It’s finally happening. Circumstances, public opinion and political will have aligned to create massive increases in biking infrastructure and bike sharing across the world. Bike businesses are seeing massive, sustained increases in demand, despite the troubled economic times.
I must admit that with all the rosy reporting on global bike sharing companies and city schemes, I’ve wondered how actual people – potential users of such sophisticated systems – were reacting to them. That goes double for the US, where people often behave in ways contrary to the rest of the world. Especially those less accustomed to the idea of biking.
The bicycling mecca of Portland, Oregon may seem an unlikely place for such insight, but there it was, in a piece BikePortland wrote about last week’s demonstration of two potential bike share systems, B-Cycle and Bixi:
“I like riding bikes,” said one well-dressed professional prior to a test ride, “but I don’t want to own one. It just seems like such a hassle.”
Bike sharing systems are perfect for professionals. They’ve got an interest in the activity but their perception of bicycle ownership and the responsibilities it entails has kept them from actually using one. Reducing shorter in town trips that they might otherwise use their car for could, collectively, have a substantial impact on noise, pollution, traffic, and their health.
However, another quote from the same article points to an issue that bike sharing has yet to completely address: bicycling in and from the suburbs to cities.
“I heard about this in the newspaper,” said another man on his lunch break, “and it sounded cool. I live in Gresham and would never think about riding all the way into town. But this… yeah.”
This is a point that should not be ignored. While a substantial percentage of the world’s population lives in or are moving to cities, suburbs still exist. In the U.S., 50 percent of the population lives in the suburbs compared to the 30 percent who are city dwellers. Bicycling has not taken off in the suburbs, despite great interest in the activity among suburbanites. According to a recent People For Bikes article:
“…according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, rural (75%) and suburban (77%) residents are more likely than urban residents (55%) to say bike lanes are important to them. And even in rural areas, 30% of all trips are two miles or less—an easy biking distance.”
Some suburbanites have had such a passion for increased bike access/safety they’ve taken to painting their own bike lanes.
While such temporary solutions are heartening, it’s indicative that more needs to be done to accommodate people’s burgeoning interest in pedal powered transportation. With most suburbs having been designed with cars as the primary mode of transportation, it’s going to take a concerted, sustained effort to see a substantial increase in suburban biking. Road orientation must change, driver education must increase, and a shift perception of the bike (from a recreational device to a serious mode of daily transportation) needs to occur.
However challenging, it must happen.
Readers: How do you see bicycling use in suburbs increasing? Who needs to be involved? Where is it succeeding?
Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations about, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media marketing.