Ah, the third week of May! Every year at this time a confluence of meteorological forces creates the perfect conditions for bicycle riding with plentiful sun but mild enough temperatures that keep you from soaking through your shirt. And as always, we recognize this glorious weather with Bike-to-Work Week culminating in Bike-to-Work day on Friday May 21, all of which is wrapped up in National Bike Month. Redundancies aside, the moniker has helped to raise the profile of cycling as a legitimate alternative to our usual car commute whose only noxious byproduct is the supreme smugness of those like myself who think they’re really, truly making the world a better place simply by riding a bike to work.
This year, however, National Bike Month has really seemed to have picked up a bit of extra steam as cities from New York to Minneapolis to Portland continue to show their dedication to cycling through serious investments in safer infrastructure. Even more exciting is that for the first time the USDOT has made cycling a legitimate part of its agenda. At the recent Bike Summit in Washington, D.C., DOT Secretary Ray LaHood delivered some of the most welcome news that bicycle advocates have ever heard:
Today, I want to announce a sea change. People across America who value bicycling should have a voice when it comes to transportation planning. This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.
We are integrating the needs of bicyclists in federally-funded road projects. We are discouraging transportation investments that negatively affect cyclists and pedestrians. And we are encouraging investments that go beyond the minimum requirements and provide facilities for bicyclists and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.
About time, right? Cycling enthusiasm is spreading to communities across the country as they arrange all sorts of organized rides to honor National Bike Month. And these aren’t rides for the lycra and carbon fiber set, but are instead open to everybody who wants to participate. I’m thinking of the Growing Green Urban Gardens Bike Tour in Philadelphia, the Bikes & Books Tour in Austin, the Salt Lake Gallery Roll in Salt Lake City, and so many more.
The all-inclusiveness of these rides is so important. I was speaking with Carly Berwick who volunteers with the organization Bike JC in Jersey City, NJ who noted that “there seems to be a real hunger for informal meetings and rides—not races.” Bike JC is organizing its own ride on May 23, the Jersey City Ward Tour, that is very welcoming of all riders regardless of age or skill-level. The organization, which was only just formed in December, pulled in 75 cyclists for their first informal ride and they’ve already got over 200 signed up for the Ward Tour, including many parents like Berwick herself who is the mother of two young children.
Getting families involved should be the goal of every cycle advocacy group. Besides the social legitimacy such participation confers (and resulting political clout), cycling can’t be seen as a fringe movement confined to the athletic or even simply to young men. In fact, cycling can’t be seen as a movement at all anymore than driving is. It’s simply a easy, economical, and yes, fun way to get around. The more we can do to normalize cycling, the more people are going to ride both for recreation and short trips to work, school, and the store.
And what, you ask, is the best way to normalize cycling? It’s as easy as getting on your bike and going for a ride. Not only will the sight of more people on bicycles make others more comfortable with the idea, but it will also raise awareness with your local transportation officials that more cycling infrastructure is needed. Of course it’s not enough to simply hope they take notice: get out and get involved! Head to town hall or community board meetings and say you want access to safer cycling in your neighborhood. And if you feel your city doesn’t officially recognize its true level of cycling, push to make them distribute a transportation census that tracks how everybody gets around. This kind of data can be crucial in your efforts.
But in the meantime, I hope everybody out there tries to bike their commute at least one day this week to see if the switch might work for you and be sure to check with your local cycling advocacy groups for fun events in your area. Safe riding everyone.