Shall We Bike?

Feb 27, 2013, 11:10 AM

The New York Times ran a sobering story on biking in that city recently. While the city’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has been an enthusiastic champion of increasing bike riding throughout New York City—including adding bike lanes in all five of the city’s boroughs and a bike-sharing program that could start this spring—his term ends at the end of the year and some contenders for the Mayor’s Office have publicly said, according to the article, that they may be more moderate bike enthusiasts. Some have even said they’d consider removing some bike lanes already in place that have proven to be problematic for other traffic.

How should communities tackle the Sisyphean dilemma of taking a few steps back just when you thought you’d gone forward on biking gains? Craig Chester, a senior fellow at SmartGrowth America, an advocacy group for improving neighborhoods, says one step is to “install the bike infrastructure with permanence,” such as physically separated bike lanes with concrete medians to separate the bicycles from traffic. Chester says it’s harder to remove that type of infrastructure than it is a painted lane on the street. And while more expensive, it also more clearly separates the bikers from the drivers, a concern for many. But Chester says the best solution is to encourage more people to cycle as part of their lives “so they experience the benefits first-hand.” A stronger pro-cycling consensus makes bicycle lanes “politically popular rather than politically threatening,” says Chester.

Jeffrey Miller, president and CEO of The Alliance for Biking and Walking in Washington, D.C., says it’s often a challenge to “make gains when policymakers don’t always see the value.” Miller says that’s the importance of involving the community in the shared vision for a healthier community. “That’s one of the greatest things we have going for us. People who want a healthier active lifestyle are key to this.”

Miller says that while there have been some biking setbacks, “that’s the nature of progress—setbacks and stumbling blocks along the way.”

Miller offers San Francisco as an example. The city had been making biking gains and then a court injunction brought by community members required an environmental impact statement. Miller says once the injunction was lifted by the courts, “the appetite for biking was so strong, that biking in the city made more gains in the months after the ban was lifted than in the couple of years before it.”

Miller says that critical factors needed to address the issue with policymakers include quality of life and health; cost savings; and attracting and maintaining top talent who often choose a city for its livability.

“Go to any bicycle-related ribbon cutting,” says Miller, “and the number of ‘atta boys’ and ‘atta girls’ far outstrips anything a policymaker can get with highways and parking garages. They quickly see the love of the community.”


>>Bonus Links

  • AAA has good, easy to understand information on its website aimed at getting bicyclists and car drivers to share the road safely.
  • The U.S. Department of Transportation hosts an important website called Share the Road Safely with important safety guidelines for vehicle drivers, including bicyclists, to avoid collisions with commercial trucks.
  • Read a recent Washington Post ode to the Capital Crescent Trail, a popular D.C. walking and biking trail, demonstrating the passion of committed runners, walkers and bikers to this kind of dedicated space.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.