Cities around the world offered chance to win $1m to build cycle lanes

Ten winners will be given advice on how to create safe cycling infrastructure as well as head off vocal critics

Cities around the world will have the chance to compete for $1m (£902,000) in funding as well as expertise to build new cycling infrastructure under a plan launched by the charitable foundation set up by Mike Bloomberg, who as New York mayor pioneered new bike lanes in the city.

Under the scheme, launched on Monday by Bloomberg Philanthropies, 10 cities will be awarded up to $1m each to create safe cycling routes, and will also be given help designing the schemes and on engaging with residents and potential opposition.

The expertise comes from Global Designing Cities Initiative (GDCI), a New York-based NGO which works with cities to create sustainable transport. It was founded by Janette Sadik-Khan, who was New York’s traffic commissioner under Bloomberg.

Any city with a population of 100,000 or more can apply between November and February, with the 10 winners announced in spring next year.

Sadik-Khan, who heads the advisory board for GDCI, oversaw the installation of 400 miles of cycle lanes in New York City as transport commissioner from 2007 until she left office in 2013, creating dozens of new pedestrianised plazas, including in Times Square.

Having to face down noisy opposition in a city still dominated by motor vehicles despite its relatively compact size, Sadik-Khan said that part of the advice given to the winning cities would be how to cope with the inevitable critics.

“People have very strong feelings about their streets, which is great,” she said. “There are 8.4 million New Yorkers, and at times I felt there were 8.4 million traffic engineers.

“There’s always going to be a backlash when you try new things. When you change the status quo, the status quo pushes back. But we think the global experts will help give authority and credibility to these programmes.”

New York’s battles, she added, had helped create a wealth of evidence about the benefits of cycle infrastructure, including how it tends to benefit businesses along bike routes, and the way urban company owners overestimate the proportion of customers who arrive in cars.

“When you think about it, bike lanes are to the 21st century what bridges, tunnels and cloverleafs (huge highway-style intersections) were to the last century,” Sadik-Khan said.

“We have to fight against this idea that cycling is recreation, that riders don’t belong on city streets, which are really only for cars. We’ve had to fight against the myth that redesigning streets is bad for business. We’ve seen a real revolution, particularly in Europe, of cities that see cycling as a real investment in urban infrastructure for the long-term health of their cities.”

New York City’s cycling revolution remains very much a work in progress. Its current mayor, Eric Adams, arrived in office with plans for a notable expansion of cycle routes, something critics say has been much slower to happen in reality.

But one notable legacy of Sadik-Khan’s tenure, as shown by the new competition, is the way that Bloomberg, the billionaire founder of the eponymous business news empire, remains wedded to the idea of cycling as a key part of urban transport.

As mayor, Bloomberg was not initially a cycling advocate, but changed course during his second term after PlaNYC, a 2007 strategic plan examining how the city could cope with an expanding population, concluded bike lanes had to play a part.


Peter Walker

The GuardianTramp

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