bicycle bridge

Bicycle infrastructure: New park and pedestrian/bicycle bridge; North Bank Bridge joins Cambridge to Charlestown

Across the Pond

Bicycles are getting people up and out of their chairs, striving forward for change on both sides of the Atlantic.  Last week at Eurobike in Friedrichshafen, Germany the European Cyclists’ Federation met.  The Federation, which began in 1983, has been working with national and grassroots organizations for advocacy and economic purposes for years.  This time around the group took steps to form the Cycling Industry Group, with the aim to secure more funding for increased cycling infrastructure, as well as economic stimulus reports Bicycle Retailer and Industry News.

The European Cyclists’ Federation is actually following in the footsteps of the American cycling advocacy group, Bikes Belong.  This group has been successful in raising significant funds and can point to significant increases in trips taken by bicycle over the past 10 years.  Bikes Belong reports such breathtaking statistics as a 63 percent increase in bicycle commuting in the nation’s largest cities.

In a comment for Bicycle Retailer, Bikes Belong president Tim Blumenthal states, “Fifteen years ago the cycling industry decided we could either fight over bigger individual company pieces of the same-size pie or we could try to grow the pie.  Seems pretty simple but when you’re in a competitive business, the act of coming together isn’t easy. But the leaders had the vision, saw the power of the bicycle and the potential of working together to improve the conditions of cycling and now there are tangible ways that pie is growing.”

The aim of both the European Cyclists’ Federation and it’s subgroup the Cycling Industry Group is to get the European Union to commit to further cycling infrastructure.  The EU has the funds to spend on the infrastructure, but each nation must be approached differently.  The Federation is hoping to make strides in areas that are struggling the most.  Such ventures by industry and government have been immensely successful in Taiwan and China, not only in increasing interest in cycling, but in getting actual people on their bicycles daily.

By joining together grassroots organizations, national level groups, international advocacy groups and industry (both powerhouses and smaller ventures), Europe’s extended cycling community is striving to show what is possible when everyone works together.  Not only can it create a better experience for the daily cyclist, but economically it creates a place to grow, not just for monetary gain, but for the EU community at large.

Nearer at Hand

Locally reported by The Boston Globe, infrastructure that is up for renewal in Massachusetts has become the place where the kinds of changes that are being saught in Europe are being put to the test in the United States.  More specifically, certain overpasses and underpasses across the Boston area are up for funding renewal from the state and federal level.  This means that the communities where these significant pieces of traffic infrastructure may be found have the unique opportunity to change the nature of their streets.  Committees, lobbies, advocacy groups, and political constituents have a lot to say.

Massachusetts was lead by Governor Francis W. Sargent at a time when carving expressways and highways through city centers was the norm.  He widely rejected this idea and Boston has become the walking-and-cycling-friendly city we know it to be today, almost directly as a result of these decisions.  However there are communities that were cut in half by vehicular infrastructure, such as Somerville by the McGrath Highway or Jamaica Plain by the Casey Overpass.  Many denizens of these communities are quite vocal about wanting these impediments to community continuity removed.  They would like complete neighborhoods.  Local organizations such as Livable Streets and the Boston Cyclists Union work with government to help create neighborhoods with streets friendly for all kinds of traffic, not just cycling or pedestrians.  Those who travel by automobile are also sharing their part of the story.

The Bottom Line?

Infrastructure changes are a touchy subject often enough.  They get communities thinking about the future.  What has been demonstrated in Europe is that unity can create benefit across the board, from economic, to local health and infrastructure.  The kind of dialogue happening in Boston now, and in other places across the nation and the globe, is one that will continue.  As our world changes and more than half of our population lives in cities, transit will also need to evolve.  Communities will be just as important as they have always been, but how we move through them will need a focus.

Where do you stand in the infrastructure debate?

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