Wednesday Shots--and A Comment on Blooming Bike Style

Classes start at the University next Tuesday (the law school has already started) and the town is once again flooded with students. The school has about 30,000 students, the influx of which at the end of every August really throws me off. Surprisingly--and happily--many students seem to be choosing bikes for transportation. So. Many. Bikes. (Unfortunately, many still choose cars and can't figure out our--supposed--excess of one-way streets. Watch out bikes!)




The numbers of people riding by my house every morning has significantly increased, as well.

On my commute to town.

The combination of amazingly cool weather for an Indiana summer, the high gas prices, and, I like to think, the sight of others using bikes as part of their daily lives, have conspired to get people out on two wheels.

I hope that the numbers of bikes will help convince the city council to create more bike lanes. The large numbers of cars and bikes on the narrow roads around downtown can only bring disaster (especially when you include the cyclists who refuse to follow traffic laws and patterns; a post for another day).

How would I characterize current Bloomingbike Style? Super Casual. The over-all bike style is influenced by three factors: (1) the riders are mostly young college/graduate students; (2) most people do not ride bikes with chain guards and fenders, thus making them reluctant to wear nice clothes on their bikes; (3) many riders about town are hippie/punk/alternative types that prefer goodwill style in shades of black or green (or tie-dye). This casual style, I think, is fairly typical of people in general in Bloomington.

Category 1: typical cyclist in Bloomington: Helmet, backpack, and mountain bike.

A second category of cyclists in Bloomington: bike of choice--ten speed, no helmet.

Another example of the milk crate/kid cargo system.

The bikes of choice tend to be ten-speeds or mountain bikes. Helmets are not that common, but you do see them on some of the older commuters. Interestingly enough, I notice that the older commuters are also less likely to commute to work in regular clothing. They tend to wear sports gear.

I think the tendency for people to assume that bikes are a transportation alternative for young people, casual dressers, or unstylish commuters may be part of the reason we do not see more bike commuters around town. You will also notice a dearth of photos of girls on bikes. The vast majority of cyclists are men. I think this is partly because the ladies don't quite associate bikes with style.



A lady rider on my commute home.

Blooming-pedi-cabs

This post on pedi-cabs at Copenhagenize made me wonder what was happening with the pedi-cab idea here in Bloomington. A couple of months ago, I read in Bloom Magazine (a wonderfully written and designed, though kind-of elitist, magazine on Bloomington) about a student at the University who wanted to start a pedi-cab company. He already had several workers signed up and was waiting on the necessary permits. Unfortunately, those never came.

The pedi-cab idea in Bloomington, like those in many other places, has stalled because--and this is my favorite part--the city doesn't know how to regulate open-air taxis.

I'm quite sad about this. I was so excited about the prospect of pedi-cabs. There are so many places downtown that I would like to go to that are just out of high-heel walking distance and not easily accessible by bicycle (as are few places). Or, rather, not easy to return home on bicycle after one too many beers.

The pedi-cab, for those not familiar with it, is like a rickshaw, but a little more upscale. These bike-taxis are used all over the world, including some cities in the United States. They are a great way to tour a city, and thus are popular with tourists. But pedicabs are also a viable transportation alternative in an age of high gas prices and concern about the environment. Regular taxis, as you may realize, leave a huge carbon footprint.

As the hip downtown area of Bloomington expands from the historical few blocks surrounding the Courthouse, easy transportation to and from restaurants, bars, shops, and galleries will grow in importance. Bicycles present a wonderful alternative to the car, but, for those who would like someone else to do the work, pedicabs seem like the next best option.

Here's hoping that the City Council will get its act together and encourage this blooming-bike-taxi business to grow!

Saturday: Farmer's Market

One of the greatest things about Bloomington, if not the greatest, is its Saturday Farmer's Market. The Market lasts from the first weekend in April until the end of November (outside), then picks up again (inside) from the end of January until the end of March.

