Looking back at the year in bikes

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In January, 2011, I made some predictions about what was in store for the year ahead in bikes. Now that those 12 months have gone by, I thought it would be interesting to look back and see what actually came to pass.

Bike sharing
I predicted that 2011 would be the year that “bike sharing comes into its own.” And indeed, a look existing systems shows a huge spike in the inauguration of news bike share systems in the past year — at least in North America. The rest of the world had a head start of several years, but the number of systems worldwide has continued to increase — there are now said to be around 300 total.

My favorite bike sharing news in the last year is in the form of this video from Hangzhou, China, reputed to have the largest bikesharing system in the world, with 50,000 bikes (another city in China reports that it has usurped this record with 70,000 bikes). This bike share system is notable for being integrated with, and considered to be part of, the city’s public transportation network.

The Biggest, Baddest Bike-Share in the World: Hangzhou China from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

Also promising was research from Paris showing a lower rate of crashes on publicly owned bicycles.

In general, the “sharing economy” boomed in 2011, with entrepreneurs using phone apps and the Internet to facilitate peer-to-peer sharing of apartments, private cars, parking spaces, and more. Perhaps in 2012 the peer-to-peer sharing of privately owned bicycles will eclipse public bikesharing systems — but will hopefully not replace them, particularly given our significant digital divide.

The anti-bike backlash
I predicted that it would get worse. It did, in some places; in others it got better; in yet others there was no backlash and no need for any. My unscientific sense is that, though the locations have shifted, there is less overall media backlash than a year ago. This may simply be because more people are riding bikes and are therefore less likely to be confused about them.

I am still not sure what conditions lead to bicycles becoming an ideological punching bag — but in the past year I’ve become convinced that a focus on the known economic and business impact of bicycling is the way to find common ground.

Rewriting the rules
I wrote about the changes we could expect from the new NACTO guide to urban bikeway design, which was released, as planned, in March, 2011, and which provides cities with new, officially-sanctioned ways to design streets to be bike-friendly — you can thank this manual for the increase in standardized cycle tracks, bike boxes, green lanes, and bike signals in many US cities.

I have not followed electric-assist bicycling news closely, and am not sure if they have caught on any more than they were promising to a year ago. My sense is that they have not, but I would love to be proven wrong.

Locavores by bicycle
I threw in this prediction — more connections between the bicycling and local food movements — a bit flippantly, but the response was strong and enthusiastic. I have no idea if there has been an increase — your insights welcome — but I did have the pleasure of interviewing a young farmer who operates primarily by bicycle and who shared some great insights into why.

Carfree families
I predicted that 2011 would be a banner year for family and cargo bikes. I was right in the sense that it was, but this family bike revolution, while it’s reached a slow, steady, and unstoppable boil, hasn’t popped yet into the mainstream. I’d say it’s still in that exciting, pioneering stage where it is still small enough for growth to be palpable and the participants to feel kinship with each other.

The tipping point may come when a media-savvy spokesperson or celebrity starts to make a splash talking about family bicycling in national media — which I hope happens in 2012. In any event, the family bikers aren’t going anywhere, and more of them are starting blogs and making connections with each other every day.