Suburban Assault

My Code For Riding – Part 5 – Bicycle Advocacy

with 11 comments

The following is a perspective based on my limited experience with street riding and the little knowledge I’ve picked up from the velo web. I feel this is relevant because I may share this perspective with many other new or aspiring riders.

Where are all the bike riders?

As with most bicyclists, I would love to see more riders out enjoying their bikes. It’s fun, healthy and great for the environment. I’ve also discovered that it’s a great way to explore the world around us while building a strong, local community. Bikes give everybody the chance to say hello as we pass each other on the streets and trails. Yet, with our busy lives, many have forgotten about this great escape vehicle that’s probably sitting in most of our garages, collecting dust.

Some cities have gained some momentum at bringing bicycle riding back into mainstream lifestyles. Places like Portland, San Francisco, Boulder and New York City are built on limited real estate, usually constrained by some sort of geographical limitation (mountains, lakes or oceans). This allows these cities to be more dense, where resources and services are closer and easily accessible – ideal for building a bicycle infrastructure. Conversely, in cities like Dallas, there are fewer of those geographical limitations and it’s easy for development to spread the city wide and sparse. The distance between resources and services are more scattered, resulting in cities that become built around the car. Bicycle advocacy becomes a bit harder in these parts.

According to a popular bicycle magazine, my city Dallas has developed a reputation for being one of the worst cities for bicycling. I have to agree. However, it’s not because we don’t have the proper infrastructure for cyclists, it’s because there are so few of us on the road. Awareness is low, making folks apprehensive about riding, which brings fewer bikes on the road. It’s a vicious cycle. I think for a city to become bicycle friendly, there needs to be more bicyclists out there, but in order to do that, a city needs to be more bike friendly.

Give them a reason

People have different reason for riding a bike. Some do it for better health, others to save gas or the environment. Whatever the reason, most of us do it for fun. I believe that if we have more motivation to take our bikes instead of cars, more folks would consider it. Instead of building wider, more scattered cities, we should focus on creating destinations close to each other.  Let folks realize that jumping on a bike to go down the street is much nicer than burning a gallon of fuel to get across the city.

We should also strive to make our towns more bike friendly. It seems like I’m seeing fewer bike racks around my local businesses. I’m sure this is from the lack of use more than anything else. However, I think that if we see more bikes parked in front of our destinations, we get inspired to do the same.

Another great way to get folks to ride is to have more social bike gatherings. Invite friends, neighbors and family to ride with you. Start a bike community in your town and organize casual rides to get people hooked on riding. Groups like Bike Friendly Oak Cliff, 75208, FMD and Richardson Urban Bicycle Club have started this type of advocacy and they are getting some great momentum. I’m hoping to see more towns do the same. Keep in mind that as your group grows, you will need to take steps to promote safe, legal and responsible riding.

It’s not perfect, but it’s a start

What about our routes? Is it possible for bikes and cars to share the road? The truth is, there is an inherent fear that NEW cyclists have towards riding on busy roads. In my opinion, this is one of the reasons we don’t see many folks riding through town. There is a perception that riding a bike on streets is dangerous.

We need to change that perception. One solution is to do our best to inform and educate new riders and drivers about safely sharing city streets, but I fear those efforts get little traction with those already set in their point-of-view. Another solution, although flawed from a road sharing advocacy perspective, is to build more bike lanes. Flawed because these lanes have a tendency to imply to motorists that bikes don’t belong on the road.

To me, the best solution is a combination of both. First, to get more NEW riders to feel confident on the road, there needs to be more ‘implied’ safe routes, which would include lanes specifically marked for bicycling. I’m talking about full lanes – not painted gutters. No matter what your perspective is, the one thing bike lanes do is give new cyclist more confidence to start riding with traffic.

I also feel that we need to step up our efforts in informing motorists about the laws that pertain to cyclists – that we do belong on the roads. Not only do cities need more signage on the road, but cycling laws should be part of EVERY driving test. In addition, I think there should have more public service announcements on the TV and radio.

