Urban cycling innovations: smart cities get on their bikes

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Image by Poom via Creative Commons

A new OECD report has identified cycling as one of the visible signs of a successful city. Although many cities have yet to adapt their infrastructures to accommodate the growing demand for cycle routes, others are finding inventive ways to bring the bike back to town.

Copenhagen’s green wave
The Danish capital’s gold-plated credentials as a cycle-friendly metropolis are clear enough: 41% of its residents commute by bike, using over 1000km of bicycle lanes. With so many cyclists on the streets, Copenhagen has come to learn the value of keeping the traffic flowing. Which is why the city introduced “green waves”, electronic systems that coordinate traffic signals to recognise bikes instead of cars.  Cyclists travelling at a speed of 20km/h find that they hit green lights all the way into the city in the morning, and back again at the evening rush hour. But Copenhagen isn’t resting on its saddle. The city is currently testing Green Wave 2.0, which will detect bicycle users approaching an intersection. If there are five or more cyclists together, the light will stay green until they pass.

London’s cycle superhighways
When it comes to cycling, London is no Copenhagen. Car-clogged streets make cycling in the UK capital difficult and dangerous. Even so, the number of bicycle journeys in London has doubled since 2000, and a 2013 cycling census found bikes making up around a quarter of rush-hour traffic in central London. That figure seems likely to rise further with the advent of two ‘cycle superhighways’. In February, Transport for London approved mayor Boris Johnson’s proposal for the new bike routes, which will run east-west, linking Barking to Acton across central London, and north-south between King’s Cross and Elephant and Castle. Dubbed ‘Crossrail for the bike’, the routes are intended to offer riders more protection from other road users, with segregated cycle lanes, improved junctions and dedicated traffic signals.

Arlington’s equitable bike share scheme
The urban bike sharing concept had an unpromising start. When Amsterdam located 50 bikes for hire across the city in 1968, all of them were promptly stolen. But the idea was too good to die and today, from Dublin to Dubai, there are over 500 bike share schemes worldwide.  Almost all such schemes rely on credit or debit card payments, which excludes those citizens who want to hire a bike, but don’t have a credit card or bank account. Arlington County, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C., is trying something different to ensure more inclusive access to bike sharing. Residents who want to use its Capital Bikeshare programme will be able to pay cash for monthly memberships by visiting one of five ‘commuter stores’. To get started, applicants need only present proof of identification and residency and $16 in cash. When a customer’s account goes below $2, they’ll receive a reminder that they need to add more money to their account.

Mexico City’s cycle Sundays
“We love coming out and seeing our beautiful city from the seat of a bicycle, without the fear of death.”

When the mayor of Mexico City introduced the “Muevete en Bici” initiative in 2007, many dismissed it as a political stunt. But now, each Sunday, tens of thousands of residents get on their bikes and take possession of car-free streets, including the capital’s central eight-lane highway. Since being branded a gimmick the scheme has endured, as the city’s environmental secretary told the Washington Post:

“It has been a success. We shattered a myth that a megalopolis like Mexico City is not capable of considering the bike as a means of transport.”

The idea has also found favour elsewhere; during a visit to Jakarta, London’s mayor praised a similar scheme, and suggested it could work in London. But Boris Johnson doesn’t have to look as far as Indonesia or Mexico for a home-grown model: in Bristol, two roads in the city centre are closed to cars on one Sunday each month, as part of Mayor George Ferguson’s Make Sunday Special initiative.

These ideas offer just a flavour of how forward-thinking cities are adapting to the needs of cyclists as part of wider sustainable development strategies.  Other examples include Holland’s solar-powered bike lane, Tokyo’s subterranean bike parks and Manchester’s cycling community initiatives, among many more.

And it’s becoming clear that local authorities don’t have to develop their own urban cycling concepts from scratch, but can, like Bristol, borrow from other cities and adapt ideas to their own circumstances. As far as urban cycling is concerned, innovating is worth imitating.

The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of further information on cycling and other transport topics, to find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

 Further reading

Other resources which you may find interesting (some may only be available to Idox Information Service members):

TfL’s cycle superhighways rewrite the rules on roadspace allocation

International cycling infrastructure best practice study

Factors influencing bike share membership: an analysis of Melbourne and Brisbane

Cycling works: jobs and job creation in the cycling economy

Cycling plans, strategies and design guidelines

Grey men dreaming of vibrant cities?

Image by Neil Howard under Creative Commons

Image of MediaCity, Manchester by Neil Howard under Creative Commons

By Morwen Johnson

They control combined budgets of over £10bn, deliver 24.4% of the combined economic output of England, Scotland and Wales, and are home to over 21 million people. What are they? The Core Cities of the UK – and as pre-election lobbying ramps up a gear they are at the forefront of the devolution debate.

Last week I attended the Core Cities Devolution Summit. This event, hosted in Glasgow, marked the launch of a modern charter for local freedom. It also gave those interested in the current cities agenda a chance to hear from the city leaders on the potential benefits of reform.

I won’t summarise the charter, or the main recommendations of a new report from ResPublica which argues for the fullest possible devolution of public spending and tax raising powers to the UK’s largest cities and city regions. Instead, here are a few reflections on the day.

Bespoke devolution

The hype over Manchester’s recent devolution agreement with the Treasury shouldn’t distract from the fact that devolution is not a one-size-fits-all model. The idea isn’t to try and mimic Manchester’s journey – what’s on the cards is an approach that takes account of local circumstances.

I’m not sure that the end result of this – potentially radically different priorities in revenue generation, service delivery and spending between neighbouring metropolitan areas – is being communicated in a transparent way. Ben Page from IpsosMori shared some interesting survey results which suggest that public opinion also lags behind the political agenda:

ipsos survey 1

ipsos survey 2Leadership not bureaucracy

Mention devolution and one of the immediate responses of naysayers is to complain it’s just yet another layer of governance – more costs, more staff, more vested interests. This was raised during Q&A and the panel responded by saying that what they are proposing doesn’t require massive reorganisation – it’s about effective leadership. The same pots of money are used but funds can be accessed in different ways for different purposes.

This was only half-convincing. Repeated reference to place-based decision-making (breaking down functional /organisational silos to ensure services are focused on outcomes and those residents with complex needs) didn’t really explain how you build the trust and political capacity that’s needed to roll out transformation across multiple agencies/workforces at the same speed and scale.

Equalities

Presenting a different perspective on the day was Professor Lesley Sawers, who highlighted the risks of unintended consequences from devolution in terms of social justice and inequalities. She argued that so far localism has led to an approach to investment that has not been particularly effective in tackling equalities issues.

Cities should be great agents of social reform but the rhetoric around growth has a tendency to focus on infrastructure and macroeconomics – ignoring social challenges such as skills, poverty and under-achievement. And it may seem an easy point to score, but running an event with only 3 female speakers out of 25, didn’t really send a great message to observers. Don’t even mention the lack of ethnic diversity on the platform.

What now?

The devolution agenda may be the ‘only show in town’ but whether the core cities can take advantage of this to benefit and engage their own populations remains to be seen.


The Idox Information Service has a wealth of research reports, articles and case studies on governance and city regions. Members receive regular briefings as well as access to our Ask a Researcher enquiry service.