Vienna Takes to Bikes
One of the most beautiful cities in Europe is Vienna, Austria. Formerly the capital of Austria, and since 1955 one of nine states within that country, Vienna cherishes its reputation for historical beauty and grace – a reputation enhanced by its city-centre designation, in 2001, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It’s difficult to keep cities beautiful and sustainable, especially as populations rise. In Europe, which is almost universally ZPG, or zero population growth, this is especially difficult because almost all the land is bespoke, either for housing, industry or agriculture. Vienna itself boasts 3 million residents, living on a sparse 160 square miles.
It might have been this fact alone that triggered Vienna’s move toward a “bicycle culture”, or it might have been the sort of traffic congestion and air pollution that Beijing’s politicians deplore. Suffice to say Vienna is pushing bicycle commuting with a rental system called “Citybike” which offers 100 automated rental depots around the city, dedicated bike zones, and the emergence of housing projects built around a bicycle network. These affordable apartments for middle-income workers with wide hallways and lifts as well as bike racks on every floor (and bike stores on every floor for that last-minute tire repair) are evidence of a trend. After all, European cities are generally small with relatively favorable climates.
New York Taking the Citybike Route
In the United States, some of our most endearing cities are also going wheels down: bicycle wheels, that is, and the leader of this pack is, unsurprisingly, New York City. The most populous city in the US, with 8.33 million inhabitants per the New York Daily News – a figure supported by the 2010 Census (and repeated by the New York Times) – New York is officially no more than 468 habitable square miles.
Most Europeans would consider that quite roomy. People living in wide open places and spaces (Montana, Wyoming, Idaho; North and South Dakota; Nevada and New Mexico, all less than 20 people per square mile), would probably take one look at New York and turn right around. Big cities attract a certain type of individual, and that type, also not surprisingly, is one who likes to sidewalk shops, take in a museum or a Bergman film, eat vegetarian, and ride a bike. This is as much true for males as for females.
New York, which falls to ninth in the list of bike-friendly large cities, plans to spruce up its image this year. About time, as a fog of car, bus, delivery truck and other fossil-fueled engines adds a complex layer of unbreathable smog that threatens to match Beijing in a decade.
The city plans to join Citibike, which is the program name of a comprehensive bicycle rent-and-use company Called PBSC – the Public Bike System Company, or Bixi. The ethos is a marriage of the esthetic and the effectual. Citibike offers a turnkey system for cities wanting to clean up their vehicular fossil-fuel-burning act, and if this sounds like too-much pie-in-the-sky, consider similar programs in Boston, London, Melbourne and Minneapolis, to name a few. The best part, other than the reduction in fumes? Citi financial is backing the initiative with a five-year, $41-million sponsorship.
Inner City Biking Hazards
Given New York’s traffic problems, which feature a sparsely staffed investigation group to delve into bicycle accidents and fatalities, it’s surprising the PBSC is even willing to go there. Especially with most city-going vehicles in a visible if unstated competition with bikers (a veiled hostility also evident in Minneapolis and many other “bike-friendly cities as well). And don’t forget areas of unstable construction, exemplified by the various crane accidents and building collapses that present additional traffic problems, especially for couriers and bikers, who are the most vulnerable to construction mishaps.
U.S. Future Green
Still, the push toward “green” cities demands that urban planning committees and individuals recognize the environmental footprint (and body burden) of vehicle exhausts in crowded areas. It’s impossible to consider one’s city sustainable if the very activity that makes it a city is also the one that makes it uninhabitable, so bikes are a good way forward.
It’s too bad that most Americans, raised in a culture of cars, fast food and instant gratification (not to mention conspicuous consumption), can’t get the hang of bicycling not as exercise but as a means of transportation. Fortunately, that seems to be changing too, as younger generations take to the bicycle paths and lanes even in winter. And as it does it will leave America’s cities fully habitable for future generations, which is the underlying principle of sustainability.
About the Author:
Andrew Miller is an experienced social media expert, author, and co-founder of the tech startup ScanandBan.com. He has worked in marketing for over a decade and finds his passion in bringing concepts to life. As a Socialpreneur, he is an agent for positive social change through both his writing and business endeavors.