In the end, I feel that if more cyclists are on the road (bike lane or not), awareness will increase and hopefully sharing the road will be more accepted. If it’s more accepted, maybe we’ll see more cyclists.

Don’t forget about safety and education

An important part of bicycle advocacy is giving folks the tools to become better and safer cyclists. It’s one thing to convince more people to ride, but advocates should also provide the right information to those less experienced. Hopefully, with a little knowledge, we can keep our streets safe with fewer accidents.

Part 1 – Introduction
Part 2 – About Me
Part 3 – Where I Ride
Part 4 –  What Kind Of Rider Am I
Part 5 – Bicycle Advocacy
Part 6 – Conclusion

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Written by dickdavid

November 6, 2009 at 5:45 am

11 Responses

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  1. […] Part 2 – About Me Part 3 – Where I Ride Part 4 –  What Kind Of Rider Am I Part 5 – Bicycle Advocacy Part 6 – Conclusion – […]

  2. […] Part 2 – About Me Part 3 – Where I Ride Part 4 –  What Kind Of Rider Am I Part 5 – Bicycle Advocacy Part 6 – Conclusion – […]

  3. […] Part 2 – About Me Part 3 – Where I Ride Part 4 –  What Kind Of Rider Am I Part 5 – Bicycle Advocacy Part 6 – Conclusion – […]

  4. […] Part 2 – About Me Part 3 – Where I Ride Part 4 –  What Kind Of Rider Am I Part 5 – Bicycle Advocacy Part 6 – Conclusion – […]

  5. If I recall correctly, one of the less commented on recently enacted bicycle laws from the last legislative session was a law requiring bicycle-related questions on the driving test.

    When it comes to facilities, I think the California experience with “diamond” (carpool) lanes should be carefully considered when it comes to bikes. When diamond lanes were created by taking away existing lanes, motorists got VERY nasty about it. When the diamond lanes were created by ADDING to existing lanes, the motorists reacted MUCH more favorably.

    One thing that would help a LOT would be shortcuts between subdivisions that allowed pedestrian and bikes to filter through the neighborhoods without having to go along the big arterials. John Allen talks about that on his site. It’s cheap and encourages walking and biking. That becomes a place people want to live – it isn’t so sterile as a “car only” area.

    Steve A

    November 6, 2009 at 8:11 pm

    • It’s good to hear that about the driving test. To be honest, it’s been a while since I’ve taken a driving test.

      I LOVE the idea of shortcuts between subdivisions. We could sure use them.

      dickdavid

      November 6, 2009 at 8:50 pm

  6. I definitely agree that our density is more sprawled out and that the lack of a physical barrier hastens greater infill, but where I’d disagree is the potential for buildout…specifically within the Urban core area (inside Loop 12). Beyond the Loop, it’s harder to justify alt-trans buildouts, due to the decentralization, but we had 1/5th of the population density today in the mid 1940’s, and had a vibrant streetcar, Interurban (ie. pre-light rail), and car-centric road network. The lower density did not preclude ridership. The rail declined after the second-tier ring of suburbs grew, while the price of cars/gas were extremely. Now, with the greater drives due to the third and fourth level rings (ie. 635, Beltline, George Bush/190, 380!), the costs are making infill much more appealing. After interviewing 900+ industry experts, PriceWaterhouseCooper is now stating that a shift is now beginning away from suburbs and back to urban forms (http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/kbenfield/major_real_estate_report_shift.html). The Atlantic also recently wrote of how Millenials are no longer enamored with the idea of big houses+large lots, and are seeking more urban environments and amenities: http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200803/subprime

    If you look at Uptown from 1990 to 2009, you’ll see this very same thing occurring. Density and development has skyrocketed there, where it was once the bad side of town that few people lived in. Seeing the numbers now, you’d be hard pressed to ever believe it lacked the streetlife it currently has. From 2000 to 2009, downtown’s population swelled from 500 to 8,000, and is projected to be at 10,000 by next year. Add the development of a series of urban parks, greater Transit Oriented Development projects, and these numbers only appear to continue to climb. I can say that annecdotally, in my neighborhood in North Oak Cliff, we see a new young family every month moving in. My wife and I left Plano for our home (which very few did at the time), and this transfer is now becoming a very common migration.

