There’s a video making the rounds on YouTube detailing the French government’s plan to increase the use of the bicycle; the desire is to encourage the country’s citizenry more like the Dutch, who use the bike for 30 percent of all trips. Currently, the French conduct 3 percent of their trips by bike. The government is investing some €350 million on new bike paths. But they aren’t stopping there. They’ll be creating connectors with existing bike paths to make them more usable. All new buildings constructed will be required to have adequate bicycle parking. By 2022 all high schools will offer lessons in cycling (one wonders if they will cover bonking). One-way streets, amazingly, will be both-way thoroughfares for riders. There will be tax incentives to encourage people to ride to work as well. You can check out the video here.
Watching the video, I was reminded of a question that has lingered in my gray matter since a couple of trips to the Boulder area this past year. I spent most of my time getting around by bike and used their truly formidable network of bike paths that extend into neighboring communities. Transportation advocates frequently cite first mile/last mile concerns about trips conducted without a car, with the central issue being how to get people to and from public transportation in order to make it more useful. What I found remarkable about those bike paths was how they inverted that whole first mile/last mile idea by creating a network in which a rider may only ride a portion of their initial or final mile on actual roads.
Even if you’re not using bike paths to run errands, having a good bike path that can get you to the edge of town can make the beginning and ending of a ride a good deal more relaxing. That’s true not just in Boulder, but here in Santa Rosa, as well.
I write this with the experience of having spent a year in Valencia, Calif., where the city has a system of paths they call paseos that can be used to get to a destination without traveling on the interstate-like roads. In the late ’90s, Valencia was the hot place to move in SoCal because it was a “planned community.” Just what they planned is something I never quite worked out. The paseos, while terrific for giving kids a safe place to play, serpentine like the walk of a toddler and are narrow enough that someone riding a bike more than 10 mph will utterly terrorize anyone not also engaged on a bike. They are impractical for transportation the way a semi is impractical for making a run to the grocery store.
Given the average American’s resistance to most things European (Have we stopped calling them freedom fries yet?), rather than looking to European examples of encouraging broad ridership, I’m thinking we would benefit from looking at places where traveling by bike is as pleasant and threat-free as possible here in the U.S. This isn’t a discussion of whether or not to build cycling infrastructure—there’s no winning that debate one way or another. What I’m interested to hear is where you’ve ridden where cycling facilities have been created and are planned well enough to encourage you to leave the car and ride where you’re going. If a friend was planning a vacation and made getting around by bike their number one concern, where would you send them?
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