Guest Post: The Benefits of a Bicycle for Urban Transport

Every now and then — okay, nearly every day — I get a request to write a guest post for this site.

Most turn out to be from marketers hoping to slip in a link to their client’s website. Which are promptly ignored.

But this week, we’ll feature three new guest posts; two from a long-time contributor, and one from a new one.

The first comes from Nik Donovic, who describes himself as a lifelong, if casual, cyclist and new-found fixie enthusiast with a passion for road safety — especially after a driver hit his dad a few months ago.

And yes, before you ask, his father is okay, though it was scary for both of them.

This may be preaching to the choir on here. But it’s worth reading.

……..

Remember your first bike and how exhilarated you felt when you were finally freed from the confines of the wobbly training wheels? Your first bike is memorable. The polished chrome that was almost blinding in the sun, the smooth curve of the banana seat, and the streamers that whipped around from the end of your handlebars as you rode fast and without a care in the world. Your bike was your main source of transportation from trips to the park, to school, and to your best friend’s house. Jump ahead 20 years and you consider yourself lucky if you’re able to hop on your bicycle to ride to the neighborhood coffee shop on a Saturday morning. Part-time bicycle riders are full of excuses as to why they “don’t have time” to ride: I’ve got groceries to pick up. I don’t have proper riding gear. I’m too tired. I can’t ride THAT far. It’s not safe. I would, but…

 

Are There Any Valid Excuses Not to Ride?

The reasons seems endless, but what’s the point of owning a bicycle if you aren’t going to ride? Sure, bicycling requires a time commitment, but so does sitting in your car while commuting to and from work. While a substantial amount of bicyclists are hitting the streets, more than a decade ago, the majority remains to be strictly recreational riders.

In a 2014 U.S. Bicycling Participation Benchmarking Report, commissioned by PeopleForBikes, 16,193 adults were surveyed on their bicycle usage. The results revealed that 54% of adults believe that bicycling is a convenient form of transportation, but 48% of adults don’t have access to a bicycle at home and 52% of adults fear being struck by vehicles. 46% of surveyed adults would ride a bicycle if motor vehicles and bicycles were physically separated. Finally, 70% of bicyclists only ride for recreation or leisure while 46% ride to travel to and from school or work.

Although the concerns are reasonable, bicycling is safer and more accessible than people may think. While it’s true that sharing the road with motorists can be dangerous (and a little scary), bicycling is often safer than driving. The National Safety Council reports that for every million cyclists in the US, about 16.5 die each year in comparison to the 19.9 motorist deaths each year.

In regards to the not having access to a bicycle at home, there are several great public bike sharing systems throughout the U.S. in cities like Minneapolis, Chicago, and San Francisco. Don’t have a bike share system in your town? Check out a local bike shop. You don’t need a top of the line, multiple geared bicycle to get from place to place. So, no more excuses. Just ride.

 

Urban Cycling Leads to Better Health

Maybe you’re only a “weekend rider” because you feel too tired or out of shape to ride a bicycle on a regular basis and maybe the “out of practice” aches and pains keep you from riding more regularly. However, like other forms of exercise, your body gets stronger and healthier with consistent movement. Sure, a sore rear end and tired legs may persist after your first few rides, but over time, you will forget that riding was ever a struggle. Unlike running and other sports, bicycling is a gentle form of exercise, putting less stress on your body and making it accessible to people of all ages and abilities. All the times that you ride, remember how good it feels after you hop off your bike? Your blood is pumping, your endorphins are high, and you might even say, “I can’t wait to ride again.” Don’t make bicycling an “every now and then”, but rather remember how good it feels to ride and use that as your motivation. From heart to lungs, there are so many health benefits related to bicycling.

In addition to all the physical and mental health benefits, a 2012 study conducted in Iowa revealed that bicycling can save a significant amount of money typically allocated to health care. When looking at statistics surrounding the cost of diabetes, breast/colorectal cancers, heart disease and stroke related treatments, recreational and commuter cyclists saved money by simply being more healthy. For instance, in Des Moines, savings from commuter cyclists includes $254,797 and in Johnson County, cyclists are estimated to save $1,018,347 in health care costs each year.

 

Don’t Add to the Urban Congestion

As a recreational bicyclist, you may stick to areas within your cities that have trails and other areas designated for bicyclists. While such areas provide a great opportunity to be “one with nature”, get exercise, and keep cyclists off the road, they aren’t as practical for commuting cyclists. As a commuter, you often need to ride side by side with other vehicles which can feel overwhelming, a little dangerous, and far from “taking your mind off of stress”.

Still, being a commuter cyclist doesn’t need to be stressful. A lot depends on space allocated for cyclists. As a commuter cyclist, you’re doing your part to reduce urban congestion, but you’re only really making a difference if there are bike lanes in place. In “bicycle friendly” cities like Minneapolis, traffic volume increased but was less congested when bicycles had separate lanes.

Here’s an example of bike lanes working correctly: in San Francisco, on busy Valencia Street, vehicle lanes were reduced from four to two and a center lane and two bike lanes were added. As a result, pedestrians were not only 36% safer, but there was a significant increase of bicycle riders by 140%. In the same report released by Smart Growth America, pedestrians and bicyclists combined (about half and half) have reduced congestion by about 30% in the nation’s 100 most congested cities. If bicycle lanes continue to pop up, we can expect the congestion to keep dropping.

 

Human and Physical Infrastructure for Cyclists

From Minneapolis, MN to Austin, TX, big cities are becoming more bicycle friendly, recognizing the importance of less traffic and better health, but most cities can’t be truly bicycle friendly without infrastructures.

 

Physical Infrastructure for Safety and Economic Gain

Biking trails, bicycle lanes, and non-motorized vehicle overpasses are essential for bicycle safety and ease of travel; they make up the physical infrastructure. This infrastructure can help avoid drivers hitting cyclists as opposed to urban roads with no infrastructure. Many cyclists may not realize that the presence of physical infrastructures benefit the economy as well. In cities like Minneapolis and Washington, D.C., home values increased the closer they were located to infrastructures like bike pathways. Additionally, businesses located in an area with physical infrastructures for cyclists (such as bike pathways and widened sidewalks) typically see a boost in business. In the study of Valencia Street in San Francisco (as mentioned earlier), businesses on the street saw a significant increase (about 66%) of patronage due to better physical infrastructure for cyclists.

 

No Physical Infrastructure Without Human Infrastructure

Despite the overwhelming need for physical infrastructure, it wouldn’t exist without human infrastructure. Such infrastructure can include biking advocates, bike shop owners, and bicycle riding groups. Without bike shops, to purchase and repair bicycles, the future of the “urban bicyclist” would be limited. By supporting a local bike shop, not only are you supporting the local economy, but you are supporting some of your biggest advocates. Bicycle shop owners and employees have a passion for bicycling. They commute by bicycle, they encourage others to ride, and they have valuable feedback when it comes to planning physical infrastructure. If you want to see an increase of physical infrastructure for cyclists, find a group of bicycle advocates and enthusiasts to join.

In cities across America, we’ve witnessed the increase of urban bicyclists who can ride the city streets more safely thanks to the passions of fellow riders who fought for a better riding environment.

 

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