Saturday, August 6, 2011

Urban Bicycle Commuting Policy Thoughts

As I ride, often many thoughts go through my head.  Among them are good bicycle commuting policy ideas.  I am quite taken with the commonsense and utility of the bicycle for individual urban transportation.  The placement of bike lanes must be credited with having a significant effect in having people see the light because in the six years I have been bike commuting I have seen the number of cyclists on the street explode just in the last year or two!  It fills me with contentment and indeed it is lamentable, though predictable, that there is such push back on lanes and bikes.  This doesn't mean there aren't good reasons for the push back, but there is a resistance to seeing the benefits of bikes in general.  This is silly and can be overcome fairly easily, I think, by taking a non-punitive approach--at least outside New York City.

When I travel outside the city, usually to Ohio where my wife has family, I am struck by how different life is out there, but also how much it is changing.  North Canton, Ohio is a nice town. Naturally, it is not New York, but I am taken with how bike unfriendly it is.  This is not intentional, it just is.  Nevertheless, with fuel prices being what they are, and seem poised inevitably to become, inclusion of the bicycle seems like plain commonsense.  Now let me backtrack a little, this is a big country and cars aren't going anywhere.  I'm not sure we should invest in a national public transportation system, which is very expensive and at a time when technology is changing so rapidly it may become quickly obsolete.  Nevertheless, within the confines of an urban area a bike is the best form of transportation.  In smaller towns traffic congestion has become a problem.  Congestion means fuel waste, greater environmental impact and its just no fun.

With a few lanes where practical, signs everywhere warning motorists to look out for cyclists and an ad in the local dailies announcing the intention, a town can be made very bike friendly.  Remove some municipal parking space in town (make it into a park) and build a municipal lot on the outskirts of town for suburban commuters.  Increase bike racks--very cheap--in town, and watch to see if town life doesn't improve.  I suspect the roads will need less maintenance.  Cyclists stop to smell the roses a bit more, which may translate into more traffic for businesses in town.  The parks may see more use as communal space and thus, with people actually seeing and perhaps even speaking with one another, community life may be improved.  Pie in the sky?  Maybe, or maybe there's something to it.

Oh, one more thing, this should not result in extra cost to drivers.  That seems unreasonable, I know, but this is one of those "shovel ready" projects that the stimulus money should have paid for.  If there is another one (stimulus, that is), maybe it will go to projects like this--we could do worse.


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