The rise and current state of bicycle paths
The Covid-19 crisis has been a major contributing factor to the recent rise of cycling paths. Governments support efforts to increase cyclists because it is seen as a low-cost and environmentally sustainable alternative to other modes of transportation. It also reduces the risk of Covid-19 transmission. This redistribution of street space entails the construction of bicycle infrastructure and as of July 8, 2020, 2,000 km of these infrastructure changes had been announced in European cities.
So where are we in 2022?
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According to DW, Copenhagen has a 350-kilometer bicycle path network, traffic lights that prioritize cyclists, and footrests on the roadside when you have to wait for a green light, while Paris and Strasbourg are the most bike-friendly cities in France.
The dire pollution in Paris requires the transition to having more bicycle paths. Paris regularly exceeds the maximum levels of nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution set at the European level and the French state has been condemned in 2021 to a severe penalty for its inaction on air pollution such as Ile-de-France and the territory of Paris.
What are the costs associated with bicycle paths?
We should, however, not jump the gun in agreeing to bicycle paths without looking at the costs. A 2021 study showed that while the cost of a 1-kilometer bike lane in Sevilla could reach the cost of €250,000. Meanwhile, an approach from another European city, Berlin, iterative planning, has reduced costs to €9,500/km.
The cost for car-owners, delivery persons and bus drivers is also something to consider. As mentioned in a previous article, bus drivers have increasing concerns for safety on the road due to the fact that they have to share narrow Parisian streets with people on different micro-vehicles, including bicycles.
Since the City of Paris aims to make Paris a 100% bike-friendly city by 2026, safety and cost issues need to be addressed for people using various modes of transport. The bicycle plan represents a budget of 250 million euros for the city by 2026 and while they have already reached 1,000km of cycling paths, they are adding 180km more cycling paths. This also means providing 130,000 new parking spots for bikes, which would stretch the spaces on roads to the limit.
Why do we still need bicycle paths despite the costs?
Encouraging active modes of travel is one of the major health and environmental benefits that will be attained with the presence of more cycling paths. In dense cities such as Sevilla, the construction of bike lanes on major roads increased the number of cyclists significantly – 120 km of new bike lanes have led there to a fivefold increase of cycling between 2006 and 2011.
Why is this an important change? Provisional cycling infrastructure constructed during the start of the Covid-19 pandemic was seen to be generating between $2.2 and $6.9 billion a year in health benefits.
Besides health considerations, the majority of people in densely populated areas such as Paris uses public transportation and other micro-mobility vehicles. Hence, by constructing new cycling paths and reducing the presence of cars on the roads, active and healthier modes of travel can be encouraged.
Temperatures in France, the U.K., Italy and other parts of Europe saw a large increase beginning in June this year. The hot, dry conditions are driving up power prices and causing a crisis in parts of Italy, where a glacier is melting and severe drought is cutting power supplies and hitting agriculture.
The heat waves that we have experienced are a direct result of climate change. According to a climatologist, Friederike Otto, climate change is a real game-changer when it comes to heat waves as they have increased in frequency, intensity and duration across the world because of our burning of fossil fuels.
Faced with such a dire situation, why would we say no to a policy of infrastructure development that will pave the way for less emissions, a more active, healthy and enjoyable modes of transport? One this needs to have a future-oriented mindset to continue forging the future with bicycle paths.
By Michelle DJONG HUI ING