Back in the summer, we pointed out how Edinburgh City Council was in danger of missing a major opportunity to remake Leith Walk into a properly bike-friendly corridor. Since then, while some progress has been made, the idea of putting in proper segregated bike tracks still seems to be considered of minority interest only, something for the small percentage of people (even in Edinburgh) who regularly cycle. But recent evidence from New York shows that putting in bike tracks doesn’t just help the existing cyclists, or even the people who subsequently are encouraged to take up cycling. Proper bike infrastructure transforms the street it’s on, to the benefit of pedestrians, cyclists, shopkeepers – and even drivers. Injuries for all road users fell, retail sales shot up by 49% (and vacancies almost halved) – and in one place average speeds for cars actually increased even as incidences of speeding fell. When you look at evidence like this, the question isn’t ‘why should we put dedicated cycling infrastructure in place?’ but ‘why wouldn’t we?’ Bikes don’t just make the people who use them richer, fitter, healthier and happier – they make whole cities that way. Added to the fact that investments in active travel pay back at a ratio of 19:1, findings like this mean that politicians should be falling over themselves to invest in cycling, instead of offering us the usual crumbs from the table.
New York, of course, is currently finding out the hard way how useful bikes can be when almost all other means of transport have failed. We wish everyone caught up in Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath well – and especially those daring New York’s currently gridlocked streets on two wheels for the first time. They’ll be grateful for all the investment New York has put in for cyclists in the last few years – but they won’t be the only ones. New York’s battered shopkeepers will be counting those blessings long after the last of the hurricane debris has been cleared away.