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Now Even North Korea Has Bike Lanes

A modern idea in a mostly backwards nation.

Now Even North Korea Has Bike Lanes
[Photos: via Instagram user @EverydayDPRK]

City and national leaders around the world are joining the movement to create safer streets for cyclists. Now that even includes North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un.

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According to a fascinating report in Reuters, major streets in Pyongyang now have bike lanes in an effort to reduce accidents. Since bikes are banned from the street, previously cyclists had to ride on sidewalks with pedestrians, which is usually a bad idea.

North Korea isn’t right about most things, but it is right that bike lanes will create safer streets. Data consistently shows that accidents drop when lanes are added. For example, New York City recently found that streets with bike lanes have 40% fewer serious crashes involving cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians than those without. Of course, given that Kim Jong-Un has absolute, dictatorial power over his people, he doesn’t encounter the same political opposition most U.S. leaders face when wading into the thorny issues of how to divide urban streets among various users.

Bike ownership is on the rise in North Korea, according to Reuters, as it is in much of the rest of the world. Bikes are still expensive, but more people are able to afford them today, and they are still easier to purchase than cars in the isolated, repressive nation. The name Pyongyang apparently means “flat lands,” which any biker will appreciate.

Simon Cockerell, a Beijing-based tour guide who takes Westerners into North Korea, told Reuters that he’s seen the number of cyclists increase by about 50% in the last few years. But bikes still have a branding problem. Pyongyang residents are “image-conscious” and think cycling is unsophisticated.

One thing is clear. As the “built it and they will come theory” goes, when cities build more bike lanes, rates of cycling increase. And so North Korea may soon have even more residents getting around in two wheels.

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About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire.

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