The market is the largest in the state, and it is an event. Each week vendors from around the area (some traveling upwards of 2 hours to sell their products) set up shop and offer a wide range of food from grassfed meats, to baked goods, to plants, to every kind of seasonal vegetable you can imagine. The key is that the seller has to have grown/produced the product himself, thus, the food is most definitely local and seasonal. We even are lucky enough to have cheeses from the famous Capriole farm.

Every Saturday also offers a different musical event (with street musicians interspersed throughout the market). The market is the place to see and be seen (and to get delicious food that you can't get anywhere else. California tomatoes just can't compare). It is also a good place to see people on bikes.

Heading to the market. Ready to load up the backpack.

People of all ages spend their Saturday mornings at the market. Young college students come by and see their friends; parents bring their children; and yuppies and elderly folk also shop the stalls. By 10 o'clock, it can be difficult to navigate the large crowds.

Most people still head to the market by car, but the number of bicycles seems to increase from week to week.
These friends were heading to the market, riding in a row, together.

Girl in dress, leaving the market.

The market is not the place to see stylish people. The style of dress is more what I would call "farmer's market casual," meaning that most people look as if they picked up whatever was last dropped on their floors. Anyone dressed any nicer certainly warrants stares.

What you do see at the market are the increasingly common back-cargo hold for children. This seems to be the tote of choice for biking-parents with children:

My other favorite sight--and perhaps one of the most convenient ways to haul the large bags of produce--is the Milk Crate. An unusually large number of bicyclists put these crates on the backs of their bikes to increase the cargo-load capacity of their bicycles (we are not quite at the level of Copenhagen and Amsterdam where people have real cargo-bikes). You can see one example above. Here are some more:

Friday Round Up

Heading home on a Friday after picking up some provisions (sweet bike).





Dads and children enjoying leisurely rides in the evening.

Bike-racer style


Enjoying Friday afternoon downtown.

Posing for the crazy girl with a camera


Evening commute.

Commuting Through Bloomington Safely: Part I

Fear and a lack of safety are the most common reasons I hear for people not riding their bikes in Bloomington. And, really, I can't blame those who feel unsafe on Bloomington's roads. The town has not encouraged bicycling by incorporating bicycle infrastructure into its planning in any significant way.

The only bike lanes of consequence in town run on North-South roads. But a large number of residents live to the East and West of downtown. For those who live on the far East side of Bloomington, the only way to commute by bike to downtown would be to ride on the narrow and busy 10th and 3rd streets or to ride through Indiana University's campus (and, really, what adult wants to be reminded of the fact that the incoming freshman were born in 1990? As if aging weren't hard enough). IU's campus is not exactly the easiest to traverse on bike because there is no road that goes straight through campus (which makes, by the way, for a beautiful campus--just not thru-ride friendly). The solution, obviously, is to put bike lanes on Third and Tenth streets.

The same lack of infrastructure also exists for those on the far West, South, and North sides of Bloomington. Although the city planners have thrown the bicyclists a bone by putting in some bike lanes on Walnut and College (the two main thoroughfares), these lanes are inadequate and a joke. The two roads are among the busiest (and fastest) in town, yet the "bike lane" is really a "shared" lane for the several blocks around the square. I don't know about anyone else, but I don't feel like that lane is really "shared." Actually, I* have used the "shared" lane twice, and now avoid it like the plague.

On the North side of the square, running from around 10th street to 13th streets, on both College and Walnut, the city allows commuters a segregated (by a line) bike lane. Thank you city planners. Those few blocks--on one of the biggest hills in Bloomington--really come in handy.

The bike lane on Walnut street at Walnut and Cottage Grove.

Let's get real here. Those lanes were added, not for the comfort of cyclists, and not to encourage bike-commuters, but to get cyclists off the planners back. Needless to say, I have rarely, seen another cyclist riding in those two lanes.

Bloomington also likes to make their existing bike lanes a bit confusing. Take the intersections on Lincoln and Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth. Whereas, for most of Lincoln, the bike lane runs smoothly along the right-hand side of the road-


as it approaches Third Street, it disappears.




The road branches into two lanes, a straight and a turning, and, instead of providing a safe crossing over Third Street, cyclists are left to fend for themselves.

