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Fix Biking 1: Build a Full Bike Network Right Away
Avoid half measures that please no one. Plus, a big bang approach is probably cheaper.
This is the first of about ten common sense solutions that we see for building a better city for biking.
Build Bike Networks the Way We Build Houses
Imagine you were going to build a house, for $500K. Each year, you’ve got $25K to spend. What do you do? Obviously, you get a loan from the bank for $500K, and use the $25K each year over the next 30 years or so to pay back the loan.
What you do NOT do is spend $25K in year 1 to build a kitchen, $25K in year 2 to build a living room, $25K in year 3 to build a staircase … and so on until you’ve got a finished house after 20 years.
With the first option, we have to pay interest on the loan. But the second option ... a partially-built house is no house at all.
When it comes to bike networks, most cities use this second approach.
Cities map out a bike network. They look at how much they have in the road budget to allocate for cycling infrastructure for next year. And they calculate how many years it will take to build the full network.
Half Measures Please No One
For many people, a partially-built bike network is no bike network at all.
The most important principle in bike network design is connectivity. Connectivity to other safe bike routes.
Roughly half of us are “interested but concerned” in cycling — i.e., we’ll cycle only if it’s safe. So a protected bike line is only as good as what comes immediately after it. If that is mixing with speeding cars, many will say “no thanks” and wait it out until there is a safe end-to-end solution.
Meanwhile, many drivers sitting in traffic get frustrated when they look out their windows and see under-used bike lanes.
If Money is the Problem, Finance Has a Solution
Cities will say that’s all the money they have in the budget for this year.
But the demand for cycling infrastructure is only getting stronger. Cities know that they are most likely going to be spending the same, or more, on biking again next year. And the year after. And so on …
So why not just spend that future money now, and reap the benefits immediately. The financing is simple. It’s just a loan.
Cities do this all the time. It’s called a municipal bond. Or, if you want to get fancy, a debenture. Or if you want to get super-fancy, package it up as a green bond, which some investors will pay a premium for.
A Big Bang Approach is Probably Cheaper
There are a lot of reasons to take a big bang approach to building a full bike network.
People gain the freedom to travel however they prefer. Fewer cyclists are killed in car crashes. City residents become healthier, from that added exercise. Kids become more independent and self-reliant.
But here’s another reason: it’s probably cheaper in the long run. Fewer car trips means less wear and tear on the roads. That’s longer road maintenance cycles and lower costs for taxpayers.
Plus, if the cost of construction is increasing faster than your city’s cost of borrowing, it’s cheaper to build with today’s dollars. Currently, cities in Canada are planning for construction inflation around 6%; while many can borrow around 4-5%.
In other words, building a full bike network now is the smart fiscal choice.
Why Isn’t Everyone Doing This?
Many cities are doing exactly this already. Building out a full bike network right away.
(And by “full”, we don’t necessarily mean final. We simply mean a connected network that is safe and extensive enough to get people using it.)
Paris, Montréal and Seville have made exceptional progress in building bike networks in a few short years.
Chicago, Edmonton, Hamilton and Glasgow are among those who have announced plans to do the same.
So why isn’t every city doing this?
Many city decision makers don’t understand the financial tools at their disposal. Some cities might not have the capacity to take on more debt.
But for many other cities, sadly it’s simply a question of priorities. Hopefully, you are one of the lucky ones living in a city that prioritises the wellbeing of people over the speed of cars.
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