Multi-Modal Means Bikes, Too
Recently I was riding my bike in Los Angeles when a car hit me. Fortunately, the car was not moving too fast, but I was knocked over and my bike was crushed. It felt like I was a matador who’d been hit by a mean bull, although surprisingly, the baby SUV that hit me weighs 3X the weight of a bull! It was very scary. It got me thinking more about how we could better design our cities for bicycle use.
There is a tremendous amount of new transportation innovation taking place around the world today, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to prioritize what new mobility technology should be focused on. I once met with a CEO/owner of a $1-billion bicycle company which had launched a new bikeshare company. I remember him talking about how difficult it was to understand what’s around the corner in the mobility space. He referred to this time we’re in as the “Wild West.” While many cities begin to invest billions of dollars to enhance their public transit systems, established automakers and new players are making advances in autonomous vehicle development, which likely will make conventional public transit obsolete some day in the future. In Israel, SkyTran is close to testing a new maglev automated transit network (ATN) concept.
But regardless of which new mobility technology we invest in, it’s vital to improve our bicycle facilities in all of our cities, and make bicycle use a very enjoyable and safe mode of daily travel. We are certain that our metropolitan bicycle infrastructure needs to be greatly improved.
In addition to developing wonderful corridors for bicycle use, we should also include space for new light and local personal electric vehicles to travel in, safe from larger vehicles. These include electric bikes, e-scooters, vehicles like the Segway, and neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs). Small EVs can make it easier for the user to switch from their car into a lower-cost, more urban-scale mode, and then hopefully they will switch to a pedal bike sometime after that.
I am an example of someone that needed to ride micro-powered vehicles, to come to know and enjoy the spaces that bicycles occupy, then to make the switch myself to a pedal bike. It actually took me more than 20 years of driving NEVs, riding Segways and e-bikes before I bought a pedal bike. I sold my car in Los Angeles last year and ride my bike every day, and have never felt better.
I am a daily multi-modal traveler. I have a folding bike. I take Los Angeles Metro (bus and trains), Lyft, Uber, and I am a Car2Go (one-way carshare) member, allowing me to use their South Bay of Los Angeles network of cars. Our buses only carry two bikes, and if you want to be sure you get on a bus, the folding bike is the only way you can have certainty.In addition, when I am out for dinner, I sometimes get a ride home, and my folding bike can easily fit in a trunk or back seat, which is really great!
Bike use is skyrocketing around the world, and many major cities now have bikeshare systems that have millions of riders each month. However, cities like sunny Los Angeles still have a very low bike mode share (under 2%), while rainy and colder Denmark enjoys a nearly 40% bicycle rider mode share.
“Complete Streets” is the movement to improve bicycle infrastructure and grow the bike mode share. Here in Los Angeles, the city has launched a “Great Streets” program to develop more human-scale vibrant street examples in twelve areas all across this large city. While there is growing support for bicycles in cities such as LA, there remains many challenges, as most business owners in any areas of the cities fight removing parking spaces for automobiles, as they don’t want to hurt their customers’ ability to get to their location.
There is also exciting new technology now on the horizon that will end our bike (and pedestrian) crashes. Have a look at the Vehicle-to-Person (V2P) technology Qualcomm and Honda have been developing. General Motors has been working in this area, as well. There are challenges to apply this technology in a manner that it scales and allows everyone (car drivers and the bikers/pedestrians) to be in the network. Regardless, it’s technology we need, and one that would have kept me from being hit by an SUV.