Prologue: Why This Book - Jay Walljasper

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As a bicyclist with decades of experience negotiating perilous city streets, I can attest that what’s been accomplished over the past two decades is nothing short of amazing. Biking was high-risk behavior in the 1970s when I came of age as a rider.

At one point in the ‘80s, I nearly sold my bike after encountering a dead bicyclist at an intersection just steps from my apartment near the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.  Her body was severed at the waist after being hit by a truck.  She was riding in a bike lane—one of few in the country at that time—and had been following all the rules of the road. That was not enough to keep her safe.

Instead of giving up my bike, I called my city council member with a plea to make biking safer around town.  She connected me to a citizen’s advisory council exploring what could be done to improve biking conditions.  I moved out of town shortly afterward, but upon returning three years later found Minneapolis a better place to ride.

The outright hostility I experienced from many drivers in the 1980s has dwindled to an obnoxious few. With increased bike traffic, motorists are now accustomed to sharing the road—and indeed many folks behind the wheel may be heading home to ride their own bikes. According to the American Journal of Public Health, the severe injury rate (per miles traveled) for Minneapolis bicyclists plunged 79 percent between 2000 and 2015. 

Progress is being made in towns, cities, and suburbs all across the country thanks to tireless bike advocates, smart elected officials and everyday folks who are discovering the joy of biking. Bikes are poised to become part of the American Way of Life as more people of all races, ages, incomes, and genders are seen riding.

 

 

Prologue: Why This Book - Melissa Balmer

 Melissa by Allan Crawford.

Melissa by Allan Crawford.

What I've learned in the past ten years as an active living advocate is that the car is a great tool, but a terrible master. In response the bike is a tool for optimism.

Many of us in the US behave as if we don't have a choice about whether or not to drive a car every time we want to go someplace, even for very short distances. We act as if somehow our growing traffic congestion, smog, and car crashes are simply the price we need to pay for a modern society. But it's not true. Amsterdam, Copenhagen, even Davis California (and many other cities around the world) have proven that the bike offers us one of the most elegant, affordable, healthy, and—most importantly—fun opportunities for fresh thinking about how we get around for our daily travels. Further, the worldwide Vision Zero movement, launched from Sweden, is giving us the research, data, and philosophy to rethink the way we move all forms of transportation on our streets to radically reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries.

I'm a living example of biking’s possibilities. In December of 2009, I climbed on a bike again for the first time in over thirty-five years. I’ve been riding one regularly for errands, meetings, and recreation ever since. The delicious pleasure of the sun, breeze, and yes sometimes even rain on my face and the wonderful sense of accomplishment of getting around on my own power can't be overstated.  But it took my friend (now my partner) Charlie Gandy six months to convince me to even try riding again. It wasn't that I didn't know how to ride a bike. I knew I did. I'd adored riding as a child and young teen. I'd also been watching the bike culture in my hometown of Long Beach California bloom all around me, but I didn't think I could participate.

The block in my mind about riding a bike again was that I deal with ongoing chronic fatigue and pain challenges. Driving a car had become so stressful and expensive I’d given mine up in 2007 and found it much easier to walk and take the bus and train than I’d ever realized. But I simply didn't think that I could ride a bike any distance that would be useful or fun. I'd forgotten (as Steve Jobs knew so well) that the bike is a strength maximizer. For short trips it’s often easier, and even faster (especially when you take finding parking into account) to get places by biking over driving a car.

Riding a bike again gave me a whole new lease on life both personally and professionally. The joy that I experience led me to connecting with others, not only in my hometown of Long Beach, but across the country (and around the world) who feel the same.

I began to wonder, as someone passionate about the power of storytelling, what I could do to help share some of these inspiring stories of hope and transformation with a larger audience. And so, first PedalLove.org and then this book was born. Our goal in expanding The Surprising Promise of Bicycling for America from a report to a book is to give you an easily shareable format of inspiration. We want you to not only experience snapshots of what’s succeeding in growing bicycling from those with their hands in the clay, but to also give you great ideas and resources for growing bicycling in your own neighborhood, community, city or region.

 

 

 

 

 

Ch 1 - Bicycling for Everyone

Excerpt from "The Surprising Promise of Bicycling for America" by Jay Walljasper and Melissa Balmer

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Above: Maria Contreras Tebbutt Founder/Director of "The Bike Campaign" and "The Bike Garage" of Yolo County California.

For too long biking has been seen, like the title of a popular book and blog, as "Stuff White People Like." It's also viewed skeptically as a big city thing, an ultra-fit athlete thing, a twenty-something thing, a warm weather thing, an upper-middle-class thing, a Portland-and Brooklyn-thing, a foreign thing, and a thing for people without kids. Paradoxically, in some communities, it's also viewed as a “loser” thing or “weirdo” thing.  

Above all else, it's seen as a guy thing. (This is truly ironic, given early feminist Susan B. Anthony’s lavish praise: “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.”) 

But guess what? The times they are a changing. More than 100 million Americans rode a bike in 2014 (latest figures available), and bicycles have outsold cars most years in the US since 2003.  The widespread stereotypes about people who ride bikes don’t hold up on closer inspection:

  • Bikes are not-so-white. More Latinos actually bike than any other racial group, followed by Asians and Native Americans. African-Americans and whites bike at almost exactly the same rate.
  • Older Americans account for about a third of new people taking up bicycling each year.

  • Most bicyclists are low-income according to census figures—as many as 49 percent of bike commuters make less than $25,000 a year.

  • As for other misperceptions, keep in mind that Minneapolis (in chilly Minnesota) and Arlington, VA (outside DC) rank among America’s top towns for biking. And one place where bikes account for more than 20 percent of traffic on local streets is the small city of Davis, CA (pop: 65,000).

