Inspired by their European cousins, US cities are finally seeing a shift away from the car-centric culture that has shaped them over the last few decades to one that’s increasingly centered on public transit, cycling and walking.

By way of example, San Francisco has recently announced a proposal to make $200 million worth of changes over the next five years to its cycling network. Initially, 12 miles of cycling lanes are to be added and 50 miles will be upgraded. Similar to that of New York, a 2750 strong bike-sharing programme is also planned, and 20,000 new bikes racks are to be added around the city.

San Francisco, a city locked by water and infamous for its hills.

Growth in cycling is looking good so far. Biking has already increased by 71% since 2006, with a modal share that currently lies at around 4% – though in certain neighbourhoods, it’s as high as 15%. If the overall figure doesn’t sound like much, bear in mind the US’s most bike-friendly city, Portland, boasts 6% of the pie – some way behind the likes of Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark. But consider, too, that in the case of San Francisco, the bike modal figure isn’t necessarily showing the whole story.

A study conducted by the San Francisco Municipal Transport Agency, published this year, suggests that public transit accounts for 23%, with walking accruing a very respectable 22%. With the extra cashflow, there are hopes to increase the cycle modal share to 8-10% by 2018. The most positive forecasters are even shooting for a 20% slice by 2020, though given the level of investment announced in January, the former is looking more realistic.

‘The Wiggle’ is a route favoured by commuters as it neatly dodges the worst of San Francisco’s inclines when riding from downtown to the Golden Gate Park.

In line with these plans, board of directors for the Bay Area Rapid Transit System (BART) have just announced a trial five month lift of the “bike blackout” – in which bicycles were banned from trains during peak hours; the lift of the bike blackout begins this July and runs until December.

A five month pilot scheme will see unrestricted access for bicycles on BART.

Increasingly, this compact, space-conscious metropolis is seeing the importance of nurturing such change if the economy is to be encouraged to grow. “This isn’t only about saving the environment – it’s about spurring the economy. Just because San Francisco is stuck with limited land space, doesn’t mean we have to stagnate,” says San-Francisco transportation consultant, and regular bicycle commuter, Joe Speaks. “It’s wonderful that San Francisco continues to add new businesses, new jobs, and new housing. But nobody wants more traffic. That means we need more walking, biking, and transit. Making room for bikes and pedestrians is about making room for people, rather than cars.”

San Francisco is well signed for cyclists, allowing commuters to follow quieter, flatter routes.

A hopeful sight for the future – bikes replacing cars for family use.

Additionally, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition is pressing for a series of green crosstown bikeways, set up along thriving commercial corridors, that will both ease congestion, reduce pressure on transit, contribute to growth in the local economies and promote a sense of safe cycling for everyone. One such route involves building a 4.3m (14 foot) wide bikeway to create a space where “people on bikes are safe from opening car doors and double‐parked trucks. The wide sidewalks and ample bike parking create a vibrant commercial district where people can easily stop to shop, play and eat.”

The city’s principal thoroughfare, Market Street, already boasts a separate bike lane protected from vehicle traffic by street furniture – and it’s proved very successful. Last month, during Bike to Work Day, impressive numbers turned up on their bikes. “Today’s record-breaking Bike to Work Day counts reinforce what we see every day in the bike lanes: huge numbers of people biking in San Francisco. We’re thrilled to see that today bikes accounted for a whopping 76% of inbound Market Street traffic during the morning commute,” said Leah Shahum of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition on the big day, which organised volunteers, Energizer stations and commuter convoys. “It is even more impressive that on an average workday, bikes account for 66% of traffic. If we continue to connect San Francisco with safe, separated bikeways, we can certainly meet the City’s goal of 20% of trips by bike by 2020.”

For a city infamous for the severity of its hills, it certainly bodes well for the future of cycling.