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Expert lays out road map to making cycling “irresistible”

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

John Pucher
(Photo: Rutgers)

Noted bicycle and pedestrian advocate, speaker, and Rutgers University Professor John Pucher has just written a new paper (to be published by the Oxford University journal Transport Reviews in July 2008) that might be the road map Portland takes to becoming a truly world-class bike city.

The paper, titled Making Cycling Irresistible: Lessons from the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany (download PDF, 1MB), outlines the policies and practices those European cities have embraced that have allowed them to become places where going by bike is safe and convenient enough for everyone–not just the hearty and committed.

With Portland on the brink of a sea-change in the way our city plans for (and promotes) bicycle use, Pucher’s ideas and examples from leading European cities are timely. They’re also gaining notice by the leaders of Portland’s bicycle movement. Pucher recently spoke at Portland State University and he is highly respected by many local planners and engineers.

Pucher’s finding from Europe — especially their use of separated bike facilities — echo PDOT’s current bike infrastructure philosophies recently laid out in a white paper by City bike coordinator Roger Geller.

Here’s an excerpt from the abstract of Pucher’s paper:

“The key to achieving high levels of cycling appears to be the provision of separate cycling facilities along heavily traveled roads and at intersections, combined with traffic calming of most residential neighborhoods. Extensive cycling rights of way in the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany are complemented by ample bike parking, full integration with public transport, comprehensive traffic education and training of both cyclists and motorists, and a wide range of promotional events intended to generate enthusiasm and wide public support for cycling.”

“Cycling conditions in most countries—including the UK and USA—are anything but safe, convenient, and attractive.”
–John Pucher

In the paper, Pucher has also noted that these European countries make driving expensive as well as inconvenient in central city areas. They do this through a host of taxes and restrictions on car ownership, use, and parking. Also noted are strict land use policies, developments that generate shorter, more bikeable trips.

Pucher then compares what he calls the “marginal status” of cycling in the UK and the USA.

Portland does get mentioned in the paper (see pages 31-32). Pucher writes that Portland “probably has the country’s most successful bicycling program.”

And for those of who who think we’ll never reach the status of these bike-centric countries, or that they’re somehow genetically predisposed to riding bikes, consider this statement from Pucher:

“Cycling levels plummeted in all three countries from about 1950 to 1975…It was only through a massive reversal in transport and urban planning policies in the mid 1970s that cycling was revived to its current successful state”

Are we on the brink of a “massive reversal” or will we continue to trudge along, making encouraging, yet tiny steps toward the future we want (and need)?