March 1, 2016
Count yourself ‘in’ if you tool around town on two wheels for work, errands and play
By Dani Nichols
Photo at right: Bike-friendly infrastructure is on the rise in Northwest cities. Photo by Duncan Green
The rise of urban cycling is changing the perception that city life moves at a frantic pace. The urban cycling ideal is hyper-local and unabashedly welcoming. It seems advocates of city biking are excited about their neighborhoods, their states and their local efforts.
Urban cyclists are people who are truly connected to where they live and know their city more intimately than most motorists do.
These cyclists seem to care deeply about, and appreciate, the culture of their neighborhood in a unique way. People who advocate for urban cycling want to include others in this lifestyle, and are genuinely enthusiastic, helpful and friendly, even to outsiders.
The Northwest is leading this charge of urban, or sometimes called practical, cycling. Washington state has topped the list of Bicycle Friendly States (as recorded by the League of American Bicyclists) for eight straight years. Oregon rings in at No. 6 on the list, and Idaho is 21, keeping our Northwest corner of the U.S. in the top half of the chart.
The Bicycle Friendly State measurements are based on cities meeting certain categories, such as safe passing laws, vulnerable road user laws, complete street policies, dedicated state and federal funding, active advocacy groups, state bicycle plans, share the road campaigns, bicycle safety and more than one percent of people in the state commuting by bike.
The League reports that urban cycling in America has increased every year and continues to grow in communities across the country, large and small.
Tom Fucoloro, editor of Seattle Bike Blog, said he has observed a change in urban cycling since he started his blog in 2010.
“It used to be that if I saw a person biking with their kids on a cargo bike, I already knew them, and they likely knew each other,” he said. “It was a small group of family biking pioneers.
“Now I see parents biking with kids all the time. It’s becoming just an everyday part of life in Seattle, which is a great sign that cycling is becoming more comfortable for more people.”
Fucoloro points out that only 20 percent of all bike trips are commute trips.
“We tend to focus on commuting because that’s what causes rush-hour traffic,” he said. “But all those trips to the grocery store, the park, a restaurant or a friend’s house matter, too.”
Thurston County in the South Sound region of Puget Sound, has the oldest bike-to-work program in the state.
Duncan Green, the organizer for the annual Bicycle Commuter Contest (BCC) for the Thurston County Intercity Transit, said the BCC is a great way for people to get involved in urban cycling, by asking participants to log their daily bicycling mileage every May for prizes and incentives.
“Each year, there’s about a third of our contestants who have never participated in the program, and every year we hear how this contest changes lives for the better,” Green said.
While the BCC began in 1988 as a friendly competition among 30 people, it blossomed into 1,700 participants
Even in small towns, practical cycling is a great option which fosters a unique community spirit. Jeff Monson, Executive Director for Commute Options in Bend, Oregon, shared the upside of biking in a smaller town setting.
“Bend is a great place to bike. We have low traffic, and since it is a smaller town, we have a lot of back roads and shortcuts for cyclists,” said Monson. Bend has a population of 84,000 and is located in Deschutes County, a largely rural region in Central Oregon.
“People’s experience of everyday biking is often much better than they expect. It’s fun, active and good for the economy,” Monson said. “People need to try it, because they usually like it.”
Speaking of trying it and liking it, Madi Carlson, author of the new book Urban Cycling, How to Get to Work, Save Money, and Use Your Bike for City Living, (Mountaineers Books), has lived in Seattle for seven years and started cycling because of convenience.
“One day I got a parking ticket in my neighborhood from a broken meter, and I decided to just walk or bike after that,” Carlson said. “I just eased into it, but now I don’t even own a car, and I enjoy the freedom and fun of cycling with my family.”
It takes inspired and passionate individuals, active community nonprofits and governments working together to make cities ideal for practical cycling.
Susan Horst, program director for Whatcom Smart Trips, a program of the Whatcom Council of Governments in Washington state, said, “We want to help people see that they make a lot of short trips (by bicycle) and don’t really need a car. We see all ages participating and we teach young kids how to read a map, navigate the city safely, and have some independence.”
Cities across the Northwest are making their streets safer for everyday cycling. Seattle, Portland, Eugene, Boise and others have easy-to-use bicycle maps for locals and tourists alike, with an emphasis on accessible bike parking.
While new infrastructure such as bike lanes, greenways and bicycle-friendly road laws are important pieces of the puzzle, advocates are most focused on celebrating their communities and bringing people together through the active, healthy lifestyle of everyday biking.
It seems the enjoyment and community spirit of cycling is one of the most important aspects of the movement.
As Fucoloro of Seattle Bike Blog said, “Biking is just one piece of creating safer and more vibrant cities, but it’s the coolest part. Half of all trips made in the U.S. are three miles or less; that’s biking distance.
“People want to bike more, they just don’t have a comfortable space on American roads to do so. We can fix that. Imagine a city where even 15 percent of trips are made by bike. That’s an incredible, lively and healthy city.”
Dani Nichols is a Central Oregon-based writer and her perfect bike ride includes a trip to the farmers market. You can read more about her life at www.wranglerdani.com/blog