As the end of the year approaches, it’s time for reflection. What was accomplished this year? What changed? What stood out? What was unexpected (in the positive and in the negative)? Where do we go from here? Maybe it’s that my Facebook feed is filled with summary and best-of-the-year articles, or maybe it’s just that I’m getting older, but I definitely sense the reflective feeling surrounding me these days.
Over the last couple of years, as a benefit of the Green Lane Project, key city leaders have had the opportunity to experience European cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, learning about what their city leaders have done over the past 40 years to deliberately create the world class cycling culture they now enjoy. The goal of these learning experiences is to cherry pick the best practices so that we, in the United States, can get there FASTER and BETTER. How very American!
So, how are we doing? My professional opinion is that we are doing really, really well and have a really, really long way to go.
On the really well side, here are some examples that show that we have made tremendous progress:
- The messaging surrounding promoting bicycling has changed from the CAUSE to the MOVEMENT. This isn’t just semantics. This shows that supporters don’t want to be associated with bicycling because of the charity implications of being part of the cause. The impact and influence of the movement has become wider and more mainstream. It’s not just about bikes, but about making livable communities and moving people. This is the new way that cities function and the transportation choices that citizens want. Very cool.
- People ride because it makes practical sense, not just to make a philosophical point. Last week, in Madison, WI we had 2.5 inches of snow. Since its early in the winter season, this minor snowfall caused major mayhem on the roads. Average commute time by car increased by 4x or 5x. Bike commuters, however, had NO trouble with gridlock or traffic jams. And they took this opportunity to gloat. Publicly. On Facebook and Twitter, my friends pointed out that their bike commute time didn’t change because of the snow. And they posted beautiful pictures with their bike on the clear path. I didn’t see one photo of a car driver peering over the dashboard into gridlock on the highway. hmmmm…people are riding because its faster and more convenient. Major change.
- At the beginning of December, People for Bikes published the 10 best protected bike lanes of 2013. What’s amazing about this is that we FINALLY have enough protected bike lanes on the ground that we can compare and judge them. At the end of 2013, it is projected that 200 protected bike lane projects will be on the ground. At the end of 2008, there were less than 20. While each infrastructure project should still be celebrated, we’ve hit a critical mass where there’s competition and we can say that one is better than another. That’s huge progress.
- And, finally, bikes and the economic impact of bikes is hitting the political and public relations circuits. In 2013, City of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel made the statement that Chicago was going to steal all of Portland and Seattle’s bikers and the high tech jobs that come with them. To which Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn responded publically that he was going to work to keep them in Seattle. Indianapolis Republican Mayor Greg Ballard sees cycling infrastructure as a key piece of his economic development strategy (attracting business and talent). How great is this public ribbing, and public validation of the connection between bikes and a healthy business environment?
With all these great examples to point out, what’s the negative? We are still only at 1%. If all of the above positive work comes from just 1% of all trips being made by bike, what could we accomplish and how would our communities be different if we were at 2%? At 5%? Or, if we hit the Dutch mode share of over 25%.
At Saris, we have hit 20% of our workforce commuting on a regular basis. If this was expanded to all of Madison, or all of Wisconsin, what could be different? What would be better? What unintended consequences would we have to solve? Let’s hope that my 2014 year end blog post grapples with some of these issues. In the meantime, let’s get out and ride. We will only get to solve these new problems if more people are on bikes more often.
Cheers and Happy New Year!
- Sarah Reiter, Saris Parking Category Manager