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Cities for Cycling, Washington D.C., Dec 8, 2009

NACTO the National Association of City Transportation Officials launched it's new project "Cities for Cycling" near the Capitol in Washington D.C. It's mission as outlined by NACTO President Janette Sadik-Khan, is to collect and share best practices for the introduction of local bike lanes and other cycling infrastructure. This has succeeded in many cities but not yet been added to the Federal Highway Administration's traffic control manual, also known as the MUTCD. Sponsored by the Brookings Institution, Cities for Cycling will help create federal and local policies to encourage bicycling expansion and more sustainable community development.

The event was attended by Congressman Earl Blumenauer the founder of the Congressional Bike Caucus, Janette Sadik-Khan the Transportation Commissioner in New York City, David Byrne the artist/musician who recently spoke at Winterfest 2009 in the San Francisco Bay area, and city officials from Washington D.C., Seattle, San Francisco, Phoenix, New York, Philadelphia, Houston, Atlanta, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis and Portland. Cities for Cycling will work to increase the use of bicycles to decrease traffic congestion and CO2 emissions, improve urban mobility, public health and livability.

David Byrne showed a slideshow of cities that he has biked during the past few years and talked about his new book, "Bicycle Diaries." According to Byrne cities need better bike infrastructure. Bike spaces and lanes need to be added to streets, and bike parking lots should be added to building and transportation center storage facilities. In Portland, bike racks, which were previously fought by local business groups, are now "in demand," because they enable a clear view of storefronts from the streets (no more big vans parked in front of shops). In Paris, the Velib bike share program is accessible across the city. In Berlin, bike lanes are allied to the sidewalk.

According to Earl Blumenauer in Portland they drive 30% less than people in Houston and spend $2500 less per year (or month?) on transportation than the average American. The congressman wants a "quantum increase" in bicycle related investments to be included in the next six-year federal transportation bill has proposed adding high schools to the U.S. DOT's Safe Routes to School program.

Janette Sadik-Khan believes that Washington has been slow to understand the infrastructure challenges that cities face. "We're still working with federal policies that date back to the 1950s...cities need a new urban biking agenda. Innovations are happening despite federal policy." There are "mountains of red tape" and the "checklists are insane" if you want to add in bike lanes in New York City. "We had to go through air quality tests to add bike lanes."

Sadik-Khan noted that the NYC government (through PlaNYC 2030) is planning to start a bike share program modeled on Paris' Velib, and there are already 200 miles of bike lanes. Chicago has its 2015 Bike Plan, which aims for 5 percent of short trips to be made by bike by 2015. San Francisco's bike lane program recently came out of "legal purgatory," and is growing rapidly.

Cycling is growing in popularity in many cities across the United States. Based on the American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. census bureau, cycling as a share of transportation is up in major cities by as much as 72% from 2007-2008, with an average growth rate of over 30%. According to Bruce Katz, Vice President and Director, Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, bicycling improves the urban quality of life, public health, and reduces CO2 emissions. Cities are good for bicycling because they are complex and dense.

Still much work remains before bicycling becomes a more mainstream mobility option. Providing safe, comfortable, convenient bicycling facilities has allowed cities like Portland, New York and others to vastly increase commuter cycling and drive down injuries and fatalities to bicyclists. From protected cycle-tracks to bike boxes and special traffic signals for bikes; Cities for Cycling seeks to share these best practices among leading cities and encourage State and Federal governments to adopt the new design treatments emerging from cities as standard practices, opening up funding and technical support opportunities and cutting red tape.

The regulatory obstacles are difficult to overcome, but, once cleared, adding bike infrastructure is relatively inexpensive and easy to implement. Colored lanes are hard to get done, but so simple. Bike signage, bike traffic lights and other infrastructure should also be put into place.

Bicycling has played a significant role in improving Portland, Oregon. At first people were unhappy about adding bike infrastructure, but, now they are demanding it." Cycling has also created jobs in Portland where approximately 1000 people work in the bicycling community adding around $100 million to the local economy. The average savings was $2,500 when people switched from driving a car to cycling adding needed spending in the city.

Cities for Cycling will feature an online website with bike-friendly street best practice factsheets as well as links to cities' design guidelines for innovative bicycle facilities. The project will bring together leading bicycle experts from cities around the United States and around the world to share information and stimulate the development of a new generation of better bicycle infrastucture.

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