State of the U.S. Infrastructure – Bicycles

נשלח 18 בספט׳ 2015, 11:11 על ידי Sustainability Org   [ עודכן 18 בספט׳ 2015, 11:12 ]
Clarence Morrison

To help address health and other policy concerns, policy makers and professionals are looking at ways to increase the use of walking and bicycling for everyday travel. While most of the focus on “active living” has been on walking, bicycling may have a greater potential to substitute for motorized vehicle trips because of its faster speed and ability to cover greater distances. Bicycle commuting has been shown to be an activity that meets recommended intensity levels and to be related to lower rates of overweight and obesity.

The potential for bicycling as a transportation mode has been recognized nationally through objectives to raise bicycling rates and significant increases in funding for building new infrastructure. Several states and cities have also adopted aggressive policies and programs to increase bicycling. However, the United States lags far behind many other developed countries, particularly several European countries, with respect to the share of people traveling by bicycle. Moreover, most bicycle travel in the United States, particularly among adults, is for recreation, not daily travel. This is in contrast to bicycling in countries such as the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany. But then, distances in the U.S. can be huge!

Can bicycling for everyday travel can help US adults meet recommended levels of physical activity and what role can public infrastructure, particularly bicycle lanes, paths, and bicycle boulevards play in encouraging this activity? Few Americans, particularly adults, ride a bicycle for everyday travel. In the United States, a National Household Travel Survey Association (NHTSA) found that only 1% of all one-way trips were made on bicycle. Only about 30% of adults said they had ridden a bicycle in the past week. Nationally, only about one-half of 1% of workers regularly commuted by bicycle in 2006. US studies consistently find that women are less likely to bicycle than men. One explanation is that some studies find that women are more concerned about safety, particularly from vehicle traffic. In the United States, bicycling rates also decline with age. Several researchers have found that bike lanes and paths are correlated with higher rates of bicycling or willingness to cycle. However, cities need to know what type of infrastructure will be most effective.

Several studies have tried to assess the relative effects of specific types of infrastructure, including bike lanes (a striped lane on a roadway) and paths separated from motor vehicle traffic, using both stated and revealed preference methods. Stated preference methods ask participants what they would do given a hypothetical situation. Revealed preference methods collect data on how participants actually behave. Simple stated preference studies usually find that people prefer bike paths and lanes or indicate that having such infrastructure would encourage them to bicycle more. Some studies present respondents with two options, trading off a higher quality facility (e.g., a dedicated bike lane) with a longer travel time. Two such studies have found that bicyclists value bike lanes and off-street paths.

Is Bicycling The SAFEST Form of Transportation?

Of all the objections people have about why they can’t ride a bike to get around, perhaps the most frustrating is the claim that bicycling is too dangerous. We don’t have to choose between safety and freedom. They both come together perfectly in the form of bicycle transportation, and once we work our way through the statistics of the matter, all talk of choosing cars over bikes because of safety can be banished from the face of the Earth – forever. But only in countries where drivers adhere to the laws.

Riding a bike is not more dangerous than driving a car. In fact, it is much, much safer. Under even the most pessimistic of assumptions, and using convoluted math:

  • Net effect of driving a car at 65 mph for one hour: Dying 20 minutes sooner. (18 seconds of life lost per mile)
  • Net effect of riding a bike at 12 mph for one hour: Living 2 hours and 36 minutes longer (about 13 minutes of life gained per mile)

In engineering and math, one method we use to prove a case is to define the boundary condition. If you can prove that your design holds up even in the worst possible case, it is guaranteed that it will work in all situations. So the box above is as bad as it gets. So how did we get there?

First of all, in the entire United States (population about 310 million), there were only 722 cyclist deaths in the year 2012. There were about 26,000 deaths due to each of “falls” and “alcohol”, and 35,500 caused by car crashes.  So for every cyclist who dies on a bike, 49 die in cars. But, as a nation of Car Freaks, we cover a lot more miles in cars than on bikes. Still, cyclists put in a good show given their small numbers, pumping out about nine billion miles on the leg muscles.

Dividing 623 into 9,000,000,000, we end up with a cycling fatality rate of about 6.9 per 100 million miles. According to the NHTSA, that same statistic is 1.11 for cars in 2010. So on the surface, it looks like cycling in the US is about 6.2 times more dangerous than car-driving per mile (note that this is dropping as cycling grows in popularity – in the Netherlands, cycling risk is way down around 1 per 100 million).

