comes back to solving problems at a local level, and by doing so celebrating our distinctness. “We should not want a city like Philly to look like a European city,” he says. “Of course we shouldn’t hesitate to try different ideas, whether from European, Asian or American cities, but we should not assume these are the best answers. We don’t have, and nor should we aspire to have, a culture of helmet-less people riding upright 3-speeds. As urban cyclists it’s not who we are. We have to figure our own solutions out.”
A more useful comparison might be London, where cycling had declined in popularity but is now increasing dramatically. London’s roads are already a squeeze, and this is a city with an extensive public transportation network and a congestion charge for any driver taking their vehicle into the city center. It’s also steadily becoming a better place to ride around. There are “bike super-highways” running along major routes into the center, a popular bike-share scheme, and increased efforts towards safety and traffic calming—including things like improved training for truck drivers, who account for a startlingly high percentage of bike casualties in the city. Particularly important is that employers in the city are beginning to support bike commuting, in many cases responding to the demands of their staff.
City University London, for example, has developed a Green Transportation Plan that makes increased bicycle and pedestrian commuting a strategic aim. The majority of the university’s staff and students still use public transport, and with rising numbers cycling or walking, car journeys now account for just 1% of trips. Dawn White, Sustainability Officer at the university, explains how this came about, “We used the bottom-up approach at City to get cycling initiatives funded and implemented. Most people travel to the campuses by public transport, cycle or by foot... Yet we had very little secure storage space available for our cyclists, and no other initiatives to offer them. Something clearly had to change.” In addition to improved facilities there are now regular maintenance and safety classes, and government-sponsored bike purchase schemes.
Temple University is working along similar lines having identified that more than 5000 of its students, faculty and staff live within six miles of the main campus. The University’s Sustainability Office now runs Bike Temple, a comprehensive plan that includes a dramatic expansion in bike parking on campus, free U-locks if you register your bike with Campus Safety, urban riding and maintenance classes, mentoring schemes for new riders and local criterium races. Bike Temple Coordinator Lindsey Graham is very optimistic for the future. “It’s a great time to be a cyclist at Temple and in the city,” she says, even though challenges still remain. “In US culture we’re just not as used to seeing cyclists on the roads. It’s essential to increase all road-users’ awareness that we’re part of the transportation network and have a right to be on the road. The cycling culture is already here... but I’d like to see more infrastructure on the streets around the university, to really connect Temple with the rest of the city.”
Better connections are a common theme and are driving the next stage of infrastructure development. In the ThinkBike workshops, Tom Godefrooij noticed how some cities seemed more focussed on “the number of miles of bicycle lanes rather than on the connectivity of the network.” In fact, it seems that everyone wants more usable networks, preferring little adjustments to what’s already there rather than grand new trails. This is a recurring comment from nearly all of the people I speak to who use their bikes to get around. An experienced rider like Steve Taylor would like to see more thought going into which locations the routes actually connect. “We need more trails with useful destinations,” he says, citing the Hudson Trail in New York as a good example of “a route that you can really use to get north and south, it’s fantastic for commuters.”
The commuters I spoke to agreed. Jonathan and Jane Grode, who divide their time between Philadelphia and Providence RI, and ride to work in both cities, tell me exactly what improvements they’d like to see. “Right now there is a great system [in Philadelphia] going east to west,” says Jonathan, “but what we really need are north-south routes on both sides of the city.” They’re also very aware of the differences