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A few observations about Bike to Work Week and casual commuters

by Josh Lipton

Bike to Work Week, flagstaffbiking.org, 2008I’m a year-round bike commuter, usually riding four or five days per week, every week of the year. Every week but Bike to Work Week, that is. Year after year something happens, without fail, usually forcing me to drive the whole week, or a good chunk of it. This year, I drove twice. One day it was because of “white out” conditions on the interstate highway I ride into Flag. I didn’t miss a day of bike commuting this winter due to snow. That had to wait until May.

That said, I did get in three days of BTWW this year, and have a few observations to share.

When you ride year round, on the same route, at the same time, you invariably end up seeing the same people, over and over, and you develop a relationship with them. You know who nods, who waves, who says ‘hi,’ and who won’t acknowledge you. You know what they’ll be wearing given the weather and day of the week. You know their bikes and how they ride. All in all, you know these people, in a way you cannot know other commuters when you’re in a car, and all without ever saying more than ‘morning.’ And, after a while, your relationship becomes familiar. Formality is unnecessary and soon you’re just grunting at each other or barely attempting a nod as you pass at the same spot you’re been passing each other for the last three years.

Then, along comes BTWW. Suddenly you’re passing people you’ve never seen before. And they’re smiling! Unbelievable. And the bike path is thick with them. Riders of all stripes, pedaling in a sort of mechanical harmony. You feel hope for humanity and all seems right with the world, and the sense of universal alignment sticks with you all the way through the weekend.

But, like all good things, BTWW has to end, and here is my point: it does end. All of those new, smiling faces go away as quickly as they appeared, and I’m left grunting at the same familiar faces as we ride past each other for the 917th time. This is, I think, a tragedy, both personally and socially. True, there are usually a handful of new people who keep riding through the summer, but come fall, you know exactly who you’re going to see on your commute.

Perhaps the bike industry should be doing more to promote commuting. The Terra Pass Blog discusses the shortcomings of the bike industry as a whole. The Commute By Bike Blog discusses this issue within the realm of Bike Shops specifically. At the Bike Trailer Shop and the Bike Bag Shop we’re doing our best to make quality products available like the Burley Nomad, the Carry Freedom City and a great selection of bike commuting panniers by the likes of Ortlieb and Vaude to help eliminate the excuse “I need to drive so I can carry all of my stuff”. But to really see change we’re going to need a concerted effort and long term effort from a variety of circles.

One sign of both opportunity and resistance to change is the effort to encourage Google to include a “bike there” feature on their Google Maps, showing preferred bike routes. The sign of opportunity is the 33k and growing number of cyclists who’ve signed their petition, the resistance is evident in the Bike There Petition’s Blog status of the petition “Google says ‘Thank you, but no new information to share.”

How can we encourage more people to ride regularly, or even occasionally? I thought I was sufficiently friendly to the new riders. Maybe I should have smiled and waved more. I need some help with this because I’m getting tired of grunting.

 
Burley nomad 229

6 Responses to “A few observations about Bike to Work Week and casual commuters”

  1. thePig says:

    Getting people to stay on the bikes beyond bike week is certainly a challenge. I read somewhere this week about an Amerian company that is giving their employees a financial incentive to cycle into work – I think this is a great idea as what motivates people more than money these days?

  2. I share your frustration, BTWW is all year to some of us, and we wonder just how darned expensive gas has to get to broaden the appeal.
    I have an idea I’ve been trying, bit by bitty bit, to promote. A summer-long btw event. Something like a Pop-Quiz… participating worksites will be notified throughout the summer on, say, 20 random days, to log-in if they biked. No warning, just a background encouragement, hopefully attached to some cool prize, and an incentive to do the right thing… ditch the pistons for the pedals. I was encouraged when we changed the worksite challenge from 1 to 5 days…people were actually grateful that it pushed them that little bit more.
    Stick or carrot?? we’ll see.

  3. Jeff says:

    We seem to have a consensus on the incentives. I was surprised to see *several* more riders this morning. The south side was thick with ‘em. I suppose the weather needs to be just so. So maybe we should save the incentives for the fall, when people start to lose interest.

  4. AKing says:

    I have commuted off/on for 3 years. Asthma has kept me off for about a year….but, I’m coming back soon. I think the real problem is getting people to think “outside the box”. I find that even my students find that my bicycle is more of a curiosity than a vehicle. They can’t conceive of anyone choosing to ride. Until we change that perception little will change. Further, at least here in Georgia, until we can convice people that sweating is good for them we’re sunk. I find the bicycle liberating….as I also do with my motorcycle. People too often play the roles that they learn early and seldom wish to change. How often to you see teenage boys ooohhing and aaaahhhing over a bicycle? And, I think too many of us are still teenage boys at heart. Also, most people see adult bike riders as aging hippies…..or poor……or they lost their license to drive.

    In addition, most cities don’t make cycling easy. Everything is a long way away. The bridges over the highways are very steep. AND, bike lanes are nearly unheard of. AND, if it isn’t easy most people won’t do it…….at all. Look how big our children are. I don’t remember such large children when I was young….we all walked or biked our way around. I don’t know how to change perception save to lead by example…..which I try to do.

  5. sasquatch says:

    reverend!

    I’m joining my town’s green group and starting a bicycle advocacy group within it. hopefully I’ll have time to do things that make a diff!

    -S

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