A Vision for 21st Century Biking

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“The true measure of a bike-friendly city isn’t just how many people bike, but how welcome people feel when they want to give it a try.”
— Jonathan Maus, Editor, Bike Portland, Portland OR

Image Above: In July 2017 Portland launched the nation’s first partnership between a private bike shop, a bike share system and a city government to provide access to adaptive bicycles. Adaptive Biketown is the latest evolution of Portland's bike share system. Photo by Jonathan Maus.

"A lot has been accomplished over the past two decades, John Burke President of Trek Bicycles notes, “but we still have a long way to go to make a bike-friendly America. This is important for everybody,” he adds, “because the bicycle is a simple solution to climate change, congestion and the massive health crisis we have in this nation.”

A quick glance at other modern nations shows what’s possible. Across the Netherlands, 27 percent of all trips are made on bike—double the rate of the 1980s thanks to safety upgrades in infrastructure. In Denmark, it’s 18%. In Germany, it’s 12%—up from 9 percent in 2002, and headed for 15 percent by 2020.

Even Canadians bike significantly more than Americans. Montreal and Vancouver are arguably the two top cities for bicycling in North America despite freezing temperatures in one and heavy rainfall in the other. Why? The prevalence of protected bike lanes, bikeshare, neighborhood greenways and other 21st-century bike facilities.

Inspiration from other places combined with American ingenuity set the stage for more leaps in biking across the US over the past 20 years. For instance, Santa Monica—in the heart of auto-centric Southern California—witnessed a staggering 356 percent increase in biking between 2000 and 2012. Daily biking jumped 80 percent between 2010 and 2015 in in New York, another place once dismissed as inhospitable to riders. Meanwhile, in Minneapolis, five percent of people commute by bike, a 170 percent increase since 2000.  

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Our work with the city to prioritize complete streets policies and designs for more equitable infrastructure has seen impressive increases in community well being due to healthy, active and safer transportation choices. Our continuing efforts are focused on Vision Zero.”
— Cynthia Rose Director, Santa Monica Spoke Santa Monica, CA

Image Above: Cynthia Rose, primary catalyst and co-founder of Santa Monica Spoke, the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition's (LACBC) first Local Chapter in 2009, which has grown to 13 local chapters and expanded its reach.  Santa Monica Spoke and Cynthia have been active leaders in Santa Monica’s impressive move to bike-friendliness in everything from infrastructure, policy, Safe Routes to School Programing and bike safety education, and encouraging the launch of Breeze, LA County’s first bikeshare system in 2015.


The Birth of the Modern Bike Movement

Who would believe there are bike lanes between the White House and the Capitol? And if you’d told me that New York City, once one of the worst places to bike in the world, would have all these bicycles on its streets, I would have said you were crazy.
— John Burke, President, Trek Bicycles
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In July of 1967, the very first official bike lane in the U.S. was created on 8th Street between A Street and Sycamore in Davis CA. It was the first time that a lane for the preferential use of bicyclists had been designated as part of an existing roadway meant for cars. Davis has over 100 miles of designated bike lanes and paths within its eleven square miles and has more bike commuting residents per capita than any other city in the U.S.

Actually, 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the modern age of bicycling in the US. In July 1967, the first official on-street bicycle lane—inspired by widespread Dutch infrastructure—was constructed on 8th Street in Davis, California, followed shortly by others on Sycamore Lane, J Street and 3rd Street.  Davis can still lay claim as America’s biking capital, with one out of five commuters around town traveling by bike—the highest rate in the country.   

But it took another three decades before bicycling began to make inroads into a large number of towns and cities. 1997 was the year local bike advocates across the land joined forces with the bike industry to expand federal funding for bike infrastructure, which sparked tens of thousands of miles of bike-walk trails, on-street bike lane and other improvements to make riding a bike more safe, convenient and fun.

“If you look at the bike infrastructure we had 20 years ago and what we have today, it’s mind-boggling,” says John Burke, president of Trek Bicycles.  “Who would believe there are bike lanes between the White House and the Capitol? And if you’d told me that New York City, once one of the worst places to bike in the world, would have all these bicycles on its streets, I would have said you were crazy.”

Biking enjoyed a steady uptick in ridership throughout the ’70s and ’80s thanks to baby boomers becoming the first generation in 60 years not to ditch their bikes at age 16.  The Department of Interior considered plans to create to create 100,000 miles of bikeways as early as 1970, but nothing much happened until 1991 when Senator Pat Moynihan of New York and Representative Jim Oberstar of Minnesota (inspired by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy co-founder David Burwell) delivered the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) to President George H.W. Bush, who signed it in December of that year.

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In 1996 in his role as Director of Advocacy for the Bicycle Federation of America Charlie Gandy hosted the first "Thunderhead Retreat" at the Thunderhead Ranch in Dubois WY. Originally called "Charlie's Fly-fishing, Hitchhiking & Bike Advocacy Summer Camp" it would be a key "peer to peer" training ground for many of bike advocacy's thought leaders. Above a snap from year two at the camp.

The Thunderhead Retreat gathered together some of the people who would be key to growing bike advocacy on the regional, state and national levels including Deb Hubsmith, Randy Neufeld, Martha Roskowski, and Dave Snyder.

Andy Clarke, then of Rails-to-Trails, first spotted the threat and reached out to Gandy, a former Texas legislator who knew something about political haggling. Joining with other biking and walking advocates at the 2nd annual Thunderhead Retreat at a ranch outside of Dubois Wyoming, they launched a political campaign to save the funding called Bikes Belong. Linda DuPriest, then of Specialized Bicycles, enlisted her boss Mike Sinyard to help. An early breakfast meeting was arranged at the national Interbike trade show in Anaheim a couple months later with bike industry leaders.

