“Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.”
– H.G. Wells, English author (1866-1946)
Americans who have traveled in Europe most likely have noted the ubiquity of bicycles, particulary in such cities as Amsterdam and Copenhagen. Also, other European cities have relatively new bicycle-sharing programs to help move people around their densely populated centers — Paris, London and Barcelona, for example.
“One of the ironies of Europe is that, while it is leading the world in high-tech transportation innovations, such as high-speed bullet trains and fuel-efficient autos, it also specializes in low-tech options,” Hill wrote. “Whether in Amsterdam, Athens, Prague, Berlin, Vienna, Paris, Stockholm, Oslo, Barcelona, Budapest or any of the thousands of small towns that dot the countryside, bicyclists and pedestrians are on the go.”
By way of contrast, Hill wrote:
“In the U.S., walking and cycling are discouraged by living environments that are geared for automobiles. A range of poor public policy choices have made walking and cycling inconvenient, unpleasant, and, above all, unsafe. The most obvious symbol of better European policy is their massive and ever-expanding network of bike paths, which provide completely separate rights-of-way for cyclists; Amsterdam alone has more than three hundred miles of bike lanes. One Dutch city has five bicycle parking garages, one of which can hold five thousand bikes.
“Just as important,” Hill wrote, “the bike paths and lanes in the Netherlands and Germany form a truly integrated, coordinated network, covering both rural and urban areas. Unlike the fragmented cycling routes in the United States, Dutch and German bikeway systems serve practical destinations for everyday travel, not just recreational attractions for young cycling enthusiasts…
“But in the car-dominant United States, authorities have made only a few halfhearted attempts to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety, with most measures falling far short of the need if they cost much money or would inconvenience automobile drivers. A lack of political will and vision have prevented Americans from enjoying the health, transportation, and quality-of-life benefits that result from more walking and cycling and less car travel.”
Tuesday’s midterm elections afforded little hope of change in terms of “political will and vision,” at least on the part of Congress, over the next few years. (See Nov. 4 blog post, “Bicycling and politics.”)
But then you see some glimmers of hope, like an article in Saturday’s edition of my hometown newspaper, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: “Grapevine considers adding bike routes on city streets.”
Grapevine, on the northern edge of Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, is a city of more than 51,000 in the middle of an urban agglomeration of around 6.5 million called the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Grapevine has some bike trails for recreational cyclists, but no on-street routes that could be used by bicycle commuters.
“I think it’s good for health, good for the community, and we ought to look into it,” Grapevine Mayor William D. Tate said of on-street bike lanes.
Added Clarence Muller, co-owner of the Mad Duck Cyclery in Grapevine: “At the end of the day, we need to be able to get bikes everywhere a car can go.”
Perhaps America’s love affair with the automobile is souring, if ever so slowly. And maybe — and this may sound blasphemous to Americans who consider foreign ideas somehow suspect — we could learn a few things from Europe.