Monday 2 December 2013

Why the bicycle?

It is likely that the potential for increasing the number of cycling journeys in your town is very much greater than you might suppose. Whilst daily cycling may yet be a long way off for many of your fellow citizens, it is nevertheless a mode of transport which has the facility to play a significant role in mobility management.

Why have towns which are similarly situated to yours taken up the challenge of providing for the bicycle? As part of programmes to improve the quality of life, and to increase the appeal of public transport, what sort of role does the bicycle have to play in your town?

Benefits for the community

The list of presumed or proven advantages which would result from an increase in the number of people who cycle regularly is difficult to quantify precisely. The pertinent factors are both numerous and complex. For the economic and ecological benefits in particular, there is simply no reliable method of calculating all the various savings which would accrue from the widespread use of the bicycle.

Nevertheless, these advantages are known, and can be grouped together under the following headings:

Economic benefits such as a reduction in the number of working hours lost due to traffic jams; lower healthcare costs due to the positive effects of regular exercise; and a boost to the household budget, with more money being available perhaps to spend on things other than the upkeep of a car.

Political advantages gained from lessening our dependence on non-renewable energy supplies.

Social advances such as the democratisation of mobility, making all facilities more accessible to both young and old, and also affording them greater autonomy.

Ecological impacts with a distinction between local, short-term effects—where the emphasis is on "the environment"—and non-localised long-term effects—where the emphasis is on "ecological balance".

Benefits for municipalities

As far as towns are concerned, the advantages of the bicycle are mainly linked to the quality of life, the quality of the environment, and the long-term savings made through the following:
• A reduction in the amount of traffic congestion, directly because one-time motoring commuters have changed their preferred method of transport, and indirectly because the use of public transport is made more attractive to commuters, thanks in part due to a combination of public transport and the bicycle. 
Appeal of public transport: Having to switch modes
is a distinct disadvantage to public transport
passengers, given the discomfort of waiting and the
wasted minutes hanging around. Bicycles are an
effective answer to this problem.
• Better fluidity of traffic, which is indispensable, with lower pollution levels.
• Space savings on the road, which would ultimately result in a reduced expenditure on the highways. There is also the added possibility of using certain public spaces more imaginatively, thereby increasing the attractiveness of town centres.
• A general improvement in the quality of life (air pollution, noise pollution, public places, children’s safety), whilst residential areas become more attractive, particularly for families. 
• Less severe deterioration of historical monuments and reduced maintenance costs (less frequent cleaning, for example).
Basically healthy individual choices should not be discouraged

Even if we only stick to environmental considerations (pollution), without necessarily going into the details, or without trying to calculate the economic impact of the respective benefits and drawbacks of the various modes of transport, it is still reasonable to accord cycling the attention and funding it deserves. Any suggestions that facilities for cycling need to be compromised in some way can only be taken seriously with this in mind.

It should be entirely normal for planners and engineers to take regard of the bicycle during redevelopment projects, say, alongside cars and public transport and pedestrians and so forth, rather than trying to squeeze in the bicycle as something of an afterthought. The minimum, therefore, would be to make at least as much effort, comparatively, for bicycles as for the other modes, account being taken of the potential of each mode of transport. In this way, a mode of transport which is largely inaccessible to most people today would, over time, cease to be discouraged.

Benefits for the individual

Jonathan from the Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign has come up with ten reasons why you should consider cycling.

Many of the reasons he gives—freedom, it's quicker, it's fun, it saves you money, it helps you get fit, it helps you to live longer—are expressed in the images above.

Benefits for the private sector

It is quite clear that, as a result of heavy traffic, the private sector is less productive. Goods deliveries, commuters and business travellers all lose time stuck in traffic. The cost to business of road congestion has been estimated in the UK at £8bn (source).

As people who cycle regularly are in better form physically and indeed psychologically, they tend to be able to get more done at work. The benefits of the bicycle for the private sector go much beyond a more productive workforce, however.

For example, the international company Novartis has been encouraging its staff to come to work by bike for many years now. As part of one initiative, the company gave a free bicycle to every one of its employees who relinquished their right to a parking place in the company car park. Novartis is very well aware of what it gets in return: it saves on parking, it largely eliminates traffic jams in the immediate vicinity, it projects a more positive image to local people and the authorities, it offers better mobility to its employees, and it cuts down on the number of days lost each year through illness.

Benefits for the High Street

It is very far from the case that the vitality of commercial enterprises is dependent upon a High Street which is easily accessible to motorists. The contribution made by customers who arrive by public transport, bicycle and on foot is greatly underestimated, as indeed is the negative impact on our town centres in particular, and on the urban environment in general, as a consequence of providing for the car.

A study carried out in Bern, Switzerland, established the ratio between the value of purchases made and the parking area used by each customer, expressed as an annual average. The results showed that the ratio of profitability to parking was highest in the case of cyclists: €7,500 per square metre. Motorists came next with €6,625 per square metre.

On the face of it, this would seem paradoxical given that cyclists have no boot in which to put their purchases, meaning they are thus constrained by how much they can carry home. However, a separate study carried out in Munster, Germany, reaffirmed that motorists are not in fact better customers than cyclists. Indeed, in most situations, cyclists actually make for better customers. Because they tend to buy in smaller quantities, cyclists go to the shops more regularly (11 times a month on average, as opposed to seven times a month for motorists).

(Just to add, Cllr Tim Ward told Cambridge News: "Retailers want people coming in spending two to three hours shopping." Little surprise then that the council is investing much more on cycle parking.)

It must be stressed that what the High Street values most is activity. It would therefore be more accurate to say that the vitality of commercial enterprises is much more closely linked to the quality of the environment (rather than to the ease with which the town centre is accessible by car).


In the urban area, every trip made by bicycle rather than by car generates considerable savings and advantages both for the individual and for the community, such as:
• no detriment whatsoever on the quality of life (neither noise nor air pollution);
• preservation of monuments and planted areas;
• less room required both for moving and for parking, and therefore a more profitable use of the public space becomes possible;
• less deterioration to the road network;
• a reduced need for new road infrastructures;
• an improvement in the attractiveness of town centres (shops, culture, recreational activities, street life);
• fewer traffic jams and the economic losses which they entail;
• increased fluidity of car circulation;
• increased appeal of public transport;
• greater accessibility to typically urban services for the entire population (including adolescents and young adults);
• parents freed from the chore of transporting their children (more time and money to spend on other things);
• considerable time-savings to be had for short- and medium-length journeys;
• the need for a second car is no longer so pressing (and hence an increase in the household budget becomes possible);
• etc.

The foregoing is an adaptation of Chapter 1 of Cycling: the way ahead for towns and cities. See also Safety: a responsibility (chapter 4), Daring to redistribute space and means (chapter 5), and What needs to be known (chapter 6).

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