Whenever you hear safety-in-numbers statement you may like to cross-check with the location’s infrastructure provision too. Safety figures are one thing. It is also important to link the safety discussion back to its environmental root causes, the enabling factors and the needs people have, so that ultimately “more people cycle, more safely, more often” (to use one of the popular UK slogans). In the widely accepted socio-ecological model for transport (decision-making, design and ) the built environment plays a key role in people’s (inter)action with their city.
When asked to describe the environmental influence of the socio-ecological model, I tend to put it like this: if the house does not have a set of stairs, an elevator, a lift or ladder it’d be unlikely you’d find people on the upper floors. If the city has no cycle infrastructure, disjointed provision, ie no cycle network to speak of, cycling will not be a proposition to many, and people will (have to) find other ways of getting around. Moreover, the urban built environment is created by people (well, institutions, authorities, expert systems, political beliefs, contractors and developers desires’ and other invisible pressure – but ultimately: people). And so the a fateful circle closes once more. Getting involved in decisions about urban space is vitally important. Getting fair representation of the full cross-section of users is crucial to inclusive urban design. I am thinking along the lines of women, disability and age groups.
With this importance of infrastructure in mind, I had a quick look at maps for Bremen and NewcastleGateshead (my two research locations). I also included Groningen as it’s Newcastle’s twin city (and world-renowned as a Cycle City).
Cycle infrastructure is shown in dotted blue lines (not the thicker red or blue lines, which denote routes and not linked to infrastructure quality). Each location’s cycle share is shown next to the map – it is the blue slice.
I’d say that there is a rather clear correlation between the presence of the dotted blue lines and the cycle mode share.
In case you wondered, yes, I had a quick spot-check of the dotted blue lines. On the ground, in street reality, these include physically protected space (usually the lines along the main roads) but they can also be traffic-free routes through park areas (in case of Newcastle’s Town Moor, for example), which are likely to be walk/cycle shared spaces and their delineation method is less clear. All in all, I think, the dotted blue lines give a reasonable estimate of the available network for convenient and comfortable cycling for the locations shown above.
The lack of a coherent physical network in NewcastleGateshead keeps cycle participation (artificially) low ie 1% cycle mode share – it suppresses cycling levels. It may be of interest to some to hear that Newcastle (the area North of the River Tyne) is a 20mph (30kmh) city, where something in the region of 85% of streets are legally limited to a 20mph speed. How come Newcastle still has such a low cycle share? Putting up a few signs and painting a few rondels on the blacktop never was going to be enough to get a city cycling. The 20mph conversion was a good first step, but more is needed now. Car-restraint measures (closing down rat runs in the neighbourhoods, fiscal and spatial measures to civilise driving and parking) coupled with protected cycleways on main roads for direct cycle journeys would make Newcastle a Cycle City. Providing a balance between push and pull.
Having had the chance to visit Bremen, I can report the quality of the cycle tracks there are reasonable, but often lacking in width, smooth surface, often losing priority (over side streets) and average speed could be improved too. Oh, the luxury problems they have! speaking from the English perspective. On closer inspection, Bremen’s map actually still does look quite patchy for cycle infrastructure provision.
It is also about comprehensive routes. It could be argued from the maps above that Groningen is successful in getting people cycling more safely more often, because it sports a network with clear routes (amongst other more invisible factors, such as motor traffic and car parking management streetfilms etc).
There are many factors that make a successful Cycle City. But a pre-requisite remains the provision of an enabling environment.