Cycling Utopia – Do-able or Dubious?

By Aaron T. - Copywriter

Hi-born master of architecture and eccentricity Lord Norman Foster is in the news with his latest proposal:  a 137-mile network of bike lanes built on a continuous platform above London’s age-old railway lines. Widespread skepticism has earned this project the nickname Cycling Utopia, as in nowhere. The consensus here at Nashbar is that Foster’s idea, while cooler than something out of The Jetsons, maybe isn’t the answer for cycling commuters…but the truth is out there.

Image: Foster + Partners

Just one look at the image and bicycle commuters are intrigued. It looks safe, and even looks like fun, like something out of Disney’s Tomorrowland.

Foster is a self-identified lover of cycling, and even if you doubt the practicality of his idea, you might appreciate the lucidity in this comment he made to the BBC, “I believe that cities where you can walk or cycle rather than drive are more congenial places in which to live.”  Excellent point and impeccable grammar, old boy.

An estimated 30% of London traffic is bicycles…and this is the typical scene. Danger levels are high, cars are king.

Since all this skepticism is hardly helping cyclists, what say we turn this downer on its head and send a message to inspire cyclists the world over? If we take Foster’s quote to heart, we have to acknowledge that even if his bike freeways are built, below them will remain a city choked with internal combustion that is neither particularly congenial for bikes or pedestrians.

NYC:  Lots of cars and sitting ducks on bikes.

Other cities have transformed themselves from gridlocked smog factories to places where mutual respect among bikes, pedestrians, and cars is part of the cities’ vibes. Amsterdam, one of the world’s cycling meccas, was a few short decades ago just like London or New York…places where autos clog every street and cyclists are forced to “swim with the sharks” (as Toronto Mayor Rob Ford so eloquently stated).  The people of Amsterdam made their will known through activism, protest, petition, and political lobbying. Now, the love of bikes is literally ingrained in Amsterdam’s culture.

For a more historical (and drier) account of how Amsterdammers took their city back:

The Dutch aren’t the only collective poster children for cycling. Copenhagen, Basel, Portland, and Montreal (to name a few) are among some of the most, shall we say, awesome cities for cycling culture.

Amsterdam gives us that perfect story of a recovering car city that we at Nashbar hope will inspire others to become active. It can done, and here are some organizations that are fighting the good fight:

The concept “build it and they will come”  has never applied so much as it does to cycling infrastructure. It works in many places, and it can work in your town.

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