Indianapolis has been pushing hard to catch up with leading bicycle cities such as Portland and San Francisco. Seeing all that two-wheeled traffic in downtown and surrounding neighborhoods has been a blessing in so many ways – less pollution from cars, less vehicle congestion, better public health outcomes, and especially watching people get outside and reconnect with their city. But I wanted to share what I consider the key benefit to bringing back bicycles: the opportunity for dense downtown development without parking lots or subsidized garages!
Our current renaissance of downtown required some big bites of that dreaded sandwich of compromise. While many of us at Urban Indy have taken a stand against subsidized vehicle parking, seeing it as a continuation of the old “highways first” policy that doomed many downtown areas to begin with, it is true that city leaders and business developers have a hard time seeing how any modern city could function without adequate parking. Finding a place to park is the most important concern for many commuters and shoppers, especially since densities have been creeping ever lower and people have to travel further for their jobs. But bicycle infrastructure gives us that magical silver bullet to end this concern, and reverse the trend in our cities.
I certainly don’t want to imply that everyone should be riding bicycles, but it is clear that bicycle infrastructure does benefit everyone. Every dollar not spent on gasoline (or expensive cars, insurance, and vehicle maintenance) is a dollar that is likely spent on local goods and services. The economic benefits are huge! Every bit of mode share (the percentage of people using a particular type of transportation) that bikes can capture means that Indianapolis sees real job growth, real increases in quality of life, and real improvements in household savings.
Coming back to the issue of parking, this is where bicycles really deliver their benefits to Urban Design. Building a city to mimic the old streets of Paris or Brooklyn is impossible when everyone must drive. Instead, we end up with a “stroad” and collector system, typically with a design life of 20 years before the cancer of dead mall syndrome takes over.
But a city with intensive bicycle infrastructure means that beautiful cityscapes don’t have to remain a fantasy. Because bicycles require so little space for their parking needs, they encourage well-designed traditional urban landscapes. Old-style city blocks become feasible, and in fact become more economical than the sprawling parking lots of suburbia; houses can once again use narrow lots when they don’t need a driveway and triple garage door; and streets can once again use names like “lane” or “avenue” without sounding like a cruel joke.
So here are some examples of great bicycle infrastructure that I’ve collected in the past few years. We may never “catch up” with the great cycling initiatives of the West Coast or Copenhagen, but trust me when I tell you that in the case of bicycle infrastructure The Deed is its Own Reward.
Bicycles, and their smaller parking requirements, allow us to create the cities that people like to inhabit. Bicycle parking holds the power to invigorate our local economies and unleash the power of our local architects.
Support for bicycle infrastructure is support for a city of humans, rather than a city of vehicles.