Whatever the question the answer is a bicycle

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Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration but there are some interesting ideas out there about how we could make the places we live more comfortable, healthier and easier to get around.

Lots of people can’t get about by car. Children can’t drive, as people get older they often give up their car, lower income households are less likely to have access to a car – Guy Palmer on The Poverty Site has some interesting stats – and some, believe it or not, just don’t want to travel by car.

I’ll lay my cards on the table – I live in city, I don’t have a car, I’ve no particular wish for a car (everyone I know who owns one complains about fuel prices, traffic jams, parking, other drivers etc etc). But I both have to and want to travel around my community and sometimes further afield. Mostly I do this by foot, bike, bus, train and any combination of the above.

And yes it is perfectly doable for someone like me, who is fit, healthy and can afford train tickets and whose child is fit and healthy. But it’s not made easy – almost all the cycling I do is on very busy roads with no dedicated cycle lanes; a lot of the walking I do is on uneven paving surfaces, down busy roads and requires me to wait for quite long periods of time to cross two or more lanes of traffic; many of the bus and train journeys I take are on crowded vehicles with inadequate seating and can be expensive. So if it’s not made easy for me then how hard must it be if you have mobility problems, or are an older person or traveling with young children?

Which is why the following have all caught my eye recently.

Gil Penolosa is Columbian and was a Commissioner in Bogota. He is now an advisor on urban planning. He advocates designing cities for 8 year olds and 80 year olds (8-80 cities) – if you create places that are good for the two ends of the age spectrum to live then they will be good for all is the basic premise, I think.

His thing is creating communities where you can walk, cycle, use public transport and access open spaces. Clearly there are obvious advantages in terms of easing congestion, improving the environment we live in, road safety and personal and public health. Even if you don’t buy it all, he is an engaging and persuasive speaker. You can see him here at a conference in Canada earlier this year.

There was an interesting piece in the New York Times back in June, about the contrast between American cities, which are doing all they can to make life easier for cars and many European cities that are doing exactly the opposite – deliberately planning environments that are hostile to cars.

But, it’s bicycles that I was making ludicrous claims for and these people at the Dutch Cycling Embassy say it better than I could – watch the video, if nothing else it’s fun.

Cycling For Everyone from Dutch Cycling Embassy on Vimeo.

But it does make the point that while the Netherlands may be seen some sort of cycling nirvana, it didn’t happen by accident. It was 70-odd years of creating an infrastructure that enables people to cycle, walk or take public transport to school, to work, to the shops or to visit friends. How many British parents could send their kids off to school on a bike and know that all or most of the journey would be on car free routes?

Not everyone would be able to or want to cycle, I accept that (although, I bet if we made it easier for those kids to get to school on their bikes everyday then they would carry on using them well into adult life). But living spaces that make it easy for people to get around on foot or by bike and on public transport when going a bit further would probably makes us all a bit healthier and more connected to our neighbourhoods and our neighbours – after all you can’t meet anyone stuck inside your own metal box on wheels.