Although there may be more that unites the U.S. and Germany than divides them (debatable, but stick with me here), for me there is no starker contrast between then two than their respective attitudes surrounding cycling. Germany boasts thousands of kilometres of bike paths, not unlike this beautiful one I get to regularly enjoy:
Starkly contrasted with the paths I was used to in Los Angeles (if I was lucky enough to have a path):
Having gone to university and graduate school in an exceedingly bike-friendly environment in California, I was quite shocked at the disdain, fear mongering, and fear factor one must deal with when cycling (or even talking about doing so) in Los Angeles (or even walking anywhere, for that matter). My life in Germany could not be more the opposite. Cyclists from all walks of life and all ages respectfully ring their little bells at those slower or in the way, effortlessly reflecting a culture of spacial awareness, love of fresh air and release from the shackles of constant automotive transportation.
In Germany and the Netherlands, the elderly make over half of their trips by biking or walking. With the new Elektrofahrrad (eBike or electric bike) phenomenon (although not a new concept, of course), the elderly in Germany’s rural areas are doubling and tripling the length of their rides. Our village’s former mayor — over 70 years old now — is on his bike almost more than he is off of it, biking some 70+ km later this month when thousands of cyclists will converge from all over northern German in the heart of Hamburg. In Lower Saxony, 83% of residents between 70 and 80 years of age own a bicycle, and 97% of couples with children own at least one bicycle; seventy-five percent of households with monthly income below 900 EUR per month reported having a bicycle, a number that rises to 97% for households with more than 3,600 EUR per month.
Across the water, America’s elderly are being left behind and the purpose behind having a bike is markedly different depending on income class. In a survey of American adults 65 and older, 82% said they worry that they will be stranded and unable to get around when they can no longer drive. And yet, in the U.S., adults 65 or older make only 0.4% of all trips by bike. More than half of older adults who reported an inhospitable biking, walking, and transit environment outside their homes said they would bicycle, walk, and take transit more if their streets were improved.
More in numbers:
- In the U.S., men's cycling trips surpass women's by at least 2:1. In the U.S., 24% of all bicycle trips are made by women and 76% are made by men. In the Netherlands, 55% of riders are women. In Germany, 49% of bike trips are made by women.
- In northern Europe there are no significant differences in cycling rates among income classes or sexes. U.S. cyclists who bike frequently have a median income of almost $60,000, and low-income persons bike mainly for utilitarian purposes, and high-income persons bike more for recreation and exercise.
- Europeans bicycle an average of 188 km per year; United States residents bike only 40 km a year.
- According to the Zweirad-Industrie-Verband (the Bicycle Industry Association), in 2012 Germany was home to 71 million bikes — that is nearly one bicycle for every person, including babies!
- During an average week, 30% of the German population use a bicycle for transportation. The average cyclist uses a bicycle three days a week for about 30% of their trips.
- One final statistics: In Los Angeles, bicycling increased 32% between 2009 and 2011. Indeed, I moved there in 2010 and started biking, and every day I would wave at the other three people in LA who bike regularly ;)
I leave you with Jack London:
Ever bike? Now that's something that makes life worth living!...Oh, to just grip your handlebars and lay down to it, and go ripping and tearing through streets and road, over railroad tracks and bridges, threading crowds, avoiding collisions, at twenty miles or more an hour, and wondering all the time when you're going to smash up. Well, now, that's something! And then go home again after three hours of it...and then to think that tomorrow I can do it all over again!
A NOTE ON SOURCES: Many of these were sourced from People for Bikes’ Statistics Library, at www.peopleforbikes.org; the citations for the statistics above are below, in the order referenced in the post. Corrections/suggestions/complaints/further inquiries can be sent to email@example.com
Landesamt für Statistik Niedersachsen, Pressemitteilung des Landesbetriebes für Statistik und Kommunikationstechnologie Niedersachsen, 1 Juni 2011
Neal, M., et al., 2006 - Age-related shifts in housing and transportation demand
Pucher, J., and J. Renne, 2003 - Socioeconomics of Urban Travel: Evidence from the 2001 NHTS, Transportation Quarterly, 57, 49-77
SRDS, 2005 - The Lifestyle Market Analyst
Pucher, J., et al., 2011 - Bicycling renaissance in North America? An update and re-appraisal of cycling trends and policies
Baker, L. 2009 - "How to get more bicyclists on the road: To boost urban bicycling, figure out what women want," Scientific American Magazine, October 16, 2009
U.S. Department of Transportation, 2010 - 2009 National Household Travel Survey
National Complete Streets Coalition - The Benefits of Complete Streets 3: Complete streets improve mobility for older Americans
Bassett, Jr., et al., 2008 - Walking, cycling, and obesity rates in Europe, North America, and Australia, Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 5, 795-814
Statistik, Statistiken zum Thema Fahrrad, http://de.statista.com/themen/173/fahrrad
Kuhnimhof, T., et al., 2011 - Multimodal travel choices of bicyclists: Multiday analysis of bicycle use in Germany, Transportation Research Record, 2190/2010, 19-27
Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition - "Results are in: Cycling is on the rise in Los Angeles!"