Thursday, July 18, 2013

Biking image and infrastructure go hand in hand

Posted by on Thu, Jul 18, 2013 at 10:11 AM

It's no secret that cycling advocates, transportation planners, elected officials, and health officials have been trying to make the Rochester area more bikeable. They've put considerable time, effort, and money into developing plans, building infrastructure, and encouraging the public to pedal more and drive less.

And each year, Rochester gets better ratings from the League of American Bicyclists through its Bicycle Friendly America initiative. Right now the city's ranked at the bronze level, but officials say they want to do better. The city has already developed a bicycle master plan, and it's in the process of developing bicycle boulevards: basically bike routes that parallel difficult-to-bike streets.

I talked to city transportation specialist Erik Frisch about the effort last week and he said that city officials hope the bike boulevards help move the city toward a higher ranking from the League. (That's not the sole reason the city is pushing the bike boulevards and other bike infrastructure. Rather, the ranking is simply a way for the public to measure how the city is progressing in terms of bikeablility.)

It's with all of that in mind that an article on MinnPost.com caught my attention. The article draws heavily on a post, "US cycling from a Dutch perspective, from the Bicycle Dutch blog. But they both make the same point: to get more Americans to bike, there has to be a focus on infrastructure and image.

Rochester and other local governments are taking on infrastructure like bike lanes, signs, and bike lockers or racks. And some groups, including the Rochester Cycling Alliance, the Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency, and the Conkey Cruisers have worked to promote cycling as recreation and transportation.

But the image still needs work.

The Bicycle Dutch blog post makes a good point when it says that in the United States, cycling has the image of being a dangerous activity. Locally, that's apparent when people -- and not just a few, either -- say they're afraid to ride in the road, afraid of being hit by a car, or that they aren't hard-core enough to ride as part of traffic. 

Further developing the Rochester area's bike infrastructure would help: bike lanes, racks, signs, and alternate routes are all tangible signals that cyclists have a place in our community, and that they are welcome in our neighborhoods and business districts. And as cycling becomes more visible, more people may feel comfortable and confident about biking.
 
But the posts raise another issue about cycling's image in America. Basically, they say that cyclists themselves can make biking intimidating. "For the average American, cycling is something kids do or when you do cycle as an adult, it is mainly for recreational purposes," says the Bicycle Dutch post. "And you dress up for the part: wearing hi-viz, a helmet, with a bicycle to match, one the Dutch would call a ‘race bike.'"

By contrast, Dutch cyclists tend to wear regular clothes and ride bikes where they are upright and relaxed, the post says.

I don't know that I agree entirely with that line of thought, but it is worth considering. And as local cycling advocacy groups do public outreach, they may want to emphasize that cyclists can be relaxed, as long as they are being safe.

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