By Emma Grace Fairchild:
Bikes are great for getting around, for reducing carbon emissions, and for providing low impact exercise; and it is accessible across many abilities. Cities especially benefit from having more cyclists and fewer cars. Economic studies in Denmark claim a net increase of 23 cents for each kilometer cycled, compared to losing 16 cents for each kilometer driven. Copenhagen, said to be the world’s most bike friendly city, is a shining example of a city that years ago decided to support infrastructure for cycling. They boast separate bike lanes away from pedestrians and cars, and with the support of the city, biking has become socially commonplace as well. Compare that to the U.S., where cars often are seen as a necessary commodity, even in urban areas. There are complicated social implications associated with biking, as well: cycling is often seen in higher numbers in low income populations, and people of color are 20-30% more likely to be killed in a biking accident than white people. This kind of disparity potentially could be addressed by supporting widespread safety initiatives, such as separate bike lanes and educational outreach to drivers, but policy makers and cycling advocates need to work together to see change.
Real estate company Redfin’s list of the most bike friendly cities in America is topped by Philadelphia, but Minneapolis is the only American city making the cut on an international index of 122 cities. Copenhagenize Design Co.’s yearly list of the most bike friendly cities around the world uses methodology including facilities and infrastructure, cycling advocacy, and percentage of people using bikes instead of cars or public transit. Topping the list are Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Utrecht.
The biggest factor in supporting cyclists as commuters is making sure they are safe. When cars are whizzing past on the left and parking on the right, bike riders in the States are sandwiched between two dangerous situations. This discourages many people from riding bikes in a place that otherwise should be very accessible. Protecting cyclists is key to getting more people on the road and keeping them moving. Cities and towns across the U.S. need to recognize this and make great efforts to encourage biking if we want to see a more active nation with fewer cars in cities.
In the meantime, there are things we can do to protect cyclists on the road between cars and traffic. One incredibly simple approach is called the “Dutch Reach,” and some concerned citizens and activists are working hard to spread awareness of it across the U.S. The basic premise is simple: instead of opening the driver’s side door with your left hand and potentially opening the door for an unsuspecting cyclist to crash into, open the door with your right hand. This motion naturally moves your whole body and head, making it possible to visually confirm that there is no cyclist approaching. Drivers in the Netherlands are taught this approach and tested on it during driver’s education. If this habit became the usual in the States, it could prevent thousands of accidents immediately, long before infrastructure and legislation catches up.