The European Model
European cities predate the automobile. They were built to pedestrian scale with narrow streets, and as we all know, motorists do not like narrow streets. Convenient parking is difficult or non-existent. Gasoline is far more expensive than Americans would tolerate, and VAT taxes increase the price of motor vehicles as well.
In short, owning a car and driving it in a European city is a PITA. Is it any wonder people use bicycles for short trips? It simply costs less and it's less hassle.
Modern American cities are built around the idea of private motor vehicle use. Some bicycling advocates hate the resulting sprawl and the wide-spread nature of our towns because it increases cycling distances and encourages greater use of motor vehicles. They hold up those European cities as ideal examples of a cycling utopia, yet they ignore the factors that produced them.
Every time we see gasoline prices spike, we see more bicycle riders on the streets. They're responding to an economic stimulus just as the Europeans have done. When fuel prices decline, they climb back into their cars. Absent those economic conditions, we are not going to see a large modal shift in transportation choices, despite the presence or absence of bicycle facilities.
According to the census, about 0.4% of all commuters are cyclists. That's 4 people out of 1000, folks, and it hasn't changed since 1990 despite all the money we've thrown into bicycle facilities. Emulating the Euro-cycling model would require far more money, but if we're not seeing results from a ten-fold increase in expenditures, why should we continue on this course? Don't misunderstand me, I'm in favor of building linear parks and bicycle recreational facilities, but I'm under no illusions that they'll lure motorists out from behind the wheel and onto their bikes for daily transportation. And it's disingenuous of so-called bicycle advocates when they insist otherwise.
If we want to decrease the number of motor vehicles on our roads and make a truly meaningful change in the number of traffic fatalities, reduce air pollution and congestion, and make our cities less stressful places to live, we need a better approach than simply copying the Europeans.
Labels: bicycling advocacy