This happens again at the intersections of 4th and 6th streets.

Lincoln Street bike lane disappearing at 4th street



Lincoln Street bike lane picking up at Kirkwood and disappearing again at 6th street.

Clearly the people who planned these bike lanes were not bicyclists.

Figuring out what to do at these intersections is not instinctive. The first option is to keep going straight because the bike lane doesn't curve in anyway. But if the cyclist goes straight, then he finds himself to the right of cars that are turning--that is not a good place to be in a town where cars don't look out for bicyclists.

The second option is to move to the far left hand lane--the lane going straight. But, by doing this, the cyclist places herself right in front of traffic moving much faster than she can.

The third option, which is the best option out of the altogether-not-so-great-options, is to move between the two lanes (the straight lane and the turn lane). This is the option I choose. This way, I am visible to those going straight, but not in their way, and I will not die when the dump truck decides to turn right into me.

This option is problematic, as well, however, because the bike lane picks up again after the intersection on the right hand side. And, at fourth street, it disappears a second time. This means that the cyclist must constantly veer in and out of traffic if she wants to ride straight on Lincoln Street. Drivers become confused (especially if they need to move to the right of the cyclist now moving left because the cars want to turn right). Confused drivers are dangerous to cyclists.

As moving to the center is the safest option, it remains the best way to navigate these intersections, but we need a new plan.

Copenhagen, where at least 35% of the city commutes by bike each day, year round (another 30% takes public transportation), has developed solutions to a lack of visibility at intersections. Throughout the city, planners have instituted different types of bike lanes. Some bike lanes are separated by a low median between traffic and cars (which looks nice bricked over). Others are separated with a low, raised curb. A third separates cars from bicycle lanes with paint--this is the chosen method in Bloomington, although in Bloomington cars can park on the right of the cyclists, putting them in more danger of open doors; on some roads in Copenhagen, cars park on the left of the bike lanes.

Additional ways to increase visibility include painting bike lanes a different color. This is especially important for bike lanes as they approach and cross intersections. This photo from Copenhagenize shows how different colored intersections increase bicycle and pedestrian visibility.


With none of these safety solutions, Bloomington has a long way to go before bicyclists feel that they can safely ride through the city. The city needs to increase the numbers of bike lanes, and they need to make sure that the bike lanes are logical and safe. Painted lines help, but those lines offer a minimal amount of security. More lanes throughout the city in more logical places (particularly on the main East-West thoroughfares), lanes segregated by something more than a line, and painted lanes traveling through intersections would be a good start.

Here are two ideas for making bike-safe cities:
Livable Copenhagen
Bicycle Blueprint (New York City)

*And I should note here, that I have used a bicycle as my primary mode of transportation since I was 13. I raced for several years, know much about bike safety, and have mad bike handling skills. Yet I feel incredibly unsafe on those roads).

No such thing as a free lunch, or free parking

Planning and infrastructure decisions are a constant source of tension in Bloomington, where the City Council must constantly balance the needs and desires of local businesses with the needs and desires of non-business related persons of various sorts, including bicycling and pedestrian advocates.

To its credit, Bloomington is slowly moving in the direction of making bicycling more convenient. The city has commenced construction on the long-awaited B-Line Trail. This trail will span several blocks through downtown. I also see an increasing number of bike racks at various locales around the city (although, in my opinion, the city's choice of bike rack makes it very difficult to lock one's bike and also to fit multiple numbers of bikes, but perhaps that is a different post).
Parking at City Hall--an example of annoying bike parking (although not as bad as others).

In spite of progress in these areas, the city is constantly dogged by businesses and the Chamber of Commerce*, which advocates increased amounts of parking and an increased ease of parking downtown. The theory, which seems logical, is that ease of parking downtown will allow businesses to flourish. That is, the more easily people can park downtown, the more easily they can arrive at their destination and, thus, buy. Unfortunately, one's gut theories do not always reflect reality.

