* At The Atlantic Cities, Emily Badger has a good piece on a new study out of Toronto that compares where people prefer to bike with how safe those places are. The abstractly logical theory is that good infrastructure makes places safe, and people like to bike places where it's safe and has good infrastructure. The anecdotal theory is that people will bike on main streets and not really think about infrastructure or safety too much. Survey says:
Your chance of injury drops by about 50 percent, relative to that major city street, when riding on a similar road with a bike lane and no parked cars. The same improvement occurs on bike paths and local streets with designated bike routes. And protected bike lanes – with actual barriers separating cyclists from traffic – really make a difference. The risk of injury drops for riders there by 90 percent.
Well, right. But can you lead a horse to water?
"We were told in advance that young males and people who are experienced riders would tell you they’d rather ride on major streets without bike infrastructure," she recalls. "It turned out not to be true. Everyone had the same order or preferences."
Safety scales up exactly how you'd expect, from major streets with parked cars and no bike lane to cycle tracks (physically separated lanes). Route preference mostly followed. It's interesting because it really does turn received wisdom on its head, even if it seems obvious: "The research will provide weighty evidence for advocates of dedicated bike infrastructure precisely because transportation engineers have long believed the exact opposite to be true. For years, they’ve counter-intuitively argued that you’re actually better off learning to ride alongside cars than having your own bike lane."
The project – Escolas de Bicicleta or 'Bicycle Schools' – is huge. It revolves around the 46 CEUs in the city. These CEUs – Centros de Educação Unificados – are extraordinary in their own right. Schools for 0-14 year olds but also comprehensive community centres for the surrounding neighbourhoods with amazing facilities for the children and everyone else. Swimming pools, theatres, sports facilities, computer facilties for the locals, you name it. They are the centre of cultural activity in the communities and draw people from all classes to gather under one umbrella, as it were. They are often impressive architecturally and rise up proudly at the heart of the communities in which they are placed.
Now each CEU will recieve 100 bicycles – 4600 in all – and there will be two aspects to the Escolas de Bicicleta programme. One will be simply providing the students from 10-14 years with bicycles for use in bicycle games and activities. All aspects of bicycle culture will be taught in comprehensive courses lasting one month and covering history, culture, nutrition, etc.
The other aspect is that after the course, the children will start riding to school in 'bicycle busses' or 'convoys' each morning and back again in the afternoon. They will have pre-arranged meeting points and escorts to ride with them. In the long run, local youths will be empowered to act as escorts. The routes are carefully planned. None are more than 3 km and they avoid busy streets wherever possible. Every effort is being made to ensure the safety of the children cycling to school.
Chicago has bicycle programs like this, teaching broad skills, like Blackstone Bicycle Works, but they're comparatively tiny. Sao Paulo's program is considerably bigger, and comes at a bigger but not outrageous cost: $1.3 million a year.
Photograph: Chicago Bicycle Program (CC by 2.0)