Beth Weisbrod, Executive Director of the Virginia Capital Trail Foundation, always seems to find insightful things to say in her e-newsletter entries. Here’s what she had to say a couple of days ago.
A protected bike lane in Raleigh.
“Very few people self-identify as a cyclist.”
I heard this at the National Bike Summit a few weeks ago. Doing what I do, I tend to move in circles where people are certain of their cycling identity. Whether they are professionals who bike-commute, college students who bike to class, bike clubbers, avid road riders or mountain bikers, those are the people most excited about the Virginia Capital Trail. While I am aware that a burgeoning cycling culture, by definition, means more people are becoming comfortable calling themselves cyclists, it’s those who have already undergone that evolution who (generally) support us.
For a region to really embrace the bike/pedestrian “movement”, they need to consider the non-cyclist. Or, what I like to call the don’t-know-it-yet-cyclist. Cities can do this by designing infrastructure that beckons them. Two things; safety and connectivity have proven to be big draws. Protected bike lanes and separated paths, like the Virginia Capital Trail, give new riders that critical sense of security. And if they can actually get somewhere, all the better. Having schools, businesses, neighborhoods and offices connected in a way that encourages all kinds of people to ride does great things for a community.
Cities all over the world report that areas served by protected bike lanes — those separated from cars by a buffer or physical barrier – -generate more bike traffic than those areas where only a paint stripe exists between riders and cars. Why is this a good thing? Economic impact. In Indianapolis and New York City, for example, businesses along protected bike path corridors report higher retail sales, and neighborhoods along these routes enjoy higher property values. So really, the don’t-know-it-yet-cyclists are a powerful group of people that can bring big returns to a city making good infrastructure investments.
As our region designs new roads and improves existing ones, urge our planners to make similar investments. Allowing room for bikes does not mean giving the brave their own lane beside traffic. It means creating an environment where people of all ages and abilities decide they’d rather try pedaling to school, work, or the grocery store because they feel safe doing so. Once that happens, the definition of cyclist becomes more in line with the definition of success.
I was the Outdoors Columnist at the Times-Dispatch from 2007 to 2013, writing twice a week about mountain biking, fishing, hunting, paddling and much more. I live a 1/4 mile from the James River, close enough to see bald eagles soaring over my house on their way to find a meal. Pretty cool, eh?