Build it and they will come

Those who proclaim from their armchairs that pro-cycling policies will ‘never work’ in Singapore invariably do so without reference to any examples of other cases where pro-cycling policies did not work. In fact, it seems that they do work in other countries. This clearly puts the burden of proof on the naysayers to argue why Singapore is a special case in which such policies will not work. “We have not enough land!” comes one reply. Easily countered by my previous post. “Our weather sucks!” comes another. Well, that reply invariably comes from people who have never done winter cycling, yet think it ‘obvious’ that cycling in the humid tropics is more unbearable than cycling in sub-zero temperatures. I have never known anyone who has done both who holds the same view. Come on. You’ve got to do better than that. For starters, you might want to educate yourself on the success of pro-cycling policies, some of which are detailed in this Washington Post article:

…among the world’s most developed countries, a reliable recipe has emerged for making cycling a mainstream means of getting to work.

Commuters in Northern Europe have been lured out of their cars by bike lanes, secure bike parking and easy access to mass transportation. At the same time, steep automobile taxes, congestion-zone fees and go-slow rules have made inner-city driving a costly pain in the neck. In the Netherlands, where such carrot-and-stick policies have been in place for decades, 27 percent of all trips are by bike.

“It is very clear how to do this,” said John Pucher, a professor of urban planning at Rutgers University and lead author of a global study of strategies that promote cycling. “It is not rocket science.”


When cities do fit the pieces together, they often see an almost instantaneous surge in cycling.

In Britain, a country whose nationwide transportation system is nearly as inhospitable to cycling as that of the United States, London has emerged as Exhibit A for the quick infrastructure fix that gets commuters out of cars.

In 2003, the city imposed a steep “congestion charge” of about $16 for cars driving into the city center. Within a year, inner-city cycling had increased by about 25 percent. In the past eight years, there has been a 10-fold increase in city spending on bike lanes, bike parking and education programs. The effort has nearly doubled cycling throughout London.


Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands have been connecting the dots for three decades. They started in the mid-1970s, in the wake of the world’s first oil shock and after 25 years of American-style, car-centric traffic management that had coincided with a sharp decline in cycling.

There is now an integrated system of safe bicycling routes in most cities in all three countries. It allows cyclists to go almost everywhere on paths that are separated from automobiles and in “traffic-calmed” neighborhoods. Besides pampering cyclists, these countries punished drivers with fees and restrictions intended to make commuting by car expensive, slow and frustrating.

The policies have resulted in the developed world’s highest per-capita rates of cycling and lowest rates of cycling accidents, the Rutgers study found.

In Berlin, biking now accounts for 12 percent of all transportation. The city has 3.4 million residents, and the city estimates that they use their bicycles a million times a day.


The build-it-and-they-will-come approach has also worked in Bogota, Colombia, where Dutch bicycle engineers were recently imported to build bike lanes and redesign traffic flows. In two years, bike use jumped tenfold, from 0.5 percent of all trips to 5 percent.

It also works in the United States. Rainy Portland, Ore., offers compelling evidence that bike lanes can transform Americans into bike commuters.

A recent study by Portland State University found that while just 15 percent of Portland’s streets have bike lanes, they attract half of the city’s bike travel. Since 1991, counts of cyclists in the city have jumped 400 percent. Portland now has the highest share of bike trips among major U.S. cities — about 4 percent.


Recent history, though, suggests that the cycling decline in China and India may be short-lived. A similar decline occurred here on the island of Taiwan about 30 years ago, when the export-based economy shifted into high gear. Many of the island’s 23 million residents bought motorcycles and then cars, as bicycles disappeared from the commuting mix.

The Taiwan government began pushing about 17 years ago for a modest return to cycling. It built rural bike paths. Taipei, the largest city on the island, joined the campaign, building 155 miles of bike lanes along rivers and through parks. Abundant bike parking was provided at transit stations. A network of 5,000 rental bikes appeared.

In the past year, with better facilities for bikers, a doubling of gasoline prices and growing concern about global warming, cycling has continued its climb. In Taipei, about 3 percent of all commuters ride bicycles, a 35 percent increase in 18 months.

1 Response to “Build it and they will come”

  1. 1 Back2Nature September 8, 2008 at 9:57 am

    They are quite different, but I am thinking would someone asks why setup so many incentives for current and potential working moms? There are not that many of them.

    They fully understand the logic. Provide the supporting infrastructures and policies, and babies will come. If not, fine tune them.

    There is virtually no incentives for non-working moms, WAHM, or fulltime moms, etc. not because they have $ scarcity, but because they don’t want to encourage non-working moms 😦

    Thus, clearly, it is not about space scarcity or anything else. It is about want or don’t want to.

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