Why bike-friendly cities are smart cities (and how to be one)

Mon, 2013-05-13 15:11 -- Liz Enbysk

Even with bike-friendly initiatives popping up all over the U.S., we continue to lag behind Europe when it comes to encouraging bike riding as a serious alternative to cars. But if you scroll down toward the end of this story, you'll understand why we see a glimmer of hope in what a bike shop owner in Northeast Ohio is doing – especially if other communities follow his lead.

By Liz Enbysk / Smart Cities Council

In 2011 the Copenhagenize Design Co. – a Copenhagen-based urban planning consultancy specializing in bicycle planning, infrastructure and communications based – ranked 80 major world cities on their bicycle friendliness.


As the agency explains: "The bicycle makes sense in cities. Investment in bicycle infrastructure is a modern and intelligent move for a city to make. Studies from Denmark tell us that for every kilometre cycled, society enjoys a net profit of 23 cents. For every kilometre driven by car we suffer a net loss of -16 cents. With rising urbanisation our cities need modern mobility solutions and the bicycle proves time and again that it can offer them.

For 2013, Copenhagenize upped its rankings to 150 cities, enlisting the help of over 400 people on every continent to help with the process, which involves a point system and 13 different index categories. You can read more about the criteria in a press release or on the Copenhagenize website.

No surprise that a number of cities that made the list in 2011 were back on it this year – for example Amsterdam returned at the No. 1 spot and Copenhagen repeated at No. 2. But the next seven cities were newcomers – Utrecht, Seville, Bordeaux, Nantes, Antwerp, Eindhoven and Malmo.

Denmark, France and Germany all had three cities on the Top 20 list, Japan had two. And the only North American city to make the Top 20? Montreal.

It's not that cities in the U.S. and elsewhere in Canada aren't going down the bike-friendly path. For instance, here's a quick look at a few programs in progress or soon to be:

  • Bike sharing takes off: Portland, Oregon-based Alta Bike Share, which already operates bike- share programs in Washington, D.C., Chattanooga and Boston will roll out similar networks in Seattle, Portland, New York City, San Francisco, Chicago and Vancouver, B.C. in the next year, according to The Seattle Times. New York City will launch its NYC Bike Share on Memorial Day with 6,000 bikes and 330 stations; users can get a $95 annual membership or pay $9.95 a day or $25 a week. They can also download an app for their smartphones to find stations and check bike availability.
  • Portland, Maine's 'complete streets' policy: The city's "complete streets" policy which calls for amultimodal approach to constructing, renovating and maintaining the city's roadways with consideration of all their users, was rated as one of the country's best, according to the Bangor Daily News (BDN). And it's just one of several bike-friendly initiatives. Earlier this year Portland was one of five U.S. communities to receive federal assistance to set up a bike-sharing program. And the city is creating a network of neighborhood byways described by BDN as "secondary streets with traffic-calming signs, medians and other infrastructure designed to create safer, more enjoyable routes for cyclists and pedestrians.”
  • Bidding to be the bike-to-school capital: When the owner of a bicycle shop in Northeast Ohio heard about local high school kids protesting high gas prices by riding bikes to school, he saw an opportunity to encourage them to ride bikes for transportation on a more regular basis, according to theatalanticscities.com.  So Scott Cowan, the owner of Century Cycles, launched the Century Cycles Challenge, pitting three local communities against each other to be the bike-to-school capital. And it's apparently a big hit, with first-day ridership up 33% this year over 2012.
  • Berkeley beefs up its bike plan: Berkeley (California) Mayor Tom Bates says a move to update the city's bike plan for the first time since 2000 is a bid to make his city the most bike-friendly in the country, according to Berkeleyside. More than 5,000 people commute through the city every day, which the East Bay Bicycle Coalition says makes it the fourth most popular city for bike commuting in the country. On the agenda? Building new bike paths and connecting new and existing ones to commercial destinations.

What next? If the founders of San Francisco-based Siva Cycle have their way, they'll raise enough money in their Kickstarter campaign to bring the bicycle accessory they created to market. As VentureBeat explains it, The Atom charges USB-powered devices – a phone for instance – using energy the cyclist generates. The more you ride the more you charge.