This article looks into what needs to be done to reimagine cities as cycling cities.

If coronavirus has proved one thing to be true, it is that great shifts are possible in short periods of time, if there is sufficient impetus to make the changes.

This crisis has reminded me of a quotation by Lenin that I will post below:

“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.”

It has been great to see mayors and regional leaders supporting cycling as a route back to normality. There is no way that we can return to packed rush hour tube carriages and busses any time soon. But people will still need to move around cities for work and for leisure.

This made me think about the actions that are required to reimagine cities as cycling cities.

To get there, it is not necessary to invent solutions from scratch. Rather best practices can be borrowed from cycling hotspots. I will post the chart below from Pucher and Buehler’s seminal 2008 article Making Cycling Irresistible: Lessons from the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany.


As we can see, The Netherlands, followed by Denmark have by far the highest rates of cycling. Unfortunately, the data is not as up to date as it could be, and some of the laggards have likely moved on a bit, but there is still much that can be learned from them.

The following 5 items will go a long way to reimagine any city as a cycling city:

1. Provide separate cycling facilities along heavily travelled roads and at intersections

2. Traffic calming of most residential neighbourhoods where full segregation is not possible

3. Rights of way in favour of cyclists wherever possible

4. Ample bike parking

5. Making driving expensive and inconvenient

Going down the list, it is important that cyclists feel safe, so that everyone from young children to elderly adults feel confident enough to buy and use their bike. This is achieved by having as many routes as possible where cyclists are fully segregated from vehicular traffic. This means no to token gestures such as bike logos and blue paint on the roadside. Real infrastructure is required to achieve real results.

Where this is not possible such as on quiet residential streets, vehicular traffic should be slowed down, ideally to no faster than 20mph and rigorously enforced.

You get more of things you subsidise and less of things you punish. Ideally rights of way should always be in favour of cyclists. Why this notion has been allowed to develop where city centres have been turned over to private cars, with pedestrians and cyclists treated unfairly and forced to wait for long periods of time at crossings.

Secure bike parking is a necessity. Good quality parking infrastructure for cyclists is not hard to create. Cyclists should not be chaining bikes to railings and other non-suitable items but are so often forced to because of the lack of U locks in city centres and covered bike hangars in inner city areas where they live. If possible CCTV is a great deterrent to prevent theft and to reduce the worry about theft by potential cyclists.

I have touched on this in some of the above points, but to create the cycling city, you have to imagine a city with fewer cars. Cars travel at greater speeds, requiring frequent overtaking of cyclists, they require far greater amounts of parking space and unless they are fully electric they create urban air pollution, which is damaging to all and especially damaging to some. Space in urban areas is at a premium, if it is dedicated to one use, such as driving, it can be used for cycling, but this is not ideal. The cycling city is a city where people cycle because it is the easiest and cheapest mode of transport, but where cars are heavily restricted, to prevent a freerider phenomenon, where driving looks attractive because of the lack of congestion caused by policies to encourage cycling.

What you need to know

This article looked into what cities need to do to reimagine themselves as cycling cities.

The solutions already exist, and they can be borrowed from cities that experience high levels of cycling that they have maintained for many decades.

This is an opportunity to reimagine cities, not just in a crisis aversion mode, but for shaping a positive future long term.

Maybe people like the lack of air pollution, the quiet streets and the lack of congestion. If people like these things and they want to keep them, then they should be able to.

The route towards more cycling cities is possible, but it needs policies that promote cycling and discourage driving in equal measure.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What do you think needs to be done to reimagine cities as cycling cities?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

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