Episode 19: Will the bicycle survive the future?

Professor Ruth Oldenziel / Talking Heads / 17 June 2023 / 50:55


Cycling as a Commute Vehicle: The Future of Sustainable Transportation?

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the way we live and work. One of the areas where we have seen a significant shift in behavior is transportation. With many people avoiding public transit and ride-sharing services, there has been a surge in the popularity of cycling as a mode of transportation. In this blog post, we will explore the future of cycling as a commute vehicle and the factors that contribute to its success.

The Netherlands has been a leader in cycling for over 40 years, with cycling as a primary means of transportation. However, the adoption of cycling has skyrocketed in many cities post-pandemic. Brussels, for example, has become the latest poster boy for cycling. In just four years, bicycle trips tripled, and car trips dropped by 14%. India has seen an uptick as well, mostly beginning with recreational riding. The pandemic saw sales increase on average by 20%, but some stores saw spikes that cleared out their stock. However, the bicycle is still seen differently in India, mainly as a tool for sports and recreation.

So how do we change its image and increase adoption? Professor Ruth Oldenziel, a professor in the history of technology, and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Technology and Culture, has studied cycling cities projects documenting cycling history from 14 cities across nine countries over 100 years. She believes that the bicycle is the future of sustainable transportation.

The bicycle is a convenient and affordable means of transportation, but it also depends on urban planning. If your city is compact, then you can commute by bike. However, urban planning is just one piece of the story. The second factor is the mobility alternatives. A mix of walking, cycling, public transit, and auto mobility is essential to provide people with options for getting around.

In densely populated cities like India, public transit needs to be affordable to encourage people to use it. The fear of being unable to manage dense development has resulted in a sprawl, with more people choosing to buy motor vehicles. However, Professor Oldenziel believes that it is still possible to change this mindset. She emphasizes that perceptions play a big role in what motivates people to work and that it is essential to listen carefully to how people reason and perceive the bicycle to create policy.

One of the key takeaways is that there is no one factor that explains it all. There are five factors that need to come together to encourage cycling: urban planning, mobility alternatives, perceptions, innovation, and policy. The Netherlands is an excellent example of these factors coming together, with cycling as a primary means of transportation.

In conclusion, cycling is the future of sustainable transportation. The bicycle is a convenient, affordable, and flexible means of transportation that can reduce our carbon footprint and improve our health. However, it is crucial to have a mix of mobility alternatives, policy, and innovation to encourage people to cycle. Urban planning is also essential to provide cyclists with safe and accessible routes. We need to change the mindset that the car is the only way to the future and embrace the bicycle as a sustainable and modern mode of transportation.