Commuting and the City

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Bike commuter in Chicago. Photo courtesy of The Chainlink.

As multiple studies have shown, bike commuting has many benefits: People who bike to work are richer, fitter, more successful, and, arguably, happier.

As a year-round bike commuter myself, author David Byrne’s comparison of riding in the city to “navigating the collective neural pathways of some vast global mind” resonates well with me (Bicycle Diaries). Cycling connects you to your self, your environment, and your city in quite a special way. And, while there is still a large gender gap between men and women biking to work, bike commuting is gaining popularity overall: From coast to coast, the number of people who traveled to work by bike increased roughly 60 percent over the last decade, with the median commuting time of roughly 20 minutes (US Census Bureau).

How Cities Encourage Cycling

How do cities react to this  rising number of people commuting to work on their hybrid bikes, fixies, or road racing machines? There are several approaches to satisfying the growing community of cyclists and integrating them smartly in the existing transportation infrastructure. The League of American Bicyclists identifies “5 Es” in the creation of bike friendly places: engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement, and evaluation. Accordingly, there are several touch points for cities to create safe and sustainable places and communities.

“Build the lanes and the cyclists will come”

Most prominently, cities invest in infrastructure to facilitate safe ways to travel. “Build the lanes and the cyclists will come” – according to the League of American Bicyclists it’s as easy as that. Smart city design is about a lot of things, and a bike friendly infrastructure adds to the sustainable placemaking and the livability of a city. The City of Chicago has developed the Complete Streets Project “to ensure that everyone – pedestrians, transit users,bicyclists and motorists – can travel safely and comfortably along and across a street. Complete Streets give Chicagoans of all ages and abilities safer, cheaper, and healthier travel options.” Accommodating cyclists in existing infrastructure can be a challenge for urban planners, which is why college cities often boast a high number of commuters – their infrastructure was designed with bike-riding students in mind. 

A bike lane is a bike lane is a bike lane. Not.

A safe and inviting physical environment is probably the key determinant in whether people will use biking as a viable means of transportation or not. A white line denoting that this is not the place for cars anymore is nice but protected bike lane provide a significantly higher level of comfort, with cyclists and studies reporting that protected lanes makes them (feel) safer. The national Vision Zero Network (including Austin, Boston, Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, New York City, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington DC) aims for close cooperation among the Focus Cities to advance traffic safety across the nation.

Sharing is Caring – The rise of bike share programs

Many cities have established bike share programs in the last decades, and they are encouraging commuters to at least complete at least a part of their daily commute via bike. However, more often than not both bike lanes and bike-share programs are not equally distributed. With communities that are already underrepresented in biking experiencing a lack of infrastructure,  the social and racial gap in bike commuting in reinforced. Which is why the following point is all the more relevant in creating an encompassing commuter culture in modern cities.

Community Outreach & active advocacy

In order to grow the commuting community, special events encouraging bike commuting can be immensely helpful. Bringing people together allows for an open exchange, targeted education and higher public awareness. Events such as Bike to Work Days can raise the public profile of biking for both to-be-cyclists and drivers. They can also bring together local businesses with citizens, create a sense of belonging for residents, and strengthen inter-community relations in a city.

Advocacy groups

Close cooperation between cities and organizations or non-profits invested in smart and non-motorized urban infrastructure such as Active Transportation Alliance or People for Bikes. The involvement of public officials can also increase the visibility of riding as a means of transportation and improve relations between lawmakers and cyclists.

Early education

In a growing number of cities, nonprofits that use bicycles as a youth education tool have flourished. This early education outreach can not only lead to a higher percentage of bike commuters, but especially works toward diversifying the cyclist demographics to  include those groups that historically have not embraced biking as a means of transportation or fitness.

Where are all the women?

While bike commuting is on the rise, women are still underrepresented in the bicycle movement. According to a recent National Household Travel Survey, women made up just 24% of all bicycle trips in the United States. The manifold reasons why riding is still not as widespread under women as it is in men is a topic in itself. One of the main reasons is the perceived danger of commuting in traffic. However, the silver lining is: Public officials have recognized the multidimensional potential of female riders and have started to focus on encouraging gender-specific bike advocacy.

Photo courtesy of The Chainlink

Women commuters in Chicago. Photo courtesy of The Chainlink

There a a myriad ways to look at commuting, from a very personal angle to one that spans entire ecosystems in the country – or globally. And there are many different stakeholders involved, each following their own agenda. Either way, it is safe to say: Safety is the key concern for everyone involved in the topic. And he more commuters are out there, the more cities will do for them/us.

Happy riding!

Great resources:

http://bikeleague.org/content/commuting
http://chicagocompletestreets.org/ http://www.census.gov/censusexplorer/censusexplorer-commuting.html
http://www.census.gov/library/publications/2014/acs/acs-25.html
http://www.citylab.com/commute/2015/02/as-more-cities-adopt-vision-zero-a-grand-experiment-emerges-on-us-streets/385679/
http://bikeleague.org/sites/default/files/Where_We_Ride_2014_data_web.pdf 

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Jasmin is a Moxie Cycling Ambassador and blog contributor. Check out her bio here!

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About jasminwelter

Up to a random day in January 2014, I couldn't have cared less about bicycles. After having been talked into trying the sport, I developed a strong passion for riding - and swimming and running. I had a lot of fun in the sport and was honored to compete in my national colors at the 2015 ITU AG World Championship. While I consider myself a triathlete first and foremost, I also love gravel and CX racing, mountain biking and the occasional trip to the velodrome - especially with the amazingly fierce, supportive and overall rad women of my team, BFF Bike Racing. Follow me @princess_layup!

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