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Bicycle cities compete with Amsterdam

22 June 2008 - The British are supposed to hate cyclists, but the city of Bristol has launched a plan to compete with Amsterdam for the title of cycling capital of Europe. The city has a bike shed with showers and plans to promote cycling in low-income neighbourhoods.

'The British hate cyclists' ran the headline of a recent article in the members' magazine of Dutch cycling organisation Fietsersbond. As an illustration, it pointed to a Times columnist who advocated stringing piano wire across country lanes in order to decapitate cyclists.

The Guardian had a rather different message last week: "Move over Amsterdam and Paris; on your bike Copenhagen. Britain will soon boast cities with the facilities to rival Europe's most cycle-friendly capitals".

The British government is going to invest £100 million in local bicycle policies and has designated Bristol the country's first 'cycling city'. The city will spend £10 per resident on bicycle policies, which is almost as much as Amsterdam, the BBC notes. The objective is to have people use bicycles in 20% of their journeys (compared to 37% in Amsterdam).

Some of the city's measures sound familiar, such as improving bicycle routes, the introduction of 'cycling buddies' to help novices, a web-based journey planner and a Paris-style bicycle sharing plan.

However, the city also has a bicycle shed with changing rooms, showers, lockers and a bicycle repair shop (the capacity is limited to fifty bicycles). In order to promote cycling in low-income areas, free bicycles will be provided there and council officials will go door-to-door evangelising about the benefits of cycling.

Cycling is on the rise in American cities as well. "Though our cities may not match Amsterdam (...) many city governments in these parts are determined to make urban bike travel as much part of the daily routine as a morning latte", notes Craig Bower in Forbes Traveller.

New York City planners recently visited Copenhagen and Amsterdam to learn how to improve the bicycle infrastructure. In Portland, it is said that politicians cannot win elections without the support of the bicycle community.

According to an importer of Dutch-style bicycles, Americans should change their attitude towards cycling, though. "Americans believe they need to cycle to work or participate in a weekend trek like Lance Armstrong, wearing spandex and, by ride's end, a full sweat. But in Europe bikes are the vehicles of the common man. You climb on in your regular clothes and bike away".

Similarly, in Britain there is still a 'perception that all cyclists are lycra-clad fitness fascists'. However, in Bristol the BBC managed to find a smoking IT support worker on a cheap bicycle to prove that perception wrong.

Source: The Guardian, BBC, Forbes Traveller. Image: bicycles in Bristol. Photo Caro's Lines / Flickr


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