Friday, May 23, 2014

Biking Should Be a Pleasant Experience

By Jim Vaughan, Senior Fellow.

There’s a good chance that you didn’t celebrate National Bike to Work Day. After all, only about one percent of workers nationwide commute by bicycle.

But the number of Americans who bike to work jumped by about 60% since 2000, according to a report from the U.S. Census Bureau and it could be much higher.

The League of American Bicyclists estimates “more than half of the U.S. population lives within five miles of their workplace, making bicycling a feasible and fun way to get to work.”

So why don’t more Americans bike to work? Most people would probably put safety at the top of the list. And in Texas, where I live, it’s often too hot. I’m talking 40 to 60 or more consecutive days at 100 degrees or higher hot!

But bicycle lanes are more and more common making safety less of a concern. And businesses are installing showers and lockers to accommodate employees who bike to work.

The Greater Waco Chamber’s “first green chamber building in the U.S.” has a shower for staff and its bike rack was the first installed in downtown Waco. The two amenities were included in the building’s plans as a perk for employees. They also helped the Chamber building earn LEED-Gold certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.

But so few people ride bikes to work in Waco that when Megan Henderson, director of the downtown development corp., snapped on her helmet and peddled out in the street for the four-mile trek to work, it was page 1 news in the Waco Tribune Herald.

“I didn’t have any moments of fear,” Henderson said after putting her bike inside her office. “I never thought a car was going to get close to me, never thought I wasn’t going to get across an intersection.”

The only negative reaction she had was to the honking trucks on Fifth Street, the Waco Trib reported.

“I’m not the kind of person that someone honking at me is going to stop me, but nobody appreciates being honked at,” she said. “You know they’re not going to hit you, but it’s an unpleasant feeling.”

Maybe that’s why we don’t ride bikes to work. In too many cities it’s an unpleasant experience.

Full disclosure—I never rode a bike to work. In fact, the last time I rode a bicycle was in Portland, Oregon in 2010. We were in Portland for an InterCity Visit organized by the Greater Waco Chamber. After hearing that 6.1 percent of Portland commuters bike to work, about half of our delegation opted for a bicycle ride through downtown, across the Willamette River and through several residential and commercial neighborhoods on the east side of the city.

I was challenged by a few hills and was glad our guide stopped from time to time to give us a break. But the interesting and scenic route made for a pleasant ride through a great American city.

A popular Internet site will generate a Walk Score for any address in the U.S. and they provide Bike Scores as well. (Portland’s Bike Score is 70.3—tops in the U.S.)

What’s needed now is a Pleasant Experience Score!