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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Colorado: Car-free commuting

Image of bicycles buried in snow in Boulder, ColoradoFrom the Colorado Daily News (University of Colorado, Boulder), 06.03.07:

For (Community Cycles founder and manager Rich) Points, who has been living car-free for nine years, it's rewarding to see people of all ages commuting on two wheels instead of four. Points himself switched from being a car-commuter to a full-time bike commuter when he moved to Boulder from Michigan in 1998. It was an easy decision to make, Points added.

"I guess it just happened. I discovered the bike paths, which were kept in such good condition year round, and I just didn't need a car. But I've always been involved with bicycle advocacy," said Points, a former GO Boulder Bike Ambassador. "The political side of biking doesn't come up in the shop. But we try to encourage people to be car-free. We have everything here you could possibly need to commute, from bike maps and cargo racks - all the basic commuter essentials." (Read more.)
Boulder, Colorado--"home to 95,000 people and 100,000 bikes"--is a bike town rivaling Davis, California, for bicycling mode share. This article highlights the nonprofit Community Cycles, which recovers and refurbishes bicycles for low-income people in Colorado and beyond. A worthy project.

Many bicycling-intensive university towns have attempted to "recycle" bikes as an means of making effective, low-cost transportation available to all residents. Several "yellow bike" or "white bike" programs have been launched across the U.S., but rarely have they gained sustained existence. Bikes get stolen, vandalized, stripped of parts, damaged, or lost.

The Arcata Library Bike program and the Red Bike Program in Fresno are interesting experiments; both require a minimal deposit for a long-term loaner bike. Community bike programs are more common in Europe, where they have had mixed success to date; the latest city to attempt a bike rental program is Paris, France.

In general, I don't think the absence of bicyclists on American streets is due to a lack of bicycles; there are plenty of bikes gathering dust in garages and basements all across the U.S. What is missing is a lack of safe space to bicycle, or a pervasive perception of unsafe conditions.

In certain bicycling circles, there is a heated chicken-or-egg conversation: does an abundance of bicyclists create demand for bike lanes; or do bike lanes create an abundance of bicyclists? (*In this case "bike lanes" means "bicycling infrastructure" including lanes, paths, routes, etc.) Based on my experiences in San Francisco and Davis--and the Community Cycles manager in this article, who acknowledges Boulder's impressive bicycling infrastructure as his primary incentive to go car-free--I believe it's the latter.

(In my youth, I'd have suggested this is a type of a "base or superstructure" argument; a dialectical relationship exists to be sure, but the base is primary. And modern economics have largely demonstrated that, in monopoly capitalism, supply creates demand, not the other way around.)

What do you think? Do bicyclists create bike lanes, or do bike lanes create bicyclists?

Image: Web capture. Snowed-in bicycles on the campus of the University of Colorado.
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site


James T said...

I agree that bike lanes create cyclists. I commute to work by bike and I would say that 80% percent of the people who make a point to talk to me about bike commuting are at least mildly interested in trying it themselves. The one big factor that is stopping them is the perception that cycling on the roadways is extremely dangerous. I usually try to tell them that cycling is statistically safe if you are careful and obey the rules of the road, but at the same time, I understand why they are afraid to get out and ride with traffic. Bike lanes make people, who maybe haven’t ridden since childhood, feel comfortable enough to get out on their bikes.

By the way, that is a great photo. I definitely don’t ever see a scene like that down here in South Carolina.

meditation muse said...

Do you think this idea could work?

erin said...

both, of course! It's a horrible catch-22; cities won't implement bike infrastructure until they see an abundance of bikers, but people won't bike if there's no infrastructure for it. Cities need to realize that their lack of infrastructure is deterring people who would otherwise bike on a more regular basis, and do something about it!

Anonymous said...

Bike lanes do indeed create cyclists. The additional space along roads make me as a parent feel much more comfortable and relax when riding with my young sons. They too appreciate the wiggle room often not provided by STR alone.

In addition, my adult friends who are new to biking believes that bike lanes are a major benefit and feel more secure riding on streets with them instead of purely STR.

A problem often encountered in bike advocacy is leadership who want STR only and doesn't see much value in bike lanes. These "advocates" are doing great harm by discouraging others who prefer the additional space. Yes we need complete streets in order to be inclusive and to create the critical mass.


Dan said...

That's a cool photograph, but imagine all of the rust in the spring!