Clarke, Cosi Simon (then head of the League of American Bicyclists) and Gandy representing the National Bicycling Federation of America made the pitch.

“It was a typical drab room at a convention center,” Gandy recalls. “But there was a full-on breakfast. That probably made all the difference.”

At first, deafening silence met the advocates’ pitch for $300,000 for the campaign to preserve federal bike and pedestrian funding. Then John Burke of Trek stood up, pledging $100,000 with one condition—other bike businesses match it two-to-one before the end of the conference.

“We spent the next couple days feverishly working the conference to get matching donations,” remembers Andy Clarke, now with Toole Design Group. “And we made it!”

The Bikes Belong campaign was born, and the team rallied with other bike advocates for a David vs. Goliath showdown. Their only weapon was that ISTEA enjoyed substantial public support. Crucial to the campaign's success was a media outreach campaign that resulted in positive support from about twenty papers including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Austin American Statesmen, and the Los Angeles Times.

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As the Field Director for the Bikes Belong campaign Charlie Gandy travelled the country meeting with members of the bike industry, bike shops, local grassroots advocates, politicians, and the media to garner support for the campaign. Key early support and strategy for the campaign came from Leslie Bohm the Founder of Catalyst Communications of Boulder CO.

"Our campaign focused on 20-30 key congressional districts. We organized not only the grassroots bike advocates, but bike dealers as well. I can't tell you how many editorial boards we met with, but it resulted in positive
support." notes Gandy.

Industry leaders were now on board pushing for better bike conditions alongside grassroots advocates. Working together they helped promote the Transportation Equity Act of the 21st Century (TEA-21) which was enacted on June 9, 1998, and expanded rather than slashed, funding for biking and walking projects.

This victory marked the debut of a coordinated movement to make bicycling safe, convenient and comfortable in all corners of the country. The bike industry liked the results of the Bikes Belong campaign so much they used the name for their own new advocacy organization, now called PeopleForBikes.

This blog post is an excerpt from Jay Walljasper's "The Surprising Promise of Bicycling in America" report.

You can download report for free: http://www.pedallove.org/promise-of-bicycling-report/











Why this Report?

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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 definitely 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.

I thought seriously about giving up my bike. Instead, 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 conditions on the streets.  I moved away shortly afterwards, but upon returning three years later found Minneapolis a better place to ride.

A big change can be felt everyday on the streets of my hometown. The outright hostility or dangerous indifference 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. 

Small steps have led, eventually, to significant changes across the  country. Today, bicycling is poised to become part of the American Way of Life as more people of all races, ages, incomes and genders take to the streets on two wheels. Energy is moving fast in this direction in cities, small towns and suburbs everywhere. 

Our hope is that the ideas and stories in this report will help make that dream a reality for anyone who likes to ride for fun, transportation and exercise. The next steps are to take this report and make it a book in spring of 2018 in time for National Bike Month in May. Our crowdsourcing campaign to starts in November of 2017. Learn more and help us make that happen here: pedallove.org/promise-of-bicycling-report/.

Jay Walljasper




Bicycling for Everyone

Monica Garrison's Black Girls Do Bike

Pittsburgh PA resident Monica 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 80 Black Girls Do Bike riding chapters have been launched across the U.S. and in the Virgin Islands, and in 2016 she hosted a successful Black Girls Do Bike "meet up" in Atlanta for 300 women.

The simple act of riding a bike can be a catalyst to wonderful and life-changing experiences for women of all ages.
— Monica Garrison (center, kneeling) Founder/Director Black Girls Do Bike

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 sceptically 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, 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. Latinos bike more than any other racial group, followed by Asians and Native Americans. African-Americans and whites bike at about the same rate.
  • Older Americans account for about a third of new people taking up bicycling each year.
  • Actually, 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 (in suburban 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 Davis, CA (pop: 65,000).
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Davis CA resident Maria Contreras Tebbutt launched "The Bike Campaign" forWoodland (adjacent to Davis) when her grant for the suicide prevention program she headed ran out.  Now, thisLeague of American Bicyclists certified bicycle education instructor volunteers her time and talent to teach people of all of ages and backgrounds to safely ride and fix bikes from the same Jr. High School.

Every one of us has the power to impact our own health and the earth’s by the transportation we choose.
— Maria Contreras Tebbutt Founder/Director, The Bike Campaign Woodland, CA

“There’s growing diversity in the movement, but it is 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, neighborhood activists and forward-looking transportation professionals—more and more U.S. communities are realizing that future of mobility is bigger than cars. Biking is becoming an attractive, cost-effective, healthy and convenient way to get around.

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.

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 transportationfocusing 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.

But the culture shift in biking is about more than bike-friendly infrastructure.

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In 2009 Long Beach California created the first two protected bike-lanes in Southern California as a Federal DOT pilot program. The lanes had to be created as a pilot program because at the time protected bike lanes were not permitted under state and federal guidelines. Since then the California Bicycle Coalition spearheaded the work to change the law. California now has more protected bike lanes than any other state.

The protected bike lane pilot project in Long Beach, not only slowed traffic speeds but actually improved the flow of traffic and resulted in 50% fewer car, bike and pedestrian crashes.
— Allan Crawford Former Bike Coordinator, Bike Long Beach Long Beach, CA

“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.

Beyoncé is known to be an enthusiastic rider, so much so that 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, 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! 

That’s the biggest reason why the bike will play an increasingly important role for a wider variety of Americans in the future.