CYCLING INFRASTRUCTURE: IT´S NOT GOT TO BE PERFECT
Bicycles on are the advance worldwide. Diverse examples show how quick and easy it can be to create a functioning infrastructure – and improve quality of life for city inhabitants. The German National Cyclists’ Association (ADFC) presented a wide range of best-practise case studies that could also be conceivably implemented in Germany. They demonstrate that: Changes have not got to be perfect, but they do need to show people quick wins.
Paris – Converting urban space into bike networks
Since Anne Hidalgo became mayor of Paris in 2014, transport policy has changed dramatically in the French capital. The city’s first ever female mayor initiated “le plan vélo” that aims to devote more space to cyclists. Roads have been either completely or partially closed to cars and turned into cycle lanes and walkways. Even important main roads have now been converted for bike use. In addition, some of Paris’ world-famous, busy roundabouts have also been transformed. The city administration has created footpaths and cycle zones as areas where people meet. There are more and more pedestrian zones around schools so that children can play more freely. In recent years, the number of cyclists has increased by some 50 per cent. “We want to offer better quality of life for all Parisians,” says Hidalgo about the changes.
“If you want to improve people’s lives then, you have to do more for cycling.”
There have been many reservations and problems to deal with during the transformation of traffic areas. For example, the numerous bridges that were intended for cars only. Parisians also had to get used to the changed traffic routing. In addition, many inhabitants wanted to protect their parking spaces and there was passionate resistance to converting them into footpaths and cycle lanes. This kind of opposition is to be expected when it comes to transforming urban areas, says deputy mayor Christophe Najdovski, who is also president of the European Cyclists’ Federation. He advocates that: “With political willpower, it’s possible to reorganise urban areas. “If you want to improve people’s lives, then you have to do more for cycling.” He says that initially, it always requires an individual decision to get a collective movement going. The city authorities’ re-election in 2020, shows that the majority of inhabitants agree with the new direction, Najdovski adds.
In the beginning, Clyde Loakes, London councillor for the borough of Waltham Forest, also had to overcome significant resistance. As a local politician in the north-east of the city, he felt forced to act as main roads were often congested and footpaths were being blocked by illegally parked cars. The Mini-Holland programme was launched. The idea: to close the main road to cars between the hours of 10:00 and 22:00. In addition, the council introduced so-called ‘modal filters’. This simple concept introduces traffic calming with filters or limits car journeys along certain roads. Instead of requiring major innovation, it uses bollards or other street furniture. The resulting free space can then be used by pedestrians and cyclists. In recent years, over 80 such filters have been installed.
London – Transforming metropolitan boroughs
“You have to help people to use the infrastructure.”
Many people use their cars to do the shopping, although they would much prefer to use other more active alternatives. This is why Loakes says: “You have to help people to use the infrastructure.” The local council built secure bicycle parking, special cycle lanes and bike-friendly road crossings. Where did they get the additional road space? In 2019 alone, some 850 car parking spaces were converted into further transport zones. Loakes explains that it generally doesn’t take long to convince others about implementing new forms of traffic management. Through Covid-19, the issue gained additional momentum. According to Loakes, London’s city centre has become less attractive as people work more from home and are generally less mobile. They want options to be able to shop locally, quickly and in a pleasant environment. The impact of this extends beyond local borders. “People from all over London are coming to us to do their shopping because they feel safer here,” says Loakes
Barcelona – Living in a superblock
Antoni Gaudi was not the only influence on town planning in Barcelona. Ildefons Cerdàs also had an important and long-lasting impact. In 1859, he proposed urban planning ideas for a modern city focused on mobility and communication. The forward-thinking civil engineer is known for his quadratic housing grid plans with diagonal streets. The urban area was optimised for pedestrians, included green areas for relaxation and space to meet others. After being buried in the city archives for many years, Cerdàs’ ideas were dusted off and rediscovered during preparations for the Olympic Games in 1992. This resulted in new projects to create a liveable city. In 2016, the city administration developed the idea of a superblock during a university project. It involves combining up to nine housing blocks together and giving pedestrians and cyclists priority on streets within the superblock. Cars may only drive at max. 10 km/h and only in one lane. Inhabitants are encouraged to recreate the free lane as they see fit. The result was playgrounds, park benches, open-air cinemas and other events – in the middle of the street.
However, before this could happen, a lot of work had to be done, explains Silvia Casorrán. She’s a member of the neighbourhood association for the Poblenou area, where the first superblock was trialled. After the university project finished, the benches and public areas disappeared from the streets. “However, the local residents didn’t want to go back to the way things were before and got involved to get things moving,” says Casorrán. In three months, the project developed a lot of momentum and the neighbourhood become much more pleasant to live in, including opportunities for leisure and recreation right in the middle of street. “Naturally, there was opposition. People quickly feel overlooked and ignored. But you have to be bold and courageous,” says Casorrán. In the meantime, superblocks have become a permanent part of urban planning in Barcelona. The city wants to build over 500 of them in the coming years and reclaim more than 60 per cent of the streets currently devoted to cars.
“You have to be bold and courageous,”
Bogotá – Sunday is bike day
The Ciclovía has been held in Bogotá, the Columbian capital, since 1974. Every Sunday and on public holidays, the city’s main avenues and highways are closed to cars and opened to bicycles and people doing sports. What initially started out as a small initiative has snowballed into an event involving on average 1.7 million people and currently held over 127 kilometres of roads between 07:00 and 14:00. Along the route, stands supply food and drink to the cyclists and other sporting participants, while on special stages in the parks personal trainers run open fitness sessions. The idea of temporary road closures spread to other Columbian cities and caught on in metropoles the world over. The Ciclovía, or ‘bike way’, was the result of a public campaign to draw attention to the car problem in the sprawling city. Bicycles are seen as a symbol of protest against increasing air pollution and in 1976, the city administration turned the idea into an official event.
“The roads belong to a wide range of different users.”
“It should be made clear that the roads belong to a wide range of different users,” says Laura Bahamón, a bicycle mobility expert in Bogotá, about the initiative. In the meantime, around two million people take part every week. This is doing a lot to increase acceptance of cycling in the population in general. Especially in times of Covid-19, where travelling by bike has become an important alternative to public transport. And in areas with poor local transport, the Ciclovía provides the opportunity to get quickly and safely from A to B. However, the event is often disrupted by motorised vehicles that break though the barriers. This means that huge numbers of people are required to organise and manage it. It’s estimated that some 1,200 Bogotanos are involved every Sunday to ensure the Ciclovía goes smoothly. They now have an additional task: To ensure that the large number of participating cyclists maintain a safe distance from each other.
Bogotá’s Ciclovías have now been extended in response to transport and mobility challenges in the city. Bogotá’s city administration has added 84 km of new, temporary bike lanes to the existing Ciclovía network to promote the use of active, sustainable transport and reduce congestion. The new lanes function 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.