Create A Spontaneous Cycling Network

Create A Spontaneous Cycling Network
By Darren Proulx

It is one thing to study and read about cycling in the Netherlands or Copenhagen, but it is an entirely different thing to experience it. It is a seamless experience where little thought needs to be given about where you are cycling to and from. Often you will come to a complete stop at an intersection only to look over and see babies and children on the bicycle next to you. How is it possible to be cycling next to young school children or a smiling toddler in such a large and bustling city as Amsterdam or Copenhagen?

In North America most cities roll out their cycling infrastructure in a piecemeal and isolated manner resulting in a disconnected cycling network full of intimidating and unsafe gaps. This incremental approach has serious implications for our overall cycling network and for issues of equality. It contributes to have and have-not neighbourhoods, where cycling infrastructure contributes to processes of gentrification.

In this context the biggest difference with cycling in the Netherlands comes with the intersections. While cycling around Amsterdam (a bustling city of 780,000 people) you will navigate an intersection effortlessly without the risk of being run over by an automobile.

Two key things assist with this, the first is having a complete separation from high volumes of fast moving vehicles including at intersections. These so called “Dutch intersections” mean that due to the use of an additional curb, someone cycling can navigate a right turn at an intersection without ever needing to mix with vehicular traffic.

The Cycling Network in Amsterdam Source:
The Cycling Network in Amsterdam is hard to discern since it covers the entire city. Source:

A second critical component is the connection of a network of traffic calmed or traffic separated cycling routes that enables you to get anywhere in the city safely and effortlessly. This is what enables young school children and more elderly aged adults to be on the same cycling route next to you. In addition, due to the small impact of cycling on road infrastructure, the Dutch and Danish have also built and designated more connections and bridges only for cycling and walking. This often gives cycling the advantage with more options for getting around, often making it faster to cycle from point A to B than driving.

In Copenhagen and Amsterdam you do not need to think about where you are going and you do not need to plan your route ahead of time. Across the city you will hardly ever have to interact with vehicular traffic. When you do have to, you can expect and rest assured that the road was designed to force people driving to drive at safe, non-threatening speeds. This not only enables cycling to be safe and enjoyable but also spontaneous. As a result, at an intersection you can figure out where you need to go on the spot. You do not need to have a map or an app, you can go with your gut instincts or wander aimlessly, knowing a wrong choice will not result in a dangerous situation. Anywhere in the city, your origin and destination are connected by the same safe, continuous cycling network.

Proposed City of Calgary City Centre Network of Protected Bike Lanes
Proposed City of Calgary City Centre Network of Protected Bike Lanes

This is why Calgary´s minimum grid this summer is so important. Building a complete network of safe, protected and connected bike lanes all at once can encourage more than just the brave to cycle. It provides another way to get around, one that is an inexpensive both personally and publicly. It doesn’t rely on using mediocre solutions that do little to get results. We need to build cycling infrastructure correctly and remove the scapegoat for naysayers when badly built cycling infrastructure fails to deliver results. Many bike lanes fail to attract large numbers of riders due to incremental roll outs – a single bike lane on a street that isn’t connected to a larger network is essentially useless. A minimum grid of connected and protected cycling lanes will allow those that are interested in cycling but concerned about mixing with high volumes of fast moving vehicular traffic to do so.

A Family Cycling in Seville on a Protected Bike Lane
A Family Cycling in Seville on a Protected Bike Lane

Seville (pop. approximately 700,000) is the clearest evidence that a network of separated cycling lanes works. Since 2006 all trips made by bicycle grew from 0.5% to 6% in 2014. This is an eleven-fold increase in cycling trips over 8 years. This dramatic change was in part due to the all-at-once installation of a network of 80km of connected bike lanes physically separated from automobile traffic by some form of physical barrier.

With a minimum grid of protected, connected cycling routes you can stop on the spot at a store or coffee shop that catches your eye without spending a half hour looking for parking. You can meet friends at a bar, cafe or the latest cool hangout quicker than waiting behind lines up of red lights and cars. Your children can get to their school, events or their sport practices without needing you to chauffeur them everywhere. A network of protected, connected and cycling lanes is liberating, enabling spontaneous and safe choices.

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