The Surprising Promise of Bicycling Book

Prologue: Why This Book - Jay Walljasper

Jay-Walljasper stand up-photo-Mitch-Rossow_web.jpg

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 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.