Bicycles are the key to better cities

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

When it comes to bicycles and cities we all know the talking points as to the benefits of using a bike as they have been tirelessly elaborated upon.

Bicycles improve health, ease congestion, save money, use less space, and provide efficient transportation with zero fuel consumption and zero carbon emissions and the culmination of a population on two wheels can have a drastic impact on the overall well-being of a city.

But, none of these aspects come close to the most meaningful aspect of cycling, which is a factor that simply cannot be quantified but has endless value to those fighting to improve their communities.

The most vital element for the future of our cities is that the bicycle is an instrument of experiential understanding.

On a bicycle, one experiences one's town or city with deep intimacy and in a totally different light and setting.

For a motorist using a car the world is reduced to mere equation as to the fastest route from A to B and that means that the driver will simply chose the shortest route, via the freeway and the, what is called a bypass (no heart surgery involved here) in the UK.

On a bicycle, however, one cannot turn a blind eye and the cyclist must acknowledge everything around him or her and herein lies the secret of urban renaissance via the bicycle.

The bicycle doesn’t need to be sold. It’s economical, it’s fun, it’s sexy, and just about everyone already has one hiding somewhere in their garage. The bicycle runs on fat not oil and unlike the car helps you lose weight rather than gain it. It is a total win-win situation.

Having said that, however, most towns, cities and even suburban areas – especially in the UK and the US, simply do not have cycling infrastructure. This means that those wishing to use a bike often take their lives into their hand, almost literally.

On the other hand, though, bicycles will make a city livable and what I, and most cyclists, like, I am sure, is the fact that you can stop for a a coffee at any cafe without having to look for a parking space and, more often than not, having to pay money for parking.

Neither does any kind of congestion charge affect the cyclist and, as said, a bike can be parked almost anywhere without any problems (though some people have signs up that locking a bike to this or that railing will result in the bike being removed, blah, blah).

Bicycles matter, in cities as well as elsewhere, because they are a catalyst of understanding – become hooked on the thrill of cycling, and this understanding soon follows.

I assume that being a cyclist is also the reason why the current Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, understands the need for continental style cycle lanes that are physically separated from the motor traffic and it would be good if others too would get on their bikes and experience the world from the view of a cyclist.

Personally, obviously, I am biased as to cycling being a non-driver and thus someone who relies on his bicycles – yes, plural, but I only use one at a time – honest, to get around and if it is not possible to cycle then it is on foot. Also a nice way.

It is a shame though that even cyclists and walkers in our towns and cities do not seems to have time. They all head off in a hurry, whether on a bicycle or on foot, heads down and rushing. What's the hurry?

Let's get more bicycles onto the roads our towns, cities and countryside and slow down life a little.

© 2013