    When you begin adding up all of the trending occurring, and also take into account that this younger generation is visiting cities like Austin, Boulder, Portland, NYC, and returning home…they’re inevitably going to bring back concepts and ideas from these places. Or worse, they’ll leave us for them. That’s the alarming trend I see. We’ve already had one neighbor who’s a graphic designer at a local museum by day, and runs a t-shirt business at night while putting on amazing art shows in town…after visiting Seattle one time, she came back home and said, “I just can’t do Dallas anymore”. We can’t stand to lose people that are adding such vital creative character to our city…if we do, we’ll look like Detroit in only a few years.

    Lastly, I think we can never really state that: “bike lanes won’t work in Dallas because X”, because we don’t have any test case evidence to prove the theory. What we’re going to see in the very near future is a couple of prototype “test lanes”, that ridership levels will be measured on. Only after this, can we fairly state if something works or not…otherwise it’s all speculation. We do note that ridership surrounding trails (White Rock, Katy), is greater, though this is largely a recreational only crowd, but it does go to show that if you create the infrastructure, people will come out. The PSU study in Portland noted that residents will go out of their way to cycle on streets with bike infrastructure: http://www.portlandtribune.com/sustainable/story.php?story_id=122402296838932000

    mannytmoto

    November 10, 2009 at 11:06 am

    • Thanks, Jason. It’s good to get an inside-the-loop perspective. I have noticed a good bit of urban development in DFW and it makes me hopeful.

      BTW. I feel and hope that bike lanes will work since I prefer them. When I stated “flawed from a road sharing advocacy perspective”, I was merely presenting the point-of-view that some may have from a “road-sharing” perspective. Being a motorist as well, I can understand the mixed signals they may be getting from designated bike lanes. Communication becomes key.

      I ride both bike lane and road and feel that with the right amount of awareness, we can all be safe.

      Side note: In a way, I’m glad there was/is a suburban sprawl in North Texas – it’s kept property prices down.

      dickdavid

      November 10, 2009 at 12:11 pm

      • Agreed. Our first house was at Shiloh and Campbell (on the border of Richardson and Garland), and the price was perfect for a starter home for families. Now that the DART red line is built out along 75, I think these homes still stand a good chance of remaining connected, even when energy prices begin another upward swing. Also, since DART purchased the East/West Cotton Belt line, it really helps the area’s future prospects. My hope is that planners begin a safe routes bike/ped strategy connecting the schools to these communities, along with redeveloping a “city square” form (like what you’re beginning to see in places like Allen and Southlake). The latter gives a community a place to gather, retail to centralize, and a minimal auto-centric footprint. The upside is that they overbuilt the secondary arterial roads here in the 70’s when they were initially developing the resiential tracts. This had the downside of creating a series of oversized, high-speed moats (ie. 6 lane, 40mph streets like Arapaho, Jupiter, etc.) that people feared crossing by foot/pedal, but the opportunity now exists to retake lanes for ped/bike. I know in my discussions with urban planners from European cities and older US would love to have that much concrete to work with, but are having to adapt with much smaller forms. With that in mind, I think places like Richardson, Garland, and other second tiered suburbs stand a good chance to develop in a sustainable manner. It’s the third tier cities like Frisco, which developed extremely quickly while gas was very low that I think stand the hardest chance for surviving in a long term capacity.

        mannytmoto

        November 10, 2009 at 2:56 pm

        • Great insight. I feel even more hopeful about Richardson.

          dickdavid

          November 10, 2009 at 3:07 pm

  7. […] of things have happened since Part 5. I started Bike Friendly Richardson – the first of many DFW Bike Friendly groups to follow in […]


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