City infrastructure and the great bicycle economy
The great, civilised cities of the world are bike-friendly cities. They’ve understood for some time now that for every car you try to squeeze down a harried arterial route you could fit in a dozen cyclists (or many more pedestrians) who will have a propensity to shop more, pollute less and get to work a little faster than those trapped in a tin can listening to Chris Evans.
As a healthy part of the transport mix in a modern city, cycling can make a strong case for itself. If you consider that cyclists cost the healthcare system less, call in sick less than their colleagues, and support a growing ‘bicycle economy’ of shops, cycle centres and makers of flashing LEDs, the latest studies show each new cyclist benefits our economy by up to £1,300 per year.
Across the nation as a whole and based on fewer sick days alone, a mere 1% increase in commuter cycling could save British business £95m a year.
On top of that, building cycling infrastructure creates more jobs than road building so if you want a green stimulus package that helps to cut carbon emissions, this is the one to go for, if you’re not saving up £80bn for some high speed rail lines.
The numbers add up and so that’s why the race is on for those cities that don't, unlike Copenhagen or Amsterdam, already boast 10-30% of their short journeys by bike; it’s a race to retrofit their urban infrastructure and become ‘cycling cities’ that take two wheels just as seriously as they do four.
It’s a race that Greater Manchester should win.
To keep track with the best in the world we need to be investing at least £10 per capita each year in cycling, an investment that will repay itself many times over. Building segregated cycleways into the heart of our city centre is the right place to start.
There’s been the start of a renaissance in city cycling already. We've had our Love Your Bike campaign running now for seven years featuring Bike Fridays, Bike Fabulous and a cycling manifesto for the city. There are new cycle hubs and great cycle training programmes up and running. There’s a dock you can hire Bromptons from. There are fixies and Dutch bikes and folders and even cargo bikes threading their way through the city.
People are ditching other modes of transport and taking to their bikes, but the numbers are still tiny and bike commuting is still, sadly, dominated by middle-aged men in lycra who have dressed up as if they’re about to go into battle, rather than go into work. To broaden the appeal of cycling to young and old, and particularly to women, we have to make it safer and we have to make it mainstream. It’s not a sport, it’s a way to get around, simple as that.
If we move away from the laughable strategy of asking cyclists to wend their way along thin green strips bestrewn with pot holes, rain drains and sparkling carpets of broken glass, into separate cycleways, the difference will be profound. It will be safer for cyclists, better for motorists (who still don’t really know how to overtake bikes) and it will be less frustrating for bus drivers as they wait for matey boy to sail past on his bike, even though they’ve already got their indicator on.
Less conflict, a faster commute and more cycling; which in turn means more economic benefits, a healthier population and less pollution. It’s a winning formula and one that our city is going for; it’s the future we’re pedaling towards, helped by the £20m of funding we’ve just won for Greater Manchester.
* Originally published in the Manchester Evening News in August 2013.
** to view a Slideshare presentation on this subject, click here.
Steve is co-founder and CEO of Creative Concern. He specialises in ethical and sustainability issues, integrated campaigns, city strategies, brand development and creating strange installations out of trees, lights and beautiful type. Particular areas of expertise include climate change, place making, transport, food issues and the natural environment.