By Ott Ilves, head of sales and marketing for Estonian e-bike brand Ampler Bikes
Europe’s growing affection for light mobility products and a desire for a cleaner environment is putting pressure on cities to start putting more focus on building better infrastructure and making city centres car-free. The UK can look towards mainland Europe for examples on how to create its own cycling-friendly policies. Safety and convenience are key to catching up.
Talking about the weather is a favourite past-time in the UK, and so is blaming it for the small number of cyclists. That is only until you take a look at hard data and compare the annual rainfall in Amsterdam, 805 mm per year, to the equivalent figure in London, 621 mm per year. Something else is at play in getting more people to use bicycles for their short trips and daily commutes.
Based on the example of the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark, it’s clear to say that the safer cycling is made and the more cities encourage cycling, the more willing people are to switch cars for bicycles. Safe, separated bike lanes are what get more people on bicycles in the first place. Since there is safety in numbers, building dedicated infrastructure is key to getting the flywheel started. Additionally, there are strict liability laws in the Netherlands which protect cyclists by law from motorists, causing drivers to be extra cautious.
Cycling in the UK is almost three times as dangerous as the Netherlands when the number of cyclist fatalities per billion kilometres cycled is compared. That’s clearly showcased in people’s perception of cycling safety in the UK – according to the British Department of Transport, 61% of respondents feel that cycling is dangerous. This directly affects the willingness to switch cars for bikes for journeys under two miles, which has declined from 44% in 2006 to 36% in 2019.
We should be working towards making cities so safe that any seven-year-old could cycle or walk to school without fear. Safety matters.
Try driving around the city centre of Amsterdam or Ghent. You’ll soon find yourself frustrated by the lack of parking spaces and high parking prices, and a general feeling of being second to every other mode of transport, including walking, cycling and public transport. This dynamic makes it simply inconvenient to drive to a store, office or school, and thus disincentivises the use of cars for short trips in cities. On the flip side, walking, cycling or taking public transport start looking like better – and more convenient – alternatives.
Redesigning cities to become more human-centred by making way for more bike parking, cycling lanes, walking paths and public transportation lanes will not only make the concrete jungles genuinely nicer places to live, but they will redefine what convenience means. Sitting gridlocked in expensive two-ton vehicles certainly won’t do that.
All of the above is already happening in many Dutch cities – they are changing their streets at an incredible pace, blocking the cities from cars by way of adding cycling and walking lanes, removing parking spaces or increasing parking prices.
Combining safety and convenience creates a city space where everyone, from kids to suit-wearing commuters to the disabled and the elderly, enjoys the same freedom to move. To get the flywheel going and get more people on bicycles, the UK should start by focusing on developing infrastructure and legislation that focuses on achieving both objectives.