Bike Nation: The Future of Sustainable Cities

It’s no secret that our planet is in need of some serious tender loving care. We’ve put it through a lot in the last century. Some experts say that 50% of species will be facing extinction by the end of the century, due to our current social and environmental climate.

In recent years there’s been a push towards sustainability. Cities around the globe have been doing their part to try to maintain our world’s natural resources, find efficient renewable energy sources, and encourage social responsibility. In a recent article, Bill Gates even stated that the energy sector would be an industry he would drop out of school (Harvard) for in 2017.

When it comes to sustainability, Europe is killing it. Of the top 20 most sustainable cities, 16 of them are in Europe. Cities in the United States don’t even round out the top 25. Some of the world’s most sustainable cities have one thing in common, great transportation​. Transportation accounts for about 30% of greenhouse emissions in the United States, and only 14% globally.

The world’s most sustainable cities coincidentally (or maybe not so coincidentally) are also the top bike cities in the world. For clean transportation, the bike is perhaps the most sustainable and efficient form of getting around there is. It’s a lot faster than walking, doesn’t emit carbon dioxide, is great exercise, and costs much less than buying a car!

Let’s look at some cities:

Often cited as the bike capital of the world, Amsterdam’s streets are regularly filled with more bikes than cars. About 60% of all trips taken in Amsterdam’s city center are by bike. Of course, even as the world’s bike capital, Amsterdam has its faults. The city has been struggling to create enough bike parking to accommodate its massive amount of cyclists. There’s currently plans for underwater bike parking since space above ground is limited. Not to mention, rush hour traffic for Amsterdam residents means a whole lot of congested bike lanes and bike accidents. However, they long achieved the hardest feat of all, actually getting people on bikes in the first place!

Within the past decade, Barcelona has really steps its game up, adding 125 miles of dedicated bike lanes throughout the city’s major districts. If you don’t have a bike, it’s no problem, Barcelona has over 400 bike sharing stations throughout the city, so there’s no excuse not to ride one!

Chicago is working its way up to be the model city for biking in the United States. In 2015, Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, promised to build 100 miles of buffered and protected bike lanes, a project set for completion sometime this year. This means Chicago will soon be the first U.S. city with a downtown system of protected bike lanes. While this is a huge step, there’s still some conflicting reviews on the bike lanes and questions about the safety of the new installments.

There’s lot to be learned from our neighbors to the north. Montreal, the largest city in Canada’s Quebec province has been one of the best areas for cycling in North America for decades. They’ve had protected bike lanes throughout the city since the 80s and have been really consistent with bike policy and safety.

San Francisco
San Francisco ranks 39th on a global sustainability ranking, which is actually pretty good! However, the city fails to shine as a bike friendly city on a worldwide scale. It’s one of the most bike friendly cities in the United States, but compared to similar European cities it falls short. Why? Well, there’s still a shortage of protected bike lanes and the streets overall are not safe for the 82,000 cyclists that ride on San Francisco’s streets each day.

As a whole, cities around the U.S. need to take notes on how places around the globe are approaching biking as sustainable transportation. The first step we can take is creating safer biking spaces, which includes more protected bike lanes and bike policy reform. There’s still lots of work to be done in American cities as far as sustainability goes. It’s clear cities nationwide will have to encourage less reliance on cars and more on their resident’s own two feet! In addition to more sustainable farming, solar energy, and more recyclable materials, the future of sustainability looks like it will heavily involve two wheels.

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