I recently returned from Europe with an entirely new perspective on bicycle culture. Having spent years riding my bike in San Francisco, with its numerous bike lanes and avid cyclists, I had this perception that I was riding around one of the most bike friendly cities on the globe. After seeing how bikes are utilized and respected in metropolitan areas throughout Europe, I’ve realized just how backwards the U.S. is in terms of bike culture compared to other areas of the world.
Like in the U.S., bike lanes exist in many European cities, with places like Munich even having separated bike thoroughfares. But it’s the overall harmony between bikes and cars moving together in traffic across Europe that made the bike culture there seem so different from the fractured bike culture in the States. Bright green bike lines are fantastic, but they more or less exist in the U.S. to remind thoughtless drivers that there are bikes on the road and you shouldn’t run them over.
[photo borrowed from Mission Mission]
Bike sharing (shown below) was common in every city I visited – London, Paris, Brussels and Munich. While bike sharing is starting to see adoption in certain U.S. cities, like with Washington D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare, it just doesn’t seem to be hitting a critical mass.
In Europe I witnessed businessmen and college students weaving in and out of traffic on their bicycles without being honked at by drivers in cars. There seemed to be this understanding that the nature of bikes in a city was one of slow pace and ease of maneuverability. In the U.S. drivers seem to love laying on their horns alerting cyclists that that they could easily have ran them over if they hadn’t decided to take their foot off the gas pedal.
Oh, and no one on a bike in Europe was wearing a helmet. It didn’t seem reckless at all, it just seemed unnecessary given the bike culture they were used to.