18 March 2010
What makes a bike-friendly city? Being able to sell a holiday
This list of the '11 most bike-friendly cities in the world' was pointed out to me by my colleague Tim.
It's a promo for Virgin Vacations, and so it's really the '11 most bike-friendly cities in the world that Americans might have heard of and not be too scared to visit' (no Groningen or Munster, for instance). But it's interesting nevertheless. It doesn't feature London, which suggests they know what they're talking about. Their top three is Amsterdam; Portland, Oregon; and Copenhagen. (Trondheim, with its odd bike-lift, is No 7.)
The article links to a US blog on Bicycle Friendly Communities I'd not seen before (right) - a very interesting rating of the best American cities for cycling. Each is given a quality rating from Bronze to Platinum. They assess bike-friendly businesses too.
Cambridge would presumably come top of a British list, with maybe even a Gold rating. But I'm not sure the US blog's tick-list categories of Engineering, Enforcement and so on are right for us. Which categories would be?
Cycling in Cambridge, like Copenhagen or the Netherlands generally, is enjoyable mainly because lots of other people are cycling too. The place has a self-reinforcing cycling culture, a combination of things such as decent signposting, separated and shared lanes, bike-friendly shopping and living areas, parking at stations, driver attitudes, council enthusiasm, a vibrant local cycling group, and the sheer number of bums on saddles that encourage others to do the same. Possibly other factors too – student population, academic ethos, historic and hence car-repelling layout? – and yes, 'flat', but I suspect further down the list than most would imagine.
London I'd generously put at Bronze. Once the Cycle Superhighways come in, you can upgrade that, to Bronze with a hint of blue. But looking at the Cambridge factor tick-list, London struggles to score on any. And yet I still feel it's a fabulous place to cycle round, and I enjoy doing so every day, from the cut and thrust of the city-centre vectors to trundling around backstreets full of history, character and quirk. Everything happens here and you can access it all by bike fast, fun, and effectively for free. Maybe I've just got used to it, like you get used to your house's worn carpets and dodgy taps and collapsing fences.
So would I recommend Virgin's two-wheeled holiday hunters to come here? Um, ah, well. Yes, yes of course. You'll love it. Really. It's, er, the best way to see London. Just follow me, signal exactly when I signal, go exactly where I go, and do exactly what I do. Er, except what I do after taxis and buses overtake me too close on Whitehall.