Change is Coming

“There’s growing diversity in the movement, but it’s important to hear more diverse voices—people from lower-income communities, people of color. And more women too,” says Keith Benjamin, Director of Charleston, South Carolina’s transportation department.

Slowly but surely—thanks to work by bicycle advocates, the bike industry, neighborhood activists and forward-looking transportation professionals—more and more U.S. communities are realizing that future of mobility is bigger than cars. Companies like Ford are now calling themselves mobility or transportation companies rather than car companies, and Lyft and Uber have both recently purchased bikeshare companies. When we take into consideration the rise of traffic congestion, global warming, and the risk of sitting ourselves to death biking is becoming an attractive, cost-effective, healthy and convenient way to get around.

Gear Shifters: Maria Contreras Tebbutt (shown above)

Davis CA resident Maria Contreras Tebbutt runs the volunteer bike education and learn-to-fix-your-bike programs "The Bike Campaign” and “The Bike Garage" for Yolo County from Douglass Middle School in Woodland, just ten miles from Davis. She launched both programs when funding ran out for the suicide prevention education program she hosted at the same school. The morning she received word of her funding cut Tebbutt was standing in the school parking lot wondering what she was going to do with her life next when she noticed something that both fascinated and disturbed her. Many of the children getting out of their parent’s cars were quite overweight.

Davis CA has the highest bike commuting rate in the country, but that bike-friendly stance doesn’t expand far beyond the city’s limits. An avid bicyclist, Tebbutt decided she could do something about this and has.

“The Bike Campaign is delighted to be that catalyst that took the stigma away from biking and turned thousands of drivers into joyful bike riders in Woodland.” Tebbutt shares. “Our #1 goal in Woodland has always been to reduce car trips to school.  Seven years later it is exciting to see our local leaders riding bikes and entire families out on the bike lanes.”

The Growth of Biking as Transportation

Bike commuting tripled in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington DC, Minneapolis, Portland and Denver from 1990 to 2012, and doubled in many other urban centers. This leap in people-powered transport is not just a big city phenomenon. Bicycle trips of all kinds increased 64 percent in US metro areas with populations between 500,000 and 1 million between 2001 and 2009 (latest figures available). In metro regions between 250,000 and 500,000, it was 42 percent.

“I love seeing crowds of cyclists at intersections in the bike lanes at rush hour," Says Suzi Wunsch, the founder and editor of New York-based Velojoy.com, "for me, it’s daily visual confirmation of the momentum behind the cycling boom in New York City, with 450,000 trips daily, up from 170,000 in 2005.”

This success is changing what people see as possible for life on two wheels. The main thrust of bike advocacy until recently was legitimizing bicycles as a form of transportation­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ - focusing on creating painted bike lanes on streets and off-road paths. Now there’s a new push is to make bike-riding more mainstream with low-stress, convenient routes that take even inexperienced riders to all the places they want to go by creating networks of protected bike lanes (where riders are safely separated from speeding traffic) and neighborhood greenways (residential streets where bikers and walkers get priority).

Protected bike lanes are sprouting in communities coast to coast. This 21st-century upgrade can now be found in 82 cities across 34 states. Their proliferation is prompted by studies showing that most people of all ages, races, regions and incomes want to bike more, but are fearful about sharing busy streets with fast-moving vehicles.

“It’s the transition from a small group of people who strongly identify as bicyclists to a bigger, broader grouping of people who simply ride bikes.” explains Randy Neufeld, a veteran bike advocate who founded the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation (now the Active Transportation Alliance) and is now Director of the SRAM Cycling Fund. Another marker of the bike’s expanding popularity are many new models designed for casual riding, rather than racing or pedaling up mountains. Stylish brands—including Electra, Public, Linus, Shinola, Tern, and Martone Cyclery— show off bicycling as an active, happy and even sexy way of living.

Meanwhile, we’re seeing more e-bikes (you still pedal but a battery gives a boost when needed) and bikeshare stations (where you can rent a bike right on the street).  And the ultimate sign of a bright future for biking is how often bicycles turn up in a wide range of pop culture images, including advertising all kinds of products wanting to a convey a healthy, vital image.

Of course, green and sustainability aficionados like Ed Begley Jr., and David Byrne are known for riding their bikes, but so is Beyoncé. She's such an enthusiastic rider she's been known to pedal to some of her own concerts. Lebron James has been also been known to bike to his NBA games (we’re hoping he’ll continue to do so now that he’ll be playing for the Lakers), and actress Keri Russell loves to ride whether or not she has her children along.

There are many theories to explain the recent rise of biking—from people’s increased health consciousness to a widespread desire for a more leisurely, relaxed life. 

People who don’t ride are shocked at the steady growth of bicycling over the past two decades.  But it comes as scant surprise to those who do—no matter whether young or old, male or female, rich or poor, urban or suburban or rural, white or not.  That’s because bicyclists know how good it feels to whoosh on a bike, the wind in your face, blood pumping to your legs, the landscape unfolding in front of you. The great thing about riding a bike is that it feels sexy. A sensuous sort of sexy, where you feel joyfully in the moment and fully alive! 

Gear Shifters: Monica Garrison & Black Girls Do Bike

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"The simple act of riding a bike can be a catalyst to wonderful and life-changing experiences for women of all ages." Says Pittsburgh PA resident Monica Garrison. Garrison launched Black Girls Do Bike in 2014 after returning to bicycling to beat her wintertime blues. She quickly realized that a black woman on a bike was a rare sight and decided to do something about it. Since then more than 83 Black Girls Do Bike riding chapters have been launched across the U.S. and the Virgin Islands, with 15,000 members and 13,400 Facebook followers. In 2016 and 2018 she hosted successful Black Girls Do Bike "meet-ups" in Atlanta for 300 women.