Parking and vehicular traffic create hidden costs that a government would be ill-advised to support. A study in Ottawa found that nearly 86% of Americans commute to work by car, and of those commuters, 90% have free parking. The study found that this free parking amounts to a subsidy of $1000 for the value of the parking space, adding to $85 billion annually. Without those subsidies, the study concluded that the number of solo commuters would be reduced by 81%**

(Parking, though, is only one component of the amount cars cost society. The cost for building and maintaining US roads amounts to $200 million per day. This adds to about $30 billion spent annually, plus an additional $68 billion per year on highway patrols, traffic management and accident-related policework. These numbers do not reflect the "invisible" costs which include air and noise pollution and accidents).

Bloomington has an exorbitant amount of free street parking, with additional pay-parking garages at various locations throughout the city. I'm going to venture a guess that those garages rarely fill up. Why? Because parking on the street is free. Free street parking results in cars circling to search for the elusive spot. Circling increases traffic and air pollution emissions. Not to mention the danger to others when a driver is focused on finding a place to park rather than the surrounding traffic.

A study in Los Angeles in 1984 found that "in a single year the cruisers in one 15-block neighborhood in Los Angeles spent 100,000 hours wasting 47,000 gallons of fuel and producing 700 tons of carbon dioxide emissions." And a study in 2003 found that curb parking costs 20% of off-street parking, which gives cars an incentive to circle to find a place to park. **

Not every city offers free parking, and neither should Bloomington. Pay parking will decrease downtown traffic and pollution and increase the city's coffers for use on important public works projects. In Old Pasadena, every parking meter generates $1,800 per year. The city uses the money to improve the surrounding neighborhood. And San Diego gives 45% of what it receives from parking meters to improve the security and look of the various neighborhoods.

It is clear that ending free street parking would have advantages for the city (from reduced traffic and the resulting air pollution and wear and tear on the roads), but the city is often under pressure from businesses that believe MORE parking nearby (and maybe more free parking) will increase shopping.

To the contrary, cyclists and pedestrians are better shoppers than car drivers, and in areas where roads are closed to motorized traffic, shops succeed. This is partly because when it is safer, easier, and more enjoyable to travel by bike or foot, shoppers are more willing to linger and run in and out of stores. A shopper who has to run back to move the car or fill the meter every two hours to avoid a ticket is less apt to spend much time downtown.

Studies in Europe have demonstrated this. As the European Commission noted in its study on bicycling: "The equation of 'vitality of commercial enterprises=access by car' is very far from being borne out in the facts. The contribution made by customers who arrive by public transport, bicycle and on foot is greatly underestimated..." ***

In Munster, Germany a study found that drivers were not better customers than those who arrive by bike, foot or public transportation, and, in certain ways, cyclists were the best customers. Cyclists have to buy smaller quantities when they shop (we don't have the space to haul our goods, after all) and, consequently, shop more regularly. As the study noted, more ventures to the store means more exposure to temptation. The study found that cyclists shopped 11 times per month on average, as opposed to 7 times per month for drivers.

Drivers were not such great buyers. In the Munster study, only 25% of drivers left the stores with two or more bags (versus 17% of cyclists), meaning that most drivers do not really need a car to transport their goods. Another form of transportation would be sufficient.

And parking does not increase business profitability. In Bern, a survey of consumers found that the ratio of profitability to parking (using the ratio between the value of the purchases made and the parking area used by the customer) was greater for cyclists: 7500 (euros) per square metre versus the second place cars 6625 (euros) per square metre (I'm too lazy to do the conversion, but you get the idea). Remember, this is the case even though cyclists have to limit the purchases they make because of the difficulty of transporting goods.

Other cities have also discovered that limiting motorized traffic (or banning it altogther) in downtown shopping areas increases visits to shops. Copenhagen, Denmark, for example, closed off one of its largest streets to traffic in the 1960s (Stroget), resulting in increased sales.**** Similarly, Strasbourg, France found that when it closed traffic to its town center (with no other change in the shopping area) visits to the shops increased by 30%.***

All of these studies demonstrate that, despite the claims from the local Chamber of Commerce and other businesses, car traffic and parking will not help local businesses. But increasing bike and foot traffic will. Unfortunately, businesses have the loudest voices (and the deepest pockets).

