A brief overview of some negative outcomes of urban bicycle infrastructure.
Since being in Europe I have noticed that bicycles, perhaps over all other means of transportation, are favored. It doesn’t seem to matter where you go, you will see some hint of bicycle infrastructure, and while this development is impressive and positive towards the end of reducing CO2 production, there are two issues I would like to bring up. The first is regarding the significant portion of the population who is completely left out of this transportation mode altogether: the physically and mentally disabled. The second surrounds the relatively inefficient use of road space that bicycles occupy compared to public transportation such as busses and trams.
There’s no getting around the fact that someone with any sort of significant mental or physical handicap is left out of the bike discussion entirely. Most of these individuals are not able to operate any form of personal transportation (assuming motorized wheelchairs are not considered serious means of transportation). This means that they are one of the most vulnerable segments of the population when is comes to mobility insecurity. As one cannot live without effective mobility, the growing predominance of bicycles presents an existential threat to this community. With increased adoption of bike infrastructure taking up space on streets, there is less room for car-sharing, buses, trams, and other forms of transportation which would be accessible to someone in this position. That brings me to my second point: the inefficient use of road space by bicycles.
While bikes may be significantly smaller than cars or buses, their fluidity on the road means that, even in cities where space is allocated for them, most of the time bike traffic moves in clumps, over occupying their appropriated space, or in single-file lines, under occupying the same space. If the goal of a city is to increase the quality of life of its inhabitants, one of the first issues it must face is eliminating or slimming down existing street cover. This is a necessary development, but it also means that there is less space for remaining roads. With bikes occupying at times half of the road, it’s easy to see where the conflict arises. Instead of continuing to pursue this carbon-neutral form of private transportation which excludes handicapped individuals, I recommend that cities put more energy into designing minimal roadways which are intended only for maximal-occupancy public vehicles such as car-sharing schemes, buses, and trams. These solutions can be made electric or otherwise innovated in order to achieve carbon-neutrality, but this is the direction we need to move in.
To conclude, I must admit that I see why bicycles appear to be the answer of today. They are cheap, small and do not produce CO2. I personally enjoy the experience of cycling and fully recognize its attraction to consumers and city-planners alike, but the reasons I have enumerated here still carry more weight than the positives of bike ridership. Mobility is requisite for a comfortable life and the exclusion of those who cannot operate bicycles makes their predominance unacceptable. I believe that the path towards a smarter tomorrow in cities will be paved through the complete elimination of private transportation vehicles which occupy street space.