While people around the world wait for their governments to be more proactive when it comes to addressing the climate crisis, they are making life choices that are helping to reduce harmful pollutants. Among them are taking shorter showers, limiting the use of air conditioning, and driving electric cars.

Biking, a very eco-friendly choice, has surged in popularity over the last year as people feared contracting COVID-19 on public transportation. The global bicycle market was estimated to have made a staggering $29.2 billion last year, and in the U.S. alone $4.1 billion worth of bikes were sold between January and October (not including e-bikes).

With such an increased number of bikes on the roads, creating a network of bike highways, differing from bike lanes being completely separate from the roads, could be the answer to problems ranging from traffic congestion to carbon dioxide emissions.

First U.S. Bike Highway

Before Ford Model T changed transportation forever in 1908, biking was wildly popular across the United States. Mayor Horace M. Dobbins of Pasadena, California, had an ambitious idea to construct a bicycle highway that would connect his city to Los Angeles.

In 1897, Dobbins, along with California Governor Henry Markham, established the California Cycleway Company. Dobbins had a vision for an elevated bike tollway that, like highways, would include rest stops and exits at points of interest, and by 1900, construction was underway.

Unfortunately, a little more than one mile of the bike highway was ever completed because the project faced funding issues. With a stretch of the road open to the public, the 15-cent round trip toll was not enough to keep the project alive.

Modern Bike Highways

In 2010, Germany began constructing a completely car-free bicycle autobahn that is expected to reach 62 miles in length and connect 10 cities. By the time the roadway is complete, 50,000 automobiles are expected to be off the road as the nation focuses on reducing car pollution. 

The first three-mile stretch opened in 2015.

In the Netherlands, the RijnWaalpad, a 20-foot-high, 12-foot-wide route, is arguably one of the world’s most efficient bikeways. The elevated path stretches 11 miles between the cities of Arnhem and Nijmegen. While relatively low for such a massive project, the price tag on the highway was still 17 million euros.  The government there, however, invests 30 euros per person annually on bike infrastructure.

Meanwhile, architect Norman Foster proposed a plan for the East-West Cycle Superhighway in London. The project would create an 18-mile elevated roadway that stretches from Acton in West London to Barking on the east side.

Getting Americans Back on Board

Pitching bikeways to European citizens has proven to be a much easier sell as many of those nations have been investing in bicycle infrastructure since the 1970s while the U.S. didn’t ramp up its efforts until the start of the 21st century.

While cities like New York have taken steps to protect cyclists, such as the Vision Zero safety campaign and an extensive system of protected bike lanes, places like Portland, Oregon are taking things up a notch and building out $600 million bike infrastructure as part of its efforts to make the city greener by 2030.

While President Joe Biden’s staggering $1.9 trillion infrastructure plan could be a welcome change for everyone thanks to dramatically improved roadways, bike highways might be another improvement that would answer at least some of our concerns about both climate change and public safety.

Video produced by Ali Larkin and John Tejeda. Article written by Lawrence Banton.

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