Other and better solutions exist for Bloomington, and I believe these solutions would have support from the average Bloomingtonian. I would like to see Bloomington's policies, at a minimum, be as fair to bicycles and pedestrians as to cars. Though, considering the damage cars cause, I don't think it is unfair to have policies that are more favorable to other modes of transportation.

In my dreams, I would love to see part of Bloomington (maybe Kirkwood Ave) closed to traffic, as Burlington, Vermont did with Church Street. Burlington closed Church Street and paved the road with bricks. Surrounding parking garages offer free parking for the first two hours, with low rates for the following time. Thus, a trip downtown means parking on the outskirts and walking.

Kirwood Avenue, from IU to Downtown

I would also like to see the rates of street parking rise. London, England, for example, imposed a parking cap in the 1960s and parking is quite expensive (drivers also face a tax for commuting in from outside London, limiting cars downtown).** This money goes to local councils.

And, it should go without saying, I would love to see more money devoted to bicycling infrastructure--more bike lanes and safety features, among other things. As the EU found, measures encouraging bicycles would have such advantages to cities as reducing traffic congestion through a decrease in circling for parking; lower pollution levels and a better traffic flow; space savings and a reduction in roadway investments, which would permit a different use of public space to make downtowns more attractive; and general improvement in the quality of life, including attracting people downtown, particularly families.

There is no such thing as free parking--cars take a toll on our businesses, public infrastructure, and our health. Improving access to downtown for pedestrians and bicyclists is the key to a vibrant Bloomington.


*I feel I should state here that I am a dues paying member of the Chamber, which I love, except for its support of "solutions" that I believe will neither benefit businesses nor Bloomington, like (ehem) I-69. (Have these people ever seen Fort Wayne? Fort Wayne should not be a goal.)
**See E Magazine The High Cost of Free Parking at http://www.emagazine.com/view/?2418
***Cycling: The Way Ahead for Towns and Cities, by European Commission.
****Copenhagenize

Current State of Biking in Bloomington

Biking in Bloomington is generally easy if you are riding downtown. But infrastructure changes would encourage more people to ditch the cars and dust off the old bike.

We do have segregated bike lanes, but they are only segregated by a line (which, in my experience, cars may or may not mind). And we only have two--one on Lincoln Street and one on Washington Street. There are "shared" bike lanes on the two busiest roads in Bloomington--College and Walnut--but I have noticed little sharing on the part of the automobile.

This is the bike lane on Washington:

I'm not sure of the numbers of people who at present commute to work, but, as I live on one of the two bike lanes in Bloomington, I would say it is not great. On a given morning, about ten people might ride by on their way to work (sometimes in chic suits):



But I usually see others downtown:


This is parking at city hall:

A Bike Culture Should be Slow and Chic: Style Over Speed

When most people think of bicycling, they think "helmets" and "ten-speeds." The bicycle has become, in American-think, a tool of sport and exercise. To ride, in other words, one must slide into spandex, throw on a helmet, hunch uncomfortably over the handlebars, and move at a pace fast enough to raise one's heart rate to within 60% of one's lactic-acid threshold so as to burn the premium amount of calories and fat.

This phenomenon is especially intense in Bloomington, Indiana, home of Indiana University's Little 500, and the setting for Breaking Away. Every spring, the roads around here are full of eager and healthy, spandex-clad college age racers training for their big day on the track.

I fear that one of the limitations on building a bike culture in Bloomington is this ingrained belief that a bicycle is left to training and exercise and not to commuting. If our collective image of the proper use of a bicycle involves spandex and helmets and not suits and high heels, then how can we ever form a culture where the average citizen rides to work on an average day?

But this is not the way it has to be. A true bicycle culture--the one of my dreams, where the first choice of transportation is the rusted 5 speed out back--should be one that emphasizes the joy of slow riding and the joy of riding chic. We have no need for shoes that clip to pedals; stilettos are so much more stylish (and ladies, you need not worry about walking in those uncomfortable stilettos, when you can ride right up to your destination).

