I have a grumpy neighbor who hates bicycles. We are surprisingly good friends despite our differences, and we regularly debate this issue.
He drives his BMW to go a few blocks to the grocery store, and he thinks all bicycles should be banned from city streets. I remind him that I am a bicycle rider, and I pay taxes too, so be nice.
My neighbor is still living with his 1950s mindset where his car is king, yet even he recognizes times are changing. For one thing, there are significantly more of us, but no additional street space. He will not be able to get where he wants to go if we all try to drive there at the same time.
Creating ways for alternate modes of travel is now widely acknowledged as the foundation of a well-functioning urban transportation system (for a deeper dive, see the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute’s page here). Age Friendly Cities –Seattle is one of them – are promoting these alternative modes.
Seattle’s Vision Zero goals are not controversial. No pedestrian or bicycle rider wants to be smunched by a car, and most drivers keep their eyes open for those of us who are walking or riding. Pedestrians and bicyclists prefer to be separated from cars, and neighbors want to be able to enjoy their streets. These are not anti-car sentiments, these are truths.
I am a fan of protected bike lanes as part of our mobility strategy and frequently use the lanes we have. People who write about Age Friendly cities are now in agreement that everyone, from ages 8 to 80, benefits from these bike lanes, no matter which mode we choose to get around (for more about 8 80 Cities please see the website here).
I recently came across an article on the AARP website focused on Age-Friendly livable Communities that offers insights into the ways bicycle-friendly streets help not only bicyclists, but all users of our streets. The goal of Age Friendly Cities is to make our cities more enjoyable for each of us. Even if a person chooses to drive, she benefits from bike lanes. Here’s how:
- Safer Streets are Safer for Everyone: Well-planned infrastructure, including bike lanes, make streets safer for everyone by calming traffic, creating more distance between walkers and cars, and increasing predictability for all modes. A recent national study from Federal Highway Administration examines road diets, responses, and effects. You may be pleasantly surprised by the results of this study.
- Safer Sidewalks: getting fast-moving bicyclists off the sidewalks and onto designated separated lanes will improve pedestrian safety. In Copenhagen, I learned they call this “soft over hard”, meaning pedestrians have priority over bicycles, cars and trucks. (See my blog post about the experience here).
- Smoother Trips: Defining separate spaces for movement improves civility and compliance with rules of the road. See the People for Bikes webpage for statistics on why protected bike lanes are good for everyone.
- Less Congestion: When people choose to commute by bicycle, it means fewer vehicles on the road. Unfortunately, the converse is true too. When bicycle use rises without the creation of new bike lanes, traffic congestion gets worse if cars cannot pass a bicycle safely. (A recent study from Arlington, Virginia confirms this).
- Increasingly Livable Communities: Walking and bicycling are hallmarks of great and livable cities, cutting down on air and noise pollution, and increasing human interaction. Chicago, San Francisco, Portland and NYC are ranked the top four bike cities. Seattle is #5. 50 Best Bike Cities.
- Economic Vitality: Companies select bicycle-friendly places to attract a vibrant and diverse workforce. Commute Seattle, a partnership of the Downtown Seattle Association and King County Metro, found that more than 70% of downtown’s daily commuters choose transit, ridesharing, biking, and walking to get to and from work (see the survey results here). NYC under Bloomberg and our friend Janette Sadik-Kahn developed data showing how valuable bicycle lanes are for local businesses. NYC Economic Benefits 7
- Financial Freedom: Living without dependence on a car can decrease costs for individuals and households, making living in Seattle more affordable. Buses, Uber/Lyft, and taxis cost much less than owning a car that is parked most of the time, and decrease neighborhood parking congestion. Americans spend more on transportation than any other household expense, with the exception of housing.
- Saves Money for Taxpayers: protected bike lanes are relatively inexpensive to paint and build, and encourage more of us to ride. For example, in Golden Gate Park, one mile of roadway is more expensive than one mile of protected bike lane by a factor of 1,283 times.
- Health Care Savings: the health benefits of bicycling are well known—low-impact cardiovascular exercise can work wonders. A recent report estimated Portland, Oregon’s regional trail network saves the city approximately $115 million per year in health costs.
- A Greener Environment: Promoting our Neighborhood Greenways has been one of my top priorities since 2011 when I was first introduced to them. With much thanks to Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, communities are joining together to prioritize connections and make bike-to-school days the norm again.
One final reason I applaud bike lanes: getting around Downtown Seattle is often faster by bike. I’ve tested this multiple times by leaving City Hall on my e-bike at the same time one of my colleagues leaves the garage with a car. By the time he finds parking and walks to the event, I’m settled in.
I hold no hope that my BMW-driving neighbor will ever join me on a bicycle, but there’s room for both of us to move safely on our city streets.