Networks work. When all-ages bikeways join up into grids, habits change.
Connecting protected bike lanes, off-street paths and bike boulevards into comfortable networks transforms bicycling from a niche activity into a pleasant and sensible option that most people are willing to consider for short everyday trips. Add up millions of those trips and cities become cleaner, healthier, safer, happier, more prosperous and more efficient.
At least, that's the way it works in places with fully connected all-ages biking networks. Trouble is, the U.S. has hardly any of those.
So: do networks work? It's actually hard to prove.
If only someone were to run a test in which a bunch of cities built and promoted all-ages biking networks in very different neighborhoods and then measured the effect on ridership. This would have to happen in the course of just a few years, so you could have some certainty that the infrastructure was involved.
Today, 10 U.S. cities launched that test.
10 carefully chosen U.S. neighborhoods, on a mission to double or triple biking
Like the Green Lane Project, our recently completed five-year mission to help protected bike lanes go national, it's a sort of "gifted and talented program" for cities. The idea is that if a handful of cities get something right, everyone else will find it easier to follow.
This worked so well with protected bike lanes that we're doing it again for networks.
It'd be impossible for cities to quickly build networks everywhere. So when we invited them to apply, we asked each one to choose a "focus area" — about the size of a single ZIP code — to focus three years of rapid improvements. We were looking for neighborhoods where biking would have great potential if only there were good places to ride.
Eighty communities applied. After much research and debate, we chose 10:
Austin, Texas: central core
Baltimore, Maryland: Remington / Old Goucher / Reservoir Hill / North Maryland
Fort Collins, Colorado: District 6 (northwest side)
Los Angeles, California: downtown and University Park
Memphis, Tennessee: South Memphis
New Orleans, Louisiana: New Orleans Crosstown Gateways
New York City, New York: (focus area to be announced)
Portland, Oregon: Gateway
Providence, Rhode Island: City Walk corridor
Tucson, Arizona: City of South Tucson and surrounding neighborhoods
Each of these neighborhoods is on a mission to double or triple biking by 2020. To help, we'll be connecting them with the world's best wisdom, in-person trainings, peer support systems and a new tool for measuring biking progress.
It's a tall task. These neighborhoods have wildly different strengths and challenges. Several are extremely auto-oriented. Some are booming; others have seen decades of disinvestment.
But we're willing to bet that they all have one thing in common: if biking is practical and pleasant, people will bike.
Over the next few weeks, this blog will take a quick look at the potential in each of these communities. Over the next few years, we'll be covering their progress and lessons so the rest of the country can follow along.
Americans, including us at PeopleForBikes, have still a lot to learn about quickly building great biking networks. So hang on. This will be a fun ride.