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DesignIdeation: Bike Infrastructure

Bike-sharing and e-scooters have ushered in a new era of transportation in cities — the era of personal mobility. These accessible alternatives to driving are increasing in popularity, but some communities are not prepared to meet the demand for active transportation infrastructure. Beth Poovey, PLA (BP) is challenging the way cities weave pedestrian-friendly infrastructure into their communities. She has made it her mission to create places where every mode of transportation is respected. 

Below, Beth shares her thoughts on the model for successful bicycle infrastructure in America.

What sparked your passion for active transportation and bicycle infrastructure?

BP: Before I was a landscape architect, I lived in the Netherlands, which is heaven for cyclists. While I was there, I cycled everywhere — to and from work, to see friends, running errands, etc. I loved the idea that bikes were used for transportation, rather than recreation. Living in the Netherlands showed me that the way you experience a community by bike is incredibly different than by car. My goal is to use active transportation to create bike-friendly communities in the U.S.

What are some examples of places that have successfully integrated bike infrastructure?

BP: If we look at Vancouver and the Netherlands, they have been investing in bike/ped infrastructure for a lot longer than cities in the U.S. Plus, they are very dense which makes it easier to bike or walk. Sprawling cities like Charlotte, NC that have less density and destinations within close proximity, are more complex. We can’t use that same model. We have to create bike facilities that are fitting for these communities. So, what does that look like? We don’t have an answer, but that’s what I am working towards — designing the best walking and biking infrastructure for each unique place.

When LandDesign was working on the Cross Charlotte Trail, one of the ideas we had was inspired by Dutch infrastructure. We wanted to incorporate colored paths so you can physically see the difference between vehicular, biking and pedestrian transportation. It’s an intuitive option that is an investment in all forms of transportation. More and more of our cities are realizing the benefit of investing in bike infrastructure as a form of transportation, and LandDesign can influence the creation of cities where cycling is a viable alternative to vehicular transportation.

Why aren’t mid-sized American cities there yet?

BP: The lack in funding for bike infrastructure. For a long time, funding has gone to vehicular transportation and there is only so much funding for infrastructure within a year. Until bike infrastructure becomes a priority, we, as designers and planners, need to determine what the solution is in the meantime. We are starting to look at how e-scooters and temporary bike facilities are influencing a shift away from driving alone for every trip.

What design solutions are we exploring?

BP: We are looking at the e-scooter trend as a viable form of transportation other than an automobile, while also trying to understand what this means for humans. In terms of health, biking serves as a form of exercise, but e-scooters take that away. We are questioning the impact of this trend to our health and whether scooters provide the same benefits to communities as biking. Ultimately, the benefits of scooters outweigh the negatives because they get us out of cars, but there are some interesting side effects micro-mobility has on the future of active transportation. 

Additionally, this trend will impact how we plan for accessibility and will change open space and comprehensive planning in general. Today, our plans aim to have accessible open space every quarter of a mile, so everyone can feasibly walk to a park. But with the accessibility scooters are creating, that could change the way we plan for parks and open space.

Does the perspective of bike infrastructure as an amenity, rather than a necessity, need to change for progress to happen?

BP: The inherent bias within our U.S. transportation systems is that cyclists are a lower priority than cars. This mindset will change over time as communities are exposed to bike infrastructure. However, in order to make progress, we need to quicken the transition of thinking. The easier we make biking, and the harder we make driving, the faster the mentality will change. Ride sharing (Uber, Lyft, etc.) is playing a role in changing this mindset, but we have yet to determine if it is hindering or advancing the mentality change.

Are there opportunities to educate the community on the benefits of bike infrastructure?

BP: Open Streets is a great example of an event that educates communities on the benefits of biking and walking. The event is held twice a year and streets are shut down to allow cyclists and pedestrians to freely explore neighborhoods. It’s a great event, but we need to have that impact every day. Education plays a part in changing the perspective around biking, but we need the infrastructure in place so cyclists can bike safely.