• FreeBike

A Lot of Money

The map above shows bicycle lanes across Europe. In the Netherlands (you can identify it on the map, even without borders drawn in), many cities have bicycle mode share around 50% - that means that half of all trips are taken by bike. (No need to wait for electric cars in order to have clean transportation!)

FreeBike was asked the other day by a transportation planner which should come first: bikes or bike lanes?

Now, what is obvious from the map is that more bike lanes and more bikes result in more bike trips. It's pointless to argue whether one or the other comes first; more of one results in more of the other, and then you just spin that cycle as fast as you can.

What is less obvious though is the role of wealth in this cycle. Look at that map again. There are more bike lanes virtually everywhere that incomes are highest, meaning particularly the northern European countries, as well as the London metro area. These are places that a couple of generations ago were largely burned or bombed to the ground.

Bike lanes, and streets full of cyclists, are an extraordinary facilitator and ally of place-building, and of wealth-building. Building highways and bridges and tunnels takes decades, during which time people don't benefit. Cycles of building bike lanes and getting bikes to people can be done in months, not decades. Faster cycles are better when you understand that you're building connectivity and access and density, and through those things you are building wealth.

Why put a $30,000 vehicle, and billions of dollars of highways, between someone and the ability to get to work, when you can build bike lanes for less than 1% the cost and use a tiny fraction of the savings to give a free bike to anyone who can't afford to buy one?

Look at that map again. Picture the bike lanes and the happy cyclists. Picture the lack of obstacles for any student to get to school, and the lack of obstacles for any employee or prospective employee to get to work. Then, conversely, picture someone trying to get on their feet economically, and needing $30,000 and hundreds of dollars a month for a car, and realize that roads built only for cars are deadly obstacles - enemies, not friends.

So, don't get hung up on the question of "which comes first, bikes or bike lanes". Instead, ask "Is my community in the business of building wealth, or of building obstacles?" That should be an easy question to answer. Then, get your community in the habit of adding both more bicycles and more bike lanes, and see how fast you can get the growth cycle going. Cycling fast is fun, after all...

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