Keeping Bikes on the Road

Bicycle production was up 3.2% around the world in 2007 because of changing transportation policies. The additional 130,000 bicycles being manufactured reflect an ongoing trend, according to Worldwatch Institute’s Vital Stats Online. But Australia, Canada and the U. S. have had mixed results in promoting bicycles as a healthy, environmentally friendly alternative because of sprawling developments that require driving.

“In the U.S., people think of bicycling as recreation,” says Gary Gardner, senior researcher at Worldwatch and author of the report.

Policies that make bicycling easier and safer are key to increasing ridership. Up to 75% of households own bikes, yet less than 1% of trips in the U.S. are made by bike, says Ralph Buehler, assistant professor of urban affairs and planning at Virginia Tech. That is the same rate as the United Kingdom. And it’s a stark contrast to the Netherlands, which has a 27% ridership rate.

“When you have a relatively low share of the population on bikes, it is more dangerous to bicycle users,” Buehler says.

Bicycle paths and separate bike lanes help to reduce accidents, but fewer of them would occur if motorists were used to seeing more bicyclists on the road, he says.

For instance, in the Netherlands, the cyclist fatality rate is 1.24 for every 100 million kilometers (about 62 million miles), according to a paper Buehler coauthored, “Cycling for Everyone.” That’s much lower than the U.S. rate of 5.74. And the Dutch rarely, if ever, wear helmets. Countries such as the Netherlands and Germany began changing policies in the 1970s to encourage bicycle use.