Is bicycling about being super green and eco-friendly?
Not for everyone.
People choose to bicycle for all kinds of reasons. Some do it because it is cheap, others do it because it is the fastest and easiest way to get around, while others do it for a bit of exercise. People live unique lives, and bicycling fits into those lives in unique ways.
In Copenhagen, where about half of residents ride bicycles for transportation, only one percent said they did so primarily for environmental reasons. 56 percent say they bike because it’s the fastest and easiest way to get around.
That said, it is impossible to be an urban environmentalist without being in favor of more bicycling. There is no feasible concept of a sustainable city that does not include a whole lot of bicycling as a key part of a larger sustainability plan.
While Copenhagen residents—who, by the way, are apparently among the happiest in the world—do not bike mainly for environmental reasons, Copenhagen is currently aiming to be a carbon-neutral city by 2025. And if you think they could even dream of stating that goal—let alone having a shot at achieving it—without such a high rate of bicycling, then you are fooling yourself.
Among US cities, Seattle is among the most promising as a someday-sustainable city. With a dense and walkable population center, strong transit system (well, for a US city, anyway) and a growing call for an all-ages-and-abilities bike facility network, Seattle could make a serious run at being a sustainable city that serves as a model for other cities around the nation. But we are not going to get there unless we find a way to fund these efforts in an accelerated and serious way. We are not doing so today.
Here’s an example of what a serious attempt might look like: Instead of spending only 2 percent of the city’s transportation budget on bicycle-related projects, which is lower than the current commute mode share for bicycling in the city, why don’t we spend an aspirational amount on bicycling projects? If we seriously want to increase bicycling to 6 percent (or more) of the commute traffic by 2015, then why not spend 6 percent or more of the transportation budget to try to get there? Or are we not actually serious about achieving this goal?
It’s not rocket science, it’s simply investing in projects that make it easier, safer and more direct for people to bike and walk to accomplish their daily tasks.
The majority of Seattle voters support building more safe bicycle facilities. So let’s stop talking about it and do it. We might just have a shot at being a sustainable city while we’re at it.