Out of the fog of the dream comes two sources of inspiration for bike culture day dreamers everywhere. A society has formed out of the ether devoted to riding slowly (so as not to sweat, of course) and chicly. Now, we have the Slow Bicycle Movement and a manifesto to cycling chic. Indulge in the dream!

The Copenhagen Cycle Chic Manifesto.

- I choose to cycle chic and, at every opportunity, I will choose Style over Speed.

- I embrace my responsibility to contribute visually to a more aesthetically pleasing urban landscape.

- I am aware that my mere prescence in said urban landscape will inspire others without me being labelled as a 'bicycle activist'.

- I will ride with grace, elegance and dignity.

- I will choose a bicycle that reflects my personality and style.

- I will, however, regard my bicycle as transport and as a mere supplement to my own personal style. Allowing my bike to upstage me is unacceptable.

- I will endeavour to ensure that the total value of my clothes always exceeds that of my bicycle.

- I will accessorize in accordance with the standards of a bicycle culture and acquire, where possible, a chain guard, kickstand, skirt guard, fenders, bell and basket.

- I will respect the traffic laws.

- I will refrain from wearing and owning any form of 'cycle wear'. The only exception being a bicycle helmet - if I choose to exercise my freedom of personal choice and wear one.

Another take on a bicycle culture

Bloomington's bike culture may just be budding, but other cities throughout the world have long had a society based around the bicycle. One of those is Copenhagen, Denmark, whose bike culture is well known. From Copenhagen comes the amazing blog, Copenhagenize devoted to inspiring other places around the world.

The author, Zakkalicious, has proposed, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, 18 ways a society can know that it has a bike culture. Here they are:

1. ”Fixed gear” is something than happens after you take your old Raleigh down to one of the 20-30 bike shops in your neighbourhood to have them look at ”broken gear”.

2. If a car honks at you in traffic, you hardly notice. Instead it makes you think that it's been a while since you took your kids to the park to feed the ducks... Hmmm... maybe this Sunday?

3. You think nothing of riding home in 35 degree heat, with your four year-old on the bike seat, two bags of groceries dangling on your handlebars, talking to your partner on the phone about dinner - all the while heading up a steep hill and STILL being able to growl ”Stay on the right!” in three languages at the weaving, gasping tourists on their rental bikes whom you just flew past as though they were carved in stone.

4. When you feel yourself start sweating on the bike lanes on your way to work... you just ride slower. And if the forecast is for hot weather, you leave for work a bit earlier so you don't have to ride so fast and get too sweaty.

5. The only place you ever see Lycra or spandex is in old Jane Fonda workout videos or on joggers in the parks.

6. And you're quite sure that Gortex is that guy who plays midfield for Bayern M√ľnchen.

7. When your bike breaks down and is in for repairs you take your other bike, or you take the train or bus. Even though your car is parked out front.

8. The only time you see more than three cyclists in one place wearing helmets is every July - on the television during the Tour de France.

9. The odd-person out in your circle of friends is the one who has never fallen off their bike while riding home drunk. You mock him/her regularly.

10. You have, at one time or another, checked to see if your clothes match your bike.

11. You and your friends have repeated discussions about which bike repair shop in your neighbourhood is the best for price and service.

12. When you see somebody with rolled up trouser legs you think, ”what a shame that fellow can't afford a chain guard”. You consider rolling up next to him at the next light to give him some money.

13. You don't even know that you live in a ”bike culture” and have never used the expression. You just ride.

14. You use your time waiting at a red light in bicycle rush hour with over 100 other cyclists to check out new fashions. ”Wonder where she got those shoes? Cool sunglasses on that guy... must be Prada.

15. Your entire wardrobe can be classified as ”cycle wear”. Espeically those stilettos from Christian Louboutin or your new double-breasted trenchcoast from Tiger of Sweden.

