The Province: Europe making it easy for cyclists to brave big cities
eurovision: Building seamless route from suburbs to downtown
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS NOVEMBER 13, 2012
COPENHAGEN — Cycling in European cities can be terrifying as cars, trucks and scooters whiz by with only inches to spare.
Thankfully, a movement is afoot to create more room for cycling.
From London’s “cycle superhighways” to popular bike-sharing programs in Paris and Barcelona, growing numbers of European cities are embracing cycling as a safe, clean, healthy and even trendy way to get around town.
Amsterdam and Copenhagen are the pioneers of this movement and role models for other cities.
The trend is catching on also outside Europe, says John Pucher, professor of urban planning at Rutgers University in New Jersey and co-author of a new book titled City Cycling.
“Americans make only one per cent of their trips by bike compared to 26 per cent in the Netherlands, 18 per cent in Denmark, and eight to 10 per cent in Belgium, Germany, Sweden, and Finland,” Pucher said.
Here are some of the ways the bicycle renaissance has hit the streets of Europe:
They combine bike paths with bike lanes on streets to give cycling commuters a smooth ride from the suburbs to city centre.
London opened four cycle superhighways in 2010, blue lanes for cyclists on the edge of streets. Copenhagen’s approach is more ambitious, seeking to keep bicycles and cars physically separated as much as possible. The Danish capital plans 26 such routes — the first of which opened this year — building on bike-friendly features in place for years.
Stop lights run on the rhythm of bikes not cars. Intersections have foot rests and hand rails so cyclists don’t need to put their foot down. The route is lined with air pump stations.
“A cycle highway is where cyclists get highest priority, with few obstacles and as few stops as possible,” said Marie Kaastrup, a Copenhagen city official in charge of bicycle programs.
Bike sharing or “city bike” services that offer bikes for short trips have come a long way since the first large-scale program started in Copenhagen in 1995. That concept was simple: Deposit a coin to release a bike from any of a number of racks and get your coin back when you return the bike (not necessarily to the same rack).
Scores of bike-sharing programs have been launched in Europe and beyond. The most recent ones are high-tech, with customers using smart cards or cellphones to unlock bikes. A milestone was reached when Paris introduced its “Velib” program in 2007, showing that bike sharing works also in a major metropolis. With more than 20,000 bikes it’s the biggest system in Europe.
London has had more than 17 million bike hires since it started two years ago.
“In places where cycling wasn’t a big part of transport — like Paris or London — it’s been a real game-changer. It’s normalized cycling,” said Julian Ferguson of the European Cyclists’ Federation.
U.S. cities including Washington D.C., Minneapolis, San Francisco and Boston now have bike-sharing programs. But the fastest growth is in Asia. The Chinese city of Hangzhou has 60,000 bicycles.
Theft is a major concern. Some cities have built parking lots for bikes close to major transit hubs like train stations. Amsterdam has come up with some of the most eye-catching solutions, including a high-tech rack that works a bit like a jukebox. You put your bike in the rack, and it revolves underground. When you want it back, it rotates yours back to the surface.
For people living far from work, biking may take too long. That’s why many European countries encourage mixed-mode commuting, letting cyclists bring bikes onto trains or subway cars.
In the Netherlands, you can use the same smart chip card you use to catch a train or tram to get a bike from a sharing system and cycle the rest of the way.
The daredevil bike messenger is gradually being replaced by the clumsier, but more practical, cargo bike. They are custom-made to carry packages of particular shapes and sizes. They usually have a wide flat area in front of the seat. Some serve as billboards, like the “sperm bike” used by a Danish sperm bank to transport sperm to fertility clinics.
Amid efforts to cut down on carbon emissions, officials have started discussions on how to make more use of cargo bicycles across the European Union. The European Cyclists’ Federation estimates that 25 per cent of all urban goods could be delivered by such bikes.
Electric bikes are one of the hottest cycling trends in Europe. Known as e-bikes or pedelecs, they are fitted with a small electric motor powered by a rechargeable battery, which can give you a nice boost when cycling uphill.
Bicycles powered by electricity have been around for more than a century. But sales have taken off with the development of lighter and higher-capacity batteries and sexier designs.
China is the dominant market, with more than 100 million e-bikes on the streets. But sales are surging rapidly in Europe, especially in Germany but also in the Netherlands, where about one in five bicycles is electric, according to industry reports.
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