, speeding errands and leaving more cars at the curb.
Bicycle friendly means no longer worrying about my son, or his bike, when he rides to drama.
(Thanks to Deric Gruen, who did research for this series.)