Dear EarthTalk

Are there efforts to increase bike lanes and paths around the nation? I’d like to be able to bike more instead of drive, but I’m concerned about safety.

John Shields,

Minneapolis, Minn.

Around the U.S. new bike lanes and paths are all the rage, helping cash-strapped cities simultaneously green operations and trim budgets — adding bike lanes is far less costly (to taxpayers and the environment) than building new roads. Also, the nonprofit League of American Bicyclists reports that real estate values increase with proximity to bike paths. “People enjoy living close to bike paths and are willing to pay more for an otherwise comparable house to be closer to one,” the group reports, citing examples from Indiana, California and elsewhere showing that homes near bike trails command a premium upwards of 10 percent.

In New York City, bicycling is the fastest growing mode of transportation. A 2006 citywide mandate has led to the laying down of some 200 miles of new bike paths recently. Also, the area around Madison Square in midtown is now bike-friendly; seven blocks of Broadway now feature green-painted bike lanes between the curb and the parking lane to provide cyclists with a buffer against rushing motorized traffic.

In September, central Tennessee (Nashville and environs) adopted an ambitious plan to add upwards of 1,000 miles of bike paths (also 750 miles of sidewalks) across seven counties, a scheme that won the “best project” award from the Institute of Transportation Engineers. Nashville itself will increase alternative transportation spending from 0.5 percent to 15 percent of its transportation budget, and hopes to reduce traffic congestion and obesity — Tennessee has the nation’s second highest rate of obesity — in the process.

Portland, Oregon, long a leading U.S. city on environmental policy, has allocated over $20 million over the last few years for bicycle infrastructure improvements, and plans to spend another $24 million upgrading the city’s network of bike paths and trails. One of the city’s latest innovations has been to convert two parking spaces on city streets to bike corrals capable of holding two dozen bicycles. In addition the Bike Portland blog reports that the city now supports some 125 bike related businesses, mostly small and locally owned, covering everything from custom bike building to accessories and repair.

In Davis, California, named America’s top cycling city by the League of American Bicyclists, bikes outnumber cars and bike paths occupy 95 percent of arterial and collector roads there. Some 14 percent of all commuters in Davis commute to work by bike, which is 35 times the national average. Other cities in the League’s Top 10 include Palo Alto and San Francisco in California; Corvallis, Portland and Eugene in Oregon; Boulder, Colorado; Madison, Wisconsin; Tucson, Arizona; and Seattle, Washington.

Some cities — New York, Los Angeles, Seattle — make available maps of bicycle routes. The inclusion of bike routes on Google Maps has also been a boon to cyclists across the country looking for the safest and most direct routes. Users can click on a bicycle icon after hitting “Get Directions.” Local bicycle clubs are a good place to turn to find the best bike-friendly routes though your region; The A1 Trails website provides a comprehensive list of bike clubs and other resources around the U.S. and Canada. With so many tools and new infrastructure, it might be high time to leave the car parked and hop on your bicycle.

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