Recorded bycycle trip destinations Fig. 19 Recorded bicycle trip destinations

Now let’s compare a cyclist at a comfortable commuting pace of 12MPH, with a car driver on the interstate at 75MPH. Now, the risk per hour is equal, because the car is covering 6.2 times more miles than the cyclist. So the accident risk per hour of the two activities is roughly equal. Many will complain about this comparison, but it is valid in the sense that cars encourage people to cover ridiculous amounts of ground each year for no good reason – an average of 15,000 miles per driver per year. So the average driver ends up much more likely to die than the average cyclist in a given year.

Bicycling being used more for commuting also is affecting the age of accident victims. In 2012, adults 20 and over comprised 84 percent of bicycle fatalities. That compares to adults making up only 21 percent in 1975. Cycling fatalities still occur mostly among men — 88 percent of victims in 2012 were male –and two-thirds of all cyclists killed weren’t wearing helmets. Nearly one-third — 28 percent — of cyclists killed who were age 16 or older had a blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent or higher.

Safety advocates also are concerned that the percentage of cyclists killed with high alcohol levels has remained relatively constant since the early 1980s, even as the percentage of alcohol-impaired drivers in fatal motor vehicle crashes has had a “sharp drop,” the study said. States are working to increase cyclists’ safety by promoting helmet use, enforcing traffic laws and designing streets better for cyclists and pedestrians, as well as vehicles, the association said.

New research ties bike-friendly infrastructure changes in United States cities to increases in “active commuting” by bike-riding residents, which can improve and sustain weight and reduce cardiac risk. The research comes as many of the largest U.S. cities, including New York, Chicago and Minneapolis, add hundreds of miles of bike lanes and launch bike-sharing programs, which Bicycling magazine editor calls “an indicator of an urban area’s vibrancy and livability.” The findings were presented during a poster session on Nov. 4 at The Obesity Society Annual Meeting at Obesity Week 2014 in Boston, Mass.

Recently released Census Bureau data show that the number of people commuting by bike has increased by 60% over the past decade − but until now, the increase has not been closely tied to a supportive city infrastructure. The goal was to evaluate how the development of the Minneapolis Greenway affected the commute of residents over a ten-year period. Bicycle commuting increased most significantly in communities along the Greenway. These data are supportive, but not proof, that a commitment to urban cycling infrastructure can increase active commuting by bicycle.

Research led by the University of North Carolina team used previously collected data from Minneapolis, where increases in commuting by bicycle have significantly exceeded the national average over the past decade. During the same period, the city made major bicycle infrastructure changes, including the Greenway − a trans-city, off-road trail system linking major residential and employment centers. Results show greater increases in commuting by bicycle among residents living near the Greenway. For example, the percentage of workers commuting by bike increased by 89%, from 1.8% (95% CI: 1.2, 2.4) in 2000 to 3.4% (2.9, 4.0) among those living three miles of the Greenway, while those living six miles from the greenway increased by 33%, from 1.2% (0.1, 2.4) to 1.8% (0.7, 2.9).

While it’s well known that bicycling and walking are effective physical activities to promote healthy weight and reduce cardiac risk, this type of active transportation remains more common in European cities than in North America. Some of this difference between Europe and North America can be attributed back to safety concerns associated with cycling in most North American cities, which provides even greater emphasis for infrastructure changes for North American decision-makers to provide safe active commuting routes.

The way our environment is constructed has the potential to positively impact community health. As proposals are designed for new developments or the renovation of existing infrastructure, architects, engineers, and city planners — among others involved in the process — may consider designs that make physical activity safe and accessible for the community. The momentum of the past decade should be carried forward and see even more infrastructure changes that broadly encompass all communities to encourage active and healthy lifestyles across the U.S. and all of North America.

You can also ride a bike for fun. In that case, the top 10 cycling lanes / cities in the U.S. are:

Fig. 20

     America’s 10 best new bike lanes of 2014 Top 10 Cycling Cities in USA
1 Polk Street, San Francisco Boulder, Colorado
2 2nd Avenue, Seattle Portland, Oregon
3 Riverside Drive, Memphis New York City
4 Rosemead Boulevard, Temple City Washington, DC
5 Furness Drive, Austin Minneapolis
6 Broadway, Seattle Tucson, Arizona
7 SW Multnomah Boulevard, Portland Austin, Texas
8 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh Missoula, Montana
9 King Street, Honolulu San Diego
10 Broadway, Chicago Louisville, Kentucky

More information on biking and biking lanes is available here.


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Strategic Plan for the New York City Department of Transportation 2008 and Beyond
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