Building A Bicycle-Friendly Community
Updated: Jun 16
I love being on two wheels. You get to see the city with an unobstructed panoramic view taken in at a speed that allows you to see finer details on buildings and how people interact with the city. Riding bikes has made me a better Architect and honestly a better person.
I consider myself lucky to live near downtown in Oklahoma City and have been able to design most of my life to occur within a 15 minute bike radius which includes, my dentist, grocery store, and workplace to name a few.
When I found out I was going to be a dad I started reading up on parenting and I happened across a baby book: The Happiest Kids in the World which cited a UNICEF report that ranked the Netherlands at the top of the list and the U.S. near the bottom.
There are lots of contributing factors, but one such reason is Dutch parents teach their kids to start riding bikes very young which helps them learn independence and resilience early on.
Having visited Amsterdam previously, I assumed bikes were just a cultural thing they were born with but it’s not. Turns out it’s the simple and safe bike infrastructure within the design of their built environment that enables them to choose to ride bikes everywhere.
My son started riding on my bike at 9 months old and and now that he's 2 we're able to ride around together some but we are limited where we can ride due to lack of proper infrastructure.
Protest Rides - Amsterdam 1982 left and Oklahoma City 2019 right.
Surprisingly, the Netherlands wasn’t always bike friendly. It took far too many auto/pedestrian collisions and protests rides to turn from a car city back into a city for people.
Why should a bike friendly community be important to you?
None of those fun movies set in the 1980’s would’ve been possible without kids on bikes: Goonies, ET, Stranger Things, the list goes on. Who wouldn't want to live in a place where movies like that could occur.
Multimodal cities are more sustainable and equitable - not everyone can afford the burden of owning a car. It's been proven that adding more lanes for cars does not alleviate traffic, only providing other modes of transportation can do that. Going by bike is actually often faster than driving a car in urban areas because of the passage of the Idaho Stop, plus parking your bike is free and easy.
The physical health benefits are fairly obvious. People that incorporate exercise into there daily routine live longer and when you're able to combine your commute as your cardio workout it can be a very efficient time saver. From a mental health perspective, the chance encounters with people I pass on bike rides spark so much joy. A smile from a total stranger or a wave from an old friend, you just can't get that when driving a car.
What does a bike friendly community look like?
It's no surprise that American cities are largely designed for cars, and OKC is no exception. After gaining statehood only one year before the invention of the Ford model T, we got very trigger happy with oversizing roads. However therein lies the opportunity with today's car centric cities, there is so much excess space "road diets" are becoming common to carve out more space for sidewalks or creating dedicated bike lanes.
OKC has unique challenges that it’s so BIG. But there's still potential for it to become a cycling city because it’s so flat. The e-bike will allow people of all ages to go further and show up to their destination with out being sweaty.
Image provided by Oklahoma Bicycle Society. Full bike map available below:
Oklahoma City started the bike journey with multi-use paved trails, geared towards the recreational cyclist which when completed will connect all the lakes similar to a ring city or wheel. Largely funded by MAPS3, see red above. Bike lanes for commuters came second which radiate off the wheel like spokes entering the urban core, funded largely by bonds and soon MAPS4, see blue and orange above.
Examples of OKC's current urban bike infrastructure are provided above. Least safest on the left, know as sharrows (shared with car), standard dedicated bike line in the middle, to safest separated lanes with flex post barriers. For more info, check out the BikeWalkOKC plan.
Bike and Pedestrian bridges can be iconic grand gestures that are popular with tourists but often draws criticism by locals as they are expensive and built with the small amount of funds allotted to build bike and pedestrian infrastructure. Either way, it shows that the city cares and people outside of cars matter. Shorter cross walk distances are safer for pedestrians, and tightening down the radius of curbs at intersections slows down cars which helps prevent auto/pedestrian collisions. Lead Pedestrian Intervals (LPI) implemented last year on crosswalk buttons (thank you Traffic Commission) also prioritizes pedestrians giving them a few seconds head start before the light turns green for cars to go.
What you can do to help continue Building a Bicycle-Friendly Community?
There’s often opposition to bike lanes in front of businesses because owners think it will hurt business, the opposite it actually true. Bikes are good for business. When you slow traffic down with bike infra people on bikes and cars tend to actually look around at what's occurring around them and are more likely to pop in more often and spend $. The public should help advocate for help bike friendly infra.
Architects and civil engineers should consider the arrival sequence of people by means other than a car. Bike racks aren’t required for new construction but I believe they should be. The location of bike racks should be prioritized near the main entrance in highly visible spot, or else the person will likely bring their bike indoors to prevent theft, which can be frowned upon by business owners. Below is a PDF to the best bike rack drawings and details I've come across, courtesy of the City of Oakland, California:
Installing bike racks in Oklahoma City actually has advantages from a Development and Planning perspective on projects, it allows for reduced parking requirements (Municode10600.5) which means less land is required for new developments and a potential cost savings which can make or break a project.
I highly recommend using the OKC Connect App if you see issues in the built environment to offer up suggestions. It's very progressive and kind of mind blowing it actually works.
In closing, the best thing you can do is simply try riding your bike. Consider taking it instead of taking a car on your next errand or commute. I suggest pre-planning your route in Google Maps with the bicycle option selected to get close, and then adjust accordingly. If you’re a slightly less confident rider, consider joining a big leisurely social ride with Hide and Go Bike, the Full Moon Bike Ride, or book a guided Ride OKC Bike Tour.