The Little Blue Bike Bell

Mayors of U.S. Cities: 3 Ways to Reduce Traffic in Your City

on March 5, 2016

IMG_3336Is bumper-to-bumper a bummer in your city? Things could be different, and as an advocate for making our communities more sustainable (they don’t call me Sustainable Pattie for nothing!), I aim to help. According to The National Household Travel Survey from the U.S. Department of Transportation, nearly fifty percent of all trips in metropolitan areas are three miles or less and 28 percent are one mile or less – distances easily covered by foot or bicycle. However, due to the lack of safe and easy-to-use bike and pedestrian networks, people are forced to use their cars and, thus, more and more drivers clog the roads not just at traditional rush hour but all day long (for instance, when you grew up, around half of all kids walked and biked to school; now, only about 13% do, according to SafeRoutestoSchool.org, with a large number arriving via car, thereby making school drop off/pickup times a vehicular nightmare in many communities). Local trips via car, therefore, are increasingly difficult, dangerous, and stressful.

You know those biking and walking networks those pesky advocates are always bugging you to complete (or fix)? They actually make life easier and safer for everyone — and fun, too. Have you ever sat in traffic and seen a bike rider with flowers in her basket, or a family walking by, and thought to yourself as you bang your head on the dashboard, “Those folks are having a lot more fun than I am right now.” You, too, could be greeting your neighbors hello instead of watching your gas gauge drop low. Plus, you could be making your city a magnet for Millenials (who have the lowest rate of new drivers licenses since mass production of the automobile began) and retaining your “young senior” Empty Nesters (who are flocking to healthy-living-focused urban centers). Here’s how you, as mayor, can achieve this:

  1. Show pride. Make bike/walk improvements a point of pride rather than a point of divide in your city;
  2. Value knowledge. Pay local advocates for their expertise rather than shun them for their constant emails (they are doing the legwork — literally — that your high-paid consultants may not be doing);
  3. Dare to dream. What often happens when a mayor dares to dream is that an entire city rallies around him or her and helps the dream come true. You really won’t believe what’s truly possible.

When you create a truly bike/friendly community, you boost your city’s bottom line as well. Walkers and bike riders shop locally — and more often — than those in cars, so creating a community where they can get places safely without a car provides a boost to your business community. Please note that women, in particular, strongly prefer protected bike lanes, and considering they are probably about half your population yet make 80% of all consumer spending decisions, this is a demographic you don’t want to ignore. (Additional fun fact: women in their 20s and 50s are currently showing the greatest percentage growth in bike ridership nationwide.)

What about barriers to change? Well, there are certainly some big ones. Many people simply don’t like change, and they will let you know this at city council meetings and in local newspaper letters-to-the-editor. Please remember that access to the biggest public spaces in your city (known as streets) is a question of public safety and equity, and that the paving of roads in the USA was originally to accommodate bike riders.

Next, there are costs involved, of course. Sometimes private property needs to be acquired (and the property owner compensated) through eminent domain, and that gets personal. Third, there are excuses just to make excuses — I even heard of one city that says it won’t add protected bike lanes because the street sweeper it is thinking of purchasing won’t fit in them! (That one’s easily addressed with this great post from People for Bikes about street sweepers specifically for this purpose. Some cities use minor offenders for community service to sweep the lanes.) But mostly, I find the biggest barrier to change is simply lack of awareness of what it’s like currently to ride a bike to run an errand in your city. For instance, may I introduce Pointy? (See picture at the top of this post.) This is a perfect example of something that would simply not exist if folks at city hall or the consultants they hire actually got out there on bikes and rode.

No time, desire, or ability to ride? No problem. You  can do this from the comfort of your car: When you drive around your city, see if there are any women riding bikes in it. If you don’t see any of this “indicator species” for a bike-friendly community, your city is not safe for bike riding. If you see grown men riding bikes on your sidewalks, your streets are not safe for bike riding. If you see no or few bikes at your local schools’ bike racks (or if the schools don’t even have bike racks), your city is not safe for bike riding. It’s just that simple.

Another way to see if your city is safe for bike riding? Well, if you’re in north metro Atlanta, you can hire me for a day or two to give my $79 bike from Target (The Little Blue Bike Bell) a whirl around your city. I’ll give you the good, the bad, and yes, the WTF. Pardon the phrase, but someone had to say it — because I can tell you for sure that your citizens do each and every day. Contact me here for rates/availability, and then let’s see how things look from The Little Blue Bike Bell’s point of view. (Trust me — it doesn’t lie.)

If you would like to see what it was like for me to ride my bike from Alpharetta,GA to Dunwoody, GA (a 20-minute car ride, which took four hours on bike), see here. It’s boiled down to a one-minute video.

If you would like to do a self-guided bike ride of some best practices in bike infrastructure in the City of Atlanta (which aspires to become a Top 10 Bike-Friendly City by this year, believe it or not), see here. I’ve planned it all out for you. Give it three hours. It will change your life. (It changed mine.)

If you would like to see what I discovered during a two-week test-ride of New York City’s bikeshare, see here. (Free advice: learn from my experience before you launch your bikeshare program.)

Going one mile to the supermarket or school, two miles to the park or post office, or four miles to the mall or city hall should not involve taking your life in your hands. You are better than this. We are better than this. Let’s get this job done, and have fun along the way because we all remember what it feels like to ride a bike. (Note: you can’t feel like a kid when you ride a bike again if you didn’t ride a bike as a kid. Don’t deny the kids in your city this life-long memory and life-sustaining joy.)

 

pattiebaker_1428071611_87Pattie Baker (aka Sustainable Pattie) harnesses the power of storytelling to change the world through fact, fiction, and photography. See her website here.

 

 

 

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