16. When the odd motorist cuts you off you fix him with an icy stare and shake your head in pity before riding off and forgetting the whole episode 50 metres farther down the bike lane.

17. You find rust on bicycles to be charming and aesthetic. Shiny new bikes are somehow gaudy.

18. It takes you over fifteen minutes to find your parked bike at the train station.

Building a Bike Culture

Bloomington, Indiana is in the budding stages of having a bicycle culture. From the cold, cold days this winter, when I was often the sole bike commuter, gas prices hovering in the manageable 2s and 3s, until today, I have witnessed its blooming. Every day I see more bikes ride past my house, on their way to work or class, or just to meet a friend for breakfast. And each person who hops on a bike demonstrates to one more driver that a bicycle is viable for transportation.

But what is a bicycle culture? To me, a bicycle culture is one in which the decision to hop on a bike for a trip downtown--to work, to shop, to a meeting--is just as natural, if not more natural, and just as easy, as hopping in a car. A bicycle culture has almost as many bicycles as cars on the road. It encourages cities to fashion bike lanes for bicycle safety and instill measures that, in fact, favor bicycles.

A bicycle culture means waving at a friend, instead of honking. And it means riding straight up to your destination, rather than spending 15 minutes circling for parking. Bloomington, as a small town, makes it easy to jump in a car. Sometimes, it is difficult to find a place to park, but in general, if you're willing to walk a block or two, parking is not a problem. But it is also a town which only spans a few miles. From the East Side of the city to the downtown, Bloomington spans only 4 to 5 miles. From the neighborhood near Bryan Park, where many city dwellers live, to downtown, the distance is only 1 mile. These are manageable distances.

Why do we even need a bike culture?

A bicycle culture brings many benefits to a town. More bikes on the road mean, naturally, fewer cars. More bikes and fewer cars means transportation is safer. Although many people fear riding a bicycle for safety reasons, bikes are generally safer than cars. But as more bikes pile into the streets, traffic becomes that much more secure. Cars are more aware of bicycles when there are increased numbers on the road.

Riding a bicycle is healthier than driving in a car. Bloomington, though a fairly healthy city, is located in one of the most overweight states in the country (and thus one of the fattest places in the world). Indiana ranks low on many health indices because our officials have continuously chosen to provide and improve infrastructure for cars instead of for bicycles and pedestrians. Each short trip on a bicycle helps to burn calories and trim those waistlines (for those so inclined to worry).

Bicycles also help the environment, both the local and the global. At the local level, cars emit pollutants that contribute to smog and the build up of ozone. This is what creates those hazy summer days. Pollutants such as these worsen allergies, asthma, and other lung conditions. But on a wider scale, car emissions contribute to the build up of carbon in the atmosphere, contributing to the global warming.

Most American car trips are 2 miles or less. This is a distance easily and quickly traveled on a bicycle. And these short car trips contribute the most to greenhouse gas emissions. Cars are most efficient and least polluting at the 55 or 60 mile per hour mark. The further away from that mile per hour mark a car travels, the more polluting it is. Thus, those 10 minutes circling to find a suitable parking spot contributes much more towards air pollution than 10 minutes of driving 55 miles per hour on the interstate.

Safety and pollution are important reasons to ride a bicycle, but the benefits are greater. Riding a bike, like exercise in general, helps diminish depression and creates a positive outlook on life. On a bike, you are more likely to see and chat with friends. You can hear the birds. And you are more in touch with your surroundings. These small things help build and maintain a community. On a bike, you get to know your neighbors.

And the benefits of bike riding do not stop at the individual. Businesses also benefit from bicycles. Studies have shown that people are more likely to stop and shop when they are on foot or bike than when they are in a car. And this is logical. If someone has to drive around to find a spot to park, they are less likely to run into multiple stores. But if they are already on foot, and entering closely spaced stores is easier, then they are more apt to stop and buy, helping local businesses.

This is just the start of the benefits a bicycle culture can bring to Bloomington, and I plan on expanding each of these topics in the future. For now, suffice it to say, that blooming the bike culture in Bloomington can only make our wonderful city that much wonderfuler.