National Bike Month: Coaxing More Commuters Out of Their Cars

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Critical Mass in Vancouver. Photo: ItzaFineDay

Last week I visited a friend in the hospital, where she'd been since an SUV had hit her days before. The driver, who turned left as my friend was biking—quite legally—straight through the intersection, broke her tibia, fibula and topped it off with a compound break to her ankle. Then the driver had the gall to declare that it wasn't his fault.

Thankfully, many pedestrians witnessed the crash and informed him, in no uncertain terms, that hell, yes, it was his fault. She had the right of way. And when the cops came, they'd gladly share what they'd seen. The driver changed his story.

Here in San Francisco, the number of cyclists has increased 71 percent in the past five years, according to the SF Bicycle Coalition. That's much to the satisfaction of advocates of carbon-free transportation and urban planners, who need to show demand for bike-friendly infrastructure improvements, such as bike lanes, bike racks, etc. It's to the chagrin of local drivers who, for whatever reason, don't want to share roads with human-powered vehicles.

This scenario is playing out in many cities across the country and not just in large metropolises. 

My point here is not that drivers are evil and cyclists are always innocent victims. Clearly, the driver was at fault in my friend's accident, but The Bay Citizen conducted a study of five years worth of accident data that showed the fault fell on the cyclists in around half of the cases. A bike-pedestrian collision here last month left a 71-year-old man dead, and while the case is still pending the cyclist may face a felony charge. (Reports also show that the rider was recording and timing the ride using the mobile app Strava.)

Animosity between drivers and cyclists will probably always exist. In fact, it's being stoked in some parts of the world, such as in Toronto, where Mayor Rob Ford has accused cyclists of waging a war on cars (seriously). Under his rule, the city is actually losing bike lanes—unlike so many other North American cities that are enjoying a growth in cycling infrastructure.

But if you've ever ridden in a Critical Mass ride (and whether you believe in the tactic of taking over the streets or not) you know the power of numbers. May is National Bike Month, and bicycle advocacy groups are staging events designed to coax more commuters out of their cars and onto their bikes.

In the U.S. only around one half of one percent of commuters use their bikes as their primary mode of transport, according to U.S. Census data, but the numbers have been growing in recent years (see chart above). Still, even in relatively small towns with large cycling communities, the numbers remain low. In Boulder, Colorado, for instance, less than 10 percent commute by bike.  

The League of American Bicyclists' Bike to Work Week is May 14-18, with the last day being the Bike to Work Day (if you can only do one day, I guess). But many bicycle advocacy groups stage their own Bike to Work days and events. You can find one near you using this search tool

Note to parents or school-aged readers: May 9 is Bike to School Day. According to the National Center for Safe Routes to School, 48 percent of K-8th grade students usually walked or bicycled to school in 1969, but that fell to only 13 percent by 2009. Yikes. Some schools are starting to promote riding and walking to school. A company called Boltage helps schools do this through a program that counts how often students walk or bike, using an RFID-enabled badge attached to bike helmets or backpacks, and then rewards those who take the most car-less trips, through gifts or other perks (sadly, these do not include extra credit).

–Mary Catherine O'Connor

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