Being constrained by a 60 minute window I feel like I have an excuse to make broad and sweeping claims regarding topics that I am familiar with but I am certainly no expert on. So I beg your pardon as I launch in.
The development of serious and dedicated bicycle infrastructure is a requirement for any car centric culture, such as the US, to be able to get people utilizing bicycles for transportation in any serious way. The Netherlands and Denmark are the best examples of this.
As a US based bicycle advocate, this is a depressing reality. Without serious investment in bicycle infrastructure, bicycling will remain a fringe way for adventurous, athletic and highly eco-concious folks to get around. And it is a chicken and egg problem. Without bicycle infrastructure, there are not enough voters who are active cyclists to persuade our politicians to prioritize building cycling infrastructure.
My understanding is that cycling infrastructure was prioritized by the Dutch government in the 70s. They built the infrastructure and the cyclist came. I don’t know why the government had the foresight to invest in this direction. Perhaps the Dutch governments ability to build dykes in a coordinated effort, put the mechanism in place for easily coordinating other innovative but costly public works projects. The Dutch are also know for being practical and inventive. This certainly would help.
Understanding how things came to be in the Netherlands cycling paradise does not give me hope. And as a bicycle advocate I would like some hope. I would a reason to feel like I am contributing to a movement that could go somewhere impactful. So that brings to mind all of the ways that US cycling advocates are attempting to make change happen.
Here is my breakdown on the primary focuses bicycle advocates take:
- Reaching out to Politicians: Forming coalitions, going to Washington, writing our politicians
- Local focus: Creating local organizations to promote cycling and build infrastructure
- Culture: biking is fun, healthy and cool (if you’re a hipster)
- Technology: Bike companies making commuter bikes, cargo bikes, electric bikes, bike sharing
This post is not in any way an attempt to undermine the dedication and efforts made in any of these arenas. Without these efforts, bicycle advocacy has no hope whatsoever. And even if there is very little hope for a major shift in transportation priorities to occur in car centric cultures, these various efforts are instrumental in supporting the cycling fringe.
What I am pondering though is what efforts have the greatest impact on bicycling advocacy. What moves the needle and gets a serious change in transportation infrastructure spending to happen like it did in the 70s in the Netherlands?
I definitely don’t know the answer. But as bike advocates, as we spend our time and resources attempting to scratch the surface of shifting momentum, we should keep asking this question.
Often times I think that the opportunity for bicycling infrastructure will be if/when there is another substantial increase in oil prices. A doubling or tripling of prices could open up the opportunity. And the purpose of bicycle advocacy is really just laying the groundwork to seize upon that precious opportunity if/when it arises.