26 Apr 2018

Why "cities for people" means more bikes and fewer cars

Is your city for people or cars?
Nobody alive today remembers the time before cars dominated most cities, in terms of space (streets, parking, garages), safety (cars result in "pedestrian deaths"), pollution (air, water, noise) or livability ("don't play in the street").

Cornelia (my girlfriend) works on this topic all the time, and it's the one major reason why we returned to Amsterdam after moving to Vancouver. We were no longer ignorant of the car's malign impacts on North American cities.

Taking that thinking as given, let me relate a few "mental models" on why bikes are more appropriate than cars for urban living:
  • Bikes are better for traveling short distances. In 20 minutes, I can bike about 5km (most places in Amsterdam). A car can cover that distance in much less time, but the car requires much more space to move and park.
  • Bike flows can fit into 25 percent of the space that car flows need, which means that you can fit more bikes into a given space or leave more space for people to walk, sit or play. Bikes can be parked with 6-8x the density of cars, and they are far easier to move around or fit into small spaces.
  • Most important, bike-on-bike (or person) accidents usually cause trivial damage to the people involved and the bikes themselves. Car-on-car, car-on-bike or car-on-people accidents cause major injuries and death as well as significant financial damages. Over 6,000 pedestrians and cyclists were killed in the US in 2016. That number, if attributed to urban areas only, would account for about 40 percent of the 17,000 urban-car-deaths.
Bottom line: If you want a city for people, then discourage cars and encourage bikes.

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