Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific Standard, GOOD, The Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.
Towns in the Netherlands are actually planning to try this out.
While we’re still debating in the United States whether and where to build bike lanes at all, here comes yet another cycling innovation from Northern Europe to stoke your seething jealousy. Towns in the Netherlands are hoping to pilot-test heated bike lanes, or geothermal infrastructure at 20,000-40,000 euros a kilometer that would melt the snow and ice from your morning commute.
These Dutch policymakers are obviously tackling a different problem from their North American counterparts. On this side of the Atlantic, advocates just want to get people on bikes, period. There, politicians are trying to figure out how to keep them there year-round. What’s most amazing, according to the BBC, is that the Dutch are having a serious conversation about the costs and benefits of such a pricey investment:
The man behind the proposal, Marcel Boerefijn, said there would be savings from fewer accidents, less salt needed to grit roads and reduced car expenses. Mr Boerefijn said it was possible that the final net cost would be less than putting straw down on the paths.
Try to picture even the most ardent bike advocate in America convincing politicians of this with a straight face.
The European Cyclists’ Federation, which brought this to our attention, says they’ve found that it’s not the cold and snow that stymies winter cycling in places like the Netherlands. It’s the problem of maintenance and infrastructure. We already know these people are happy to head out year-round – some 80 percent of riders in Copenhagen still cycle through the winter. And ridership rates are higher in these bike-obsessed but colder Northern European countries than their southern neighbors like Spain, Portugal and France (in Sweden, 17.1 percent of people primarily get around by bike; in Spain, it’s just 1.6 percent).
Almost everywhere, however, this same pattern emerges:
These are 12-month seasonal ridership rates in four Finish towns (blue is Helsinki, pink Jyväskylä, yellow Oulu and teal Rovaniemi). Here’s a similar picture of cycling in Quebec in 2010:
Even more temperate Washington, D.C. has this problem. Here is usage on the Capital Bikeshare system by month:
And here’s data from an automatic bike counter in Arlington County outside of the District:
Long story short: For biking to be a serious commuting alternative, it needs to be more than a seasonal one. So how about it? Think U.S. cities will ever be ready for automatically toasted bike lanes? Wilder technology has been built for cars.
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