Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Massachusetts: Bicycling surges

Image of bicyclists at Boston Critical Mass
From WHDH-TV, Boston, 06.01.08:

As gas prices soar, so does interest in bicycling in Mass.
BOSTON--Drivers clear a lane, bicyclists are taking to the road in record numbers in Massachusetts.

In Cambridge ridership has soared 70 percent in five years, the MBTA is launching a "Bike Coach" to let riders bring their bicycles to beaches this summer and across the state bicycle shops are struggling to keep up with demand.

With gas prices hovering near $4 a gallon, the surge shows no signs of slowing.

During a recent bike-to-work week, activists hoped to get Massachusetts riders to pledge 50,000 commuter biking miles. Instead they got 125,000 pledged miles -- more than half the distance to the moon.

For bicycling enthusiasts--once a subculture of bike messengers, car haters, cash-poor students and eco-activists--it's beginning to feel like a tipping point. "People are coming back to the cycle in a big way," said Shane Jordan of the nonprofit Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition. "There's a whole lot more people out on the street around this time than there were last year."

Cities and town are adapting in big and small ways. In Lexington, near the popular 11-mile Minuteman Bikeway, activists installed a half-dozen new bicycle racks in April for the crush of bicyclists. On a recent Saturday every spot was taken, with extra bikes locked to sign posts and parking meters. "I couldn't believe how many people were out there," said Stewart Kennedy, head of the local bicycle advisory committee. "It's getting into the zeitgeist that it's cool." (Read more.)
Great news from my native state of Massachusetts. (Need I mention my enthusiasm for the Boston Red Sox?) Exciting things are happening in the Bay State, including moves to improve transit access (including a new "bike cage" at an MBTA stop), install bike racks, create bike maps, and even a quiet interest in a possible Paris Velib style bike-sharing program.

Image: Web capture.
Visit: More Boston commuters are taking to their bicycles, Boston Globe
Visit: Boston's bike lanes nearly set for riders, Boston Globe
Visit: Confessions of a new bike commuter, Brookline TAB
Visit: Moving Boston to two wheels, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Boston mayor pushes bikes, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Bike station needed at MBTA?, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Worcester: Pedal to the metal, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Martha's Vinyard: Bike commuting is fun, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

7 comments:

Matt H said...

All these stories about high gas prices getting people back on their bikes... It makes me wonder, is all of this a momentary blip? Or are these stories your blog so excellently compiles chronicling a sea change. Is it possible that we are at a tipping point in American culture, where the idea that bikes are a viable means of transportation becomes mainstream? One thing is sure: people's attitudes are changing, and we are at a unique and exciting time in our history.

Paul Dorn said...

Matt:

Thanks for your comment. I've been paying attention to bike commuting for at least 15 years. (I created my Bike Commuting Tips site in 1997.)

I don't think this is a momentary blip, but rather the culmination of a growing trend that really started about 1991 with ISTEA. Further, my compilation of articles is by no means comprehensive; articles about bicycling are appearing in dozens of publications every week. So I agree, this is an exciting time to be a bicycle advocate. (Though I do think journalists are challenged coming to grips with the phenomenon.)

Recent higher energy prices are certainly enhancing the relative appeal of bicycle commuting. While hybrids and alternative fuels are attracting attention, the long term trend for energy costs certainly isn't favorable to motoring.

The interest in Paris Velib-type programs (launching in Washington this month); popular demand for transit enhancement; mobility needs of an aging population; environmental concerns related to climate change; housing meltdown and property tax erosion depletes public treasuries making expensive highways projects less appealing--among many other factors are really challenging the automotive hegemony of American travel.

So no, I don't think this is a blip. I wonder what other readers think?

kbz said...

Here in Seattle it sure doesn't feel like a blip. Even though our spring weather has been pretty miserable, I've never seen so many bicyclists on the road. Every week, I see more people - it's really quite phenomenal. I think that the steady rise in gas prices is the bicycling world's best friend. But if people get out there and enjoy themselves, maybe they'll stick with it - even if gas prices drop.

Anonymous said...

This is not a blip. However, it isn't a tsunami either. The best we can hope for is that it's a trend to a less auto centric nation.

The politicians at every level are still far behind and pandering to the auto mentality. They do serve the necessary purpose of the canary in the mine, though. When we hear them speaking in large numbers about alternative transportation and bicycles, then we'll know the trend is continuing. Politicians always follow the prevailing winds and they unfortunately still believe that driving and cheap gas are encapsulated in the Bill of Rights.

My own feeling on the matter is that $4 a gallon is not the tipping point. There is still too much efficiency to be gained by the American driving public simply by downsizing vehicles and taking fewer trips. We're already seeing a lot of this with things like GMC thinking of discontinuing the Hummer and the bottom falling out of the used SUV market. I'm not sure where the point is, but I bet it's above $5 a gallon.

Sorry for being long winded.

speeddemon0117 said...

I have been riding my bike to work when the weather has been cooperative. Some people are so addicted to driving that they will still drive when gas costs over ten dollars a gallon. The problem is that we as a society are used to having cheap oil readily available.

BVlog of a discontented conforming non-conformist

Anonymous said...

As long as the zoom-zoom car mentality dominates tv ads, game show prizes, and every 16 year old dreams, I'm afraid that is more of blip than a sea change. The culture that favors speed over style, traffic over peace of mind, power over insight, in effect cars over people, we're on the same downward path.

I can easily recall the mid 70s when gas prices really exploded, people waited hours in line to fill up, the save-our-planet movement was hip, bike sales were booming and cyclists could be seen everywhere. The Rails-to-Trails conversions had just begun. It all ended with falling gas prices and the popularity of the large SUVs.

A shift to a more sustainable life styles is beginning but the vast majority of spending for transportation infrastructure favors cars over people. The DOTs must be changed dramatically to support communities instead truck drivers. In addition, to attract large flows of capital requires a more predictable/reliable revenue stream from going green.

Government tax policy needs to change so that carbon taxes can serve as de facto consumption tax with the revenues used to offset labor/capital taxes that discourage work and investment. Tax the bad not the good and don't sell the idea on theories about CO2 and climate change.

If we can jump these hurdles soon, it will be a solid trend in place, not a blip.
Jack

Anonymous said...

In regard to the "tipping point", gasoline prices in metro Vancouver, Canada, today reached the equivalent of $6.60/gallon. I hope that has some effect!