18 January 2010

Free The Cyclists!

Margrete Auken [b. 1945] is a Danish politican for the Socialist People's Party and she is currently a Member of the European Parliament. She wrote the following blog post last October and I translated most of it here.

The Socialist Peoples' Party - SF - do good things for bicycle culture and couple them with ridiculous things like this and like this. Leaves you wondering if you should spank them or hug them. But this MEP is in Brussels, which for the purpose of this post is different.

Free the Cyclists!
Several large European cities are - gradually - starting to realise the blessings of bicycle culture: good for the environment, reducing energy use, better health and the auto-mobility of all traffic users. Both children and the elderly can get around if they can cycle safe and secure.

The city bikes in Paris are a success. In Brussels the bicycles happily turn right at red lights - often on the sidewalk! I cycle myself and it is the most liberating way to get around. And even though the Ardennes mountain range starts in the middle of Brussels, grandma here manages fine with two artificial knees and seven gears!

Bicycles are an obvious solution to the traffic problems in almost all the cities in the world. It is bizarre that they are still ignored. Even in Denmark, Bicycle Nation, the laws are not beneficial to cyclists. We could learn from Belgium where cyclists are not considered "weak motorists" but rather as "strong pedestrians".

They can do almost all the same things: turn right on red and ride through a T-intersection even when the light is red, but they must respect the right of way which here in Belgium is the duty of the strongest: cars stop for bicycles and pedestrians and cyclists stop for pedestrians.

Cyclists ride everywhere on one-way streets [which calms the racing cars]. If the street is too dangerous to ride on, the bicycles use the sidewalks without being yelled at. Many bike lanes are on the sidewalks. There is no war between pedestrians and cyclists. The feeling is that they are in it together!

If it's a little bit tricky to cycle here it's because the roads and sidewalks are in need of repair and because we are too few cyclists and must ride paying extra attention in case the cars forget us.

Denmark is much better in this regard with many more and wider bike lanes, elevators at all train stations and the possibility to take your bicycle on trains.

But just think if we took the consequence of what we know: regardless of laws, cyclists behave like pedestrians and they will always choose the shortest route.

That's what we should base the laws on. Cyclists should be allowed to do roughly the same things as pedestrians, albeit with more focus on right of way for pedestrians as well as signalling.

It is first when we really spoil the cyclists that we'll be a role model. The bicycle's contribution to mobility in an environmentally-friendly society would thereby grow greatly if it becomes possible for them to take them onto various forms of public transport.

Bicycles must be allowed on trains - from Lapland to Sicily - according to a set of EU laws. My Green Group in the European Parliament got that proposal passed into law in 2007. Unfortunately the train companies can refuse if they "find it too difficult". There's still a long journey ahead.