By now many of you have probably read this article from the Wall Street Journal (Building a Better Bike Lane) which isn't about building better bike lanes at all (I was actually disappointed) but about how Europe is embracing bicycle use in a way the US is not yet. In Europe...
Officials from London, Munich and Zurich (plus a handful from the U.S.) have visited Amsterdam's transportation department for advice on developing bicycle-friendly infrastructure and policies. Norway aims to raise bicycle traffic to at least 8% of all travel by 2015 -- double its current level -- while Sweden hopes to move from 12% to 16% by 2010. This summer, Paris will put thousands of low-cost rental bikes throughout the city to cut traffic, reduce pollution and improve parking.
The city of Copenhagen plans to double its spending on biking infrastructure over the next three years, and Denmark is about to unveil a plan to increase spending on bike lanes on 2,000 kilometers, or 1,240 miles, of roads. Amsterdam is undertaking an ambitious capital-improvement program that includes building a 10,000-bike parking garage at the main train station (pictured) -- construction is expected to start by the end of next year. The city is also trying to boost public transportation usage, and plans to soon enforce stricter car-parking fines and increase parking fees to discourage people from driving.
The policy goal is to have bicycle trips replace many short car trips, which account for 6% of total emissions from cars, according to a document adopted last month by the European Economic and Social Committee, an organization of transportation ministers from EU member countries. Another report published this year by the Dutch Cyclists' Association found that if all trips shorter than 7.5 kilometers in the Netherlands currently made by car were by bicycle, the country would reduce its carbon-dioxide emissions by 2.4 million tons. That's about one-eighth of the amount of emissions it would need to reduce to meet the Kyoto Protocol.
Where as in the U.S.
bike commuters face more challenges, including strong opposition from some small businesses, car owners and parking-garage owners to any proposals to remove parking, shrink driving lanes or reduce speed limits. Some argue that limiting car usage would hurt business. "We haven't made the tough decisions yet," says Sam Adams, city commissioner of Portland, Ore., who visited Amsterdam in 2005. There has been some movement. Last month, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a proposal to add a congestion charge on cars and increase the number of bicycle paths in the city. It would also require commercial buildings to have indoor parking facilities for bikes.
When I read this, I tried to imagine Congress members biking to work in a similar fashion...
Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende sometimes rides to work, as do ... members of parliament, often with empty children's seats in back.
But I was unable to (except the obvious two). An interesting component is this form of mandatory registration...
In 2003, the city created the Amsterdam Bicycle Recovery Center, a large warehouse where illegally parked bikes are taken. (Its acronym in Dutch is AFAC.) Every bike that goes through AFAC is first checked against a list of stolen bikes. After three months, unclaimed models are registered, engraved with a serial number and sold to a second-hand shop. At any one time, the center has about 6,000 bikes neatly arranged by day of confiscation, out of an estimated total of 600,000 bikes in the city.
How AFAC will encourage bike riding in Amsterdam is a somewhat perverse logic, because it means some 200 bikes are confiscated by city officials a day compared to a handful before it existed. The thinking is that the more bikes that are confiscated, the more bikes can be registered and the better the government can trace stolen bikes. The less nervous people are that their bikes will be stolen, the more likely they are to ride. "Is your bike gone? Check AFAC first," is the center's slogan.
DC of course is working to remove the mandatory registration law. I'm actually not against "mandatory" registration (as long as the purpose is stolen bike recovery), but it's the methodology DC created that was so awful. [I think a better system would be to require that every bike sold in the District be registered - by the bike shop - but it would legal to own and/or use an unregistered bike. For those buying their bike elsewhere, registration would be optional, free and easy (online and/or at any bike shop when you take it in for repairs). When my fiancee bought her bike, Capitol Hill Bikes just registered it for her with the National Bike Registry for free. I don't even think they told her about it].
There's also a chart of bicycle friendly cities at the bottom. D.C. isn't on there, but Boulder, Colorado has 21% of its commuters go by bike. That's impressive.