The Most Important Bike Technology is … Street Design

Eric Jaffe, Side-Walk Talk

New studies of Lisbon and Toronto offer the latest evidence for the power of safe infrastructure to encourage more cycling in cities — and speak to the perils of relying on historical data.

Recent years have seen a surge in bicycle technology as transformative as anything since the penny-farthing gave way to the safety bike. Bike-share systems provide access to bikes without the troubles of parking or storage. Electric bikes boost the length of an acceptable ride far beyond what two tired legs might muster. Bike counters can help transportation agencies evaluate past upgrades and plan for future ones.

But for all these advances, it’s a humble bit of street design that still holds the key to unlocking more riders in cities: bike lanes that keep riders safely separated from cars. Two new case studies — one in Lisbon, one in Toronto — offer the latest (though hardly the first) evidence of the power of bike infrastructure to encourage cycling. The work underscores that no one technology can replace the basic need to feel safe on city streets.

It also speaks to the perils of relying on historical data alone to guide important policy decisions.

Lisbon’s “game-changing” infrastructure

A decade ago, cycling wasn’t very popular in Lisbon, Portugal. One travel survey from 2011 found that city residents made just 0.2 percent of trips by bike, far below the European Union average around that time of 8 percent. Today, bike use in Lisbon is on a steady rise, but the reason isn’t that residents suddenly decided they like to ride. Instead, Lisbon built safe bike infrastructure despite the low numbers, and the riders came.

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