1. It’s fun! Yes, it is fun, and indeed we bike for the joy of it. You know what’s not fun? Getting yelled at to get off the street by a person driving a car (especially if that person is a police officer). A near-miss at an intersection and the “so sorry I almost killed you” wave. Calmly talking your seven-year-old through her quarter-mile of arterial bike lane between sections of quiet neighborhood streets.
2. It saves money! Yes, it does. But a bike is a consolation prize. As soon as finances improve, people will buy a car if driving is more convenient.
3. Climate change! Yes, we should all bike instead of drive so that we can save the planet. But virtue is hard, so we talk about electric vehicles and self-driving cars instead and continue to build huge houses out in the hinterlands.
4. It’s exercise! Yes, it’s more exercise than driving a car, that’s for sure. But while biking is active, if your goal is to get to your destination without sweating, it’s not much of a workout. Also, virtue is hard, and if you are tired, the last thing you want is more exercise.
While these may not be compelling reasons to bike for an individual, they are highly compelling on a population basis.
1. Biking makes people happy and connects them to their communities. Cars make people grumpy and lonely. It doesn’t take much exercise to improve mental health, and building exercise into our lifestyle is the best way to make sure it happens. Outside of a car people become people again, not just obstacles. There’s a whole lot more life that can happen at 10mph rather than 30mph. People on bikes can stop to talk, or stop at shops, or stop at the neighborhood Poem Post. Bikes build community, cars tear it apart.
2. Biking costs less than driving. This important both for households and for infrastructure-builders. Owning and operating a car costs on average $9000 per year. You can afford a whole lot more apartment with an extra $9000 per year. Then there’s the cost of the required parking for housing. On the streets, bike infrastructure costs peanuts compared the billions we spend on freeways because bikes are smaller than cars.
3. Biking has minimal impact on the climate. If we are to do something about climate change, having biking as only 1% of trips is not enough. We need the entire population to take up biking for transportation. Changing to LED light bulbs and electric cars is not going to do it.
4. Biking improves health. A large portion of the US population is overweight or obese because we don’t get enough exercise, because who actually wants to go to the gym? In order to get enough exercise, exercise needs to be a hobby or have another purpose, like biking to the store. The impacts of the obesity epidemic are far-reaching: the US is one of only a few countries with an increasing maternal mortality rate, largely due to poor maternal health.
5. Biking is significantly safer than driving. Cars killed 40,000 people per year in the US last year.
Biking in our region takes skill, bravery, and a whole lot of motivation. People like things that are easy, and driving is easier than biking. Driving takes less skill, bravery, and energy than biking. If we want people to drive instead of bike we need to make it easy and comfortable.
1. Biking must be safe. It should not take skill and bravery to ride a bike, any more than it does to drive a car or walk. We need all of the small streets to be quiet enough for families, and separated infrastructure on busy streets and intersections so that people feel comfortable riding them.
2. Biking must be possible. We need housing for families that is biking distance (or better yet, walking distance) to what they need: work, school, shopping, church, activities. My house should not be a house, it should be an apartment building or a row of townhouses so that more families can bike to where they need to go.
3. Biking must be convenient. It must be MORE convenient than driving, or people will choose to drive. Bike parking should be plentiful, right next to the doors, and in our climate, covered. Take over car parking spaces if necessary. The direct route should be given to people walking and biking, not cars and trucks. Going around the block is no big deal in a car, but a circuitous route can turn a biking-distance trip into a not-biking-distance trip.
Do you know what will happen if we do all of this? Driving will become more pleasant too! Granted, you might have to drive a little out of the way, and you might have to pay for parking, but if biking and walking are the most convenient way to get somewhere, people will actually choose to do it. This will free up space on the streets for those who must drive, or for freight or buses, all of which are currently stuck in traffic behind a line of mostly-empty metal boxes.
(find the citations for most claims in this post)