on 3 December 2012
This book considers most aspects of cycling in cities in the developed world. It compares countries as to cycling use, cyclists profile, health, speed of travel (vs other modes), economics, safety, infrastructure, integration with other modes of transport, bike-sharing, women, children and 3 chapters of detailed comparison between similar sized cities. The last of these 3 is mega-cities comparing London, New York, Paris and Tokyo. Basically it contains nearly all the aspects one can think of and it has shed loads of references. It deserves to be used for years as a source of reference by individuals, campaigning groups, planners and policy makers for years. It should be read by all with an interest in the future of cycling as proposals and plans that neither accept the conclusions of this book nor present cogent arguments on why they disagree with them cannot be expected to be taken seriously.
The main theme sorts by cycle usage putting The Netherlands first followed by Denmark and Tokyo with Germany someway behind. Then there is a big gap to France and last the Anglo Saxon Countries (UK, USA and Australia). All countries show recent cycling growth that they promote although resources and methods vary. Much of the book is devoted to what works best. This should be treated with some caution as poor decisions provide poor returns. This brings to mind a quote from H L Menken, US Journalist (1880-1956), “There is always a well-known solution to every human problem: neat, plausible and wrong”.
The top 4 by usage have cycling rates 10 to 5 times that in London. What they also have is no gender or age bias. By contrast only 30% of UK cycle trips are by women and less than 1% by the over 65s. The Netherlands has 3 times UK quantity of deaths and serious injuries but given that they do 10 times the cycling the rate, or risk to the average cyclist, is only one third. The book correctly points out that health improvements associated with cycling far outweigh the risks even in the less safe locations. People will not cycle if they do not feel safe. In The Netherlands all feel safe which is why there is no bias whereas in the UK the alpha male predominates. This would at least partially account for the greater risk to UK cyclists. There are 2 ways to make potential cyclists feel safer. The first is pointing out that cycling is relatively safe and will include education and mentoring, to overcome initial fears, as appropriate. The second is engineering better infrastructure. They need to be done in conjunction and in the right proportion and serious thought needs to be given as to where the balance lies. Campaigns that create a lot of fear and very little infrastructure improvement are the worst that we can do.
It is disappointing that the book does consider Menken’s quote and look a deeper into its main theme. It is ironic that it does it so well on another shibboleth: helmets. The argument goes that cyclists injured in accidents are less likely than average to be wearing a helmet. The neat, persuasive answer is that helmets work. But further investigation showed that serious injury or fatal accidents have an even lower helmet usage than less serious ones. Helmets (lightweight compared to those used by motorcyclists) cannot be expected to help in the most serious cases but should in theory do so in the less serious ones to the extent that frequently they do not come to the attention of the authorities. This leads to the conclusion that it is the more cautious who are more likely to wear helmets rather than any intrinsic value of the helmet itself. The book concludes that the jury is still out on this one but the analysis is presented very clearly.
The chapter on mega-cities shows Tokyo has about 8 times the cycle usage of London and Paris, and New York is even further behind. It has far less cycling infrastructure than the other cities with one exception: 800,000 cycle parking spaces in Tokyo Prefecture and 2.1 million in the Greater Metropolitan Area. Greater London has 126,000. Tokyo cycling is nearly all commuting or utility (not social or pleasure), slower than elsewhere and often as not on the sidewalk (pavement). With Japanese courtesy this is not seen as a problem. In some respects “Go Tokyo” may be more productive than “Go Dutch”.