ONE-THOUSAND NEW CYCLISTS
Berkeley, CA: Today, October 10, 2010 (10-10-10, a Global Day of Climate Action by http://www.350.org/), an ambitious new campaign was launched by the East Bay Bicycle Coalition (EBBC): ONE-THOUSAND NEW CYCLISTS!
- ~~ Visit http://www.1000newcyclists.org/
The numerically inclined will be delighted that 10*10*10 = 1,000.
Those of us who live and breathe to increase bicycling are even more delighted by this mobilization. Certainly the large group who came together to brainstorm the campaign this morning is eager for success.
For many years people have grappled with the issue of increasing cycling. Supportive policies abound, but inaction has long been the rule. Even with the imperatives of Climate Change, oil addiction/instability and pandemic health problems stemming from motorcar hegemony, yet the elegant solution of bicycling (fast, cheap, fun, reliable, and effective on every front) has too often been relegated to the gutter by cities and states of the USA, despite glowing examples of effective implementation in many European cities and a swelling “critical mass” of activity by advocacy groups, supportive electeds, and the public at large.
- This important job has been left again to We the People.
So, you may ask: How does one increase bicycling, anyway?
Ah, the 1,000-times-asked question. There are many schools of thought on this, and more than a few research inquiries.
The philosophy of the 1,000 New Cyclists campaign is to build on what we know has worked in the past: social networking.
“Most of us began riding because of the good example and encouragement of someone close to us,” declared campaign leader Stacy Jackson, a doctoral candidate at UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group.
Heather, a mother based in Albany, CA, quickly confirmed this with her experience. Heather found success inspiring new cyclists when she taught her child to ride at an early age. She did so in order to ride with him to school, “because of all the research showing that people are more alert and learn better if they bicycle to work or school.” As a result, Heather told the crowd, not only is her child now a strong and confident cyclist (“because you let me, Mom!”), but her neighbor’s child took up bicycling to join him. Soon thereafter, another neighbor, an adult woman, did so as well, telling Heather: “If you can do it, I can do it!”
Three new cyclists for the price of one!
The campaign has already convinced a number of people to join the ranks of everyday cyclists: New Cyclist #2 on the roll to 1,000 was present and says he started for health reasons; at his 40th High School reunion, he wasn’t able to dominate the dance floor like the old days and his wife has been chiding him for being lazy. “I work with kids, so it’s time for me to walk the walk if I’m going to talk the talk,” he pledged, perspiration from an earlier climate action ride adding credence to his conviction.
It was more than just the food!
Attendees first broke into small groups to discuss their motivations for riding before reporting back. One older gentleman, a recreational cyclist, said he rides first and foremost for “the exhilaration I get when I climb a summit; that is hard to beat. In any other part of my life, I just can’t get that.”
Padding the bank account ranked very highly among attendees, even the well-heeled: “There’s no question that I have more economic freedom because I ride a bicycle.”
More than one testified to having looked at the numbers and then realized a car in the Bay Area easily costs $6,000-$12,000 per year, and “adds a lot of stress I don’t get bicycling.”
Chuck Siegal of The Preservation Insititute, advocate of a reduced work week and author of numerous books including The Politics of Simple Living offered that his desire to escape consumerism inspired his choice of bicycling. “Plus, I’m a cheapskate” he smiled.
Convenience and reliability also ranked highly. The fact that bicycles, on average, are faster than cars for short trips in cities was cited as a strong reason for riding errands. Reliability, too: “When I go by bike, I know exactly when I’ll get there — not so with my car.”
Health issues were also high on the list; not only because of meeting daily exercise goals for a healthier and happier, longer life. “I always feel better when I ride my bike” said Marcy Greenhut, member of the Board of Directors of Berkeley’s 15-year-strong bicycle coalition, http://www.bfbc.org/.
SAFETY is one major reason for riding. In fact, simply getting more riders on bicycles is widely expected to increase safety for all through the dramatic if somewhat mysterious Safety in Numbers effect. For example, Portland, Oregon saw a five-fold increase in ridership over the past decade yet the number of injuries for bicyclists didn’t change — thus, everyone riding is on average much safer now. Research indicates this is true from city to city, and even from street to street.
Safety, happiness, health, convenience, money…what else?
Contrary to what one might expect, preventing climate change and helping the environment were not primary motivations for most attendees, despite the theme of the day. In fact, in a survey conducted by the campaign before its launch, which garnered hundreds of detailed responses, this was also the case. Time, health, and money were valued much higher by respondents, most of whom are regular riders.
However, many do care about the environment. Getting in better touch with nature and its geography was voiced by many in the group. Hal Keenan related how his first rides took him on paths along the water in the middle of the night. He was amazed at the wildlife that joined him as if playing. “One night a fox ran along ahead of me for quite a while. Then a skunk came and ran alongside at 15 mph, just keeping me company! More than anything opossums ran with me. I was really amazed to see all that.” Berkeley’s Climate Action Plan and many other authorities strongly say that the most effective personal action to reduce climate emissions that the average person in the USA can take in their own lives is to replace car trips. Advocates are thus hopeful that the City will begin actively promoting and providing for bicycling in a much greater way.
The survey is still open and you are most welcome to take it:
The group next spread out and mingled around six theme stations, each with a large sheet of paper and markers to record ideas. The themes included:
- Older cyclists, a category which was expanded to include anyone with special needs: “The Gentle Approach.”
Berkeley is blessed with a project which helps people with disabilities find a specially designed bicycle which works for them, The Adaptive Cycling Center (BORP) at Aquatic Park. This principle can be expanded on to include anyone with special needs. Lucianne Resnik, who was involved in the founding of Berkeley’s Bicycle Coalition (BFBC) with her husband Hank Resnik, used to offer trainings and special outings for older cyclists.
Meggs offered the idea to create Comfort Centers, ergonomic fitting centers designed to help people fit their bikes. Such Centers would provide a wide variety of handlebars and seats, and consultation, as well as accessory modifications to increase the shock absorption points on any given bicycle, thus giving a gentler and safer ride. Increasing the availability of stable bicycles that won’t fall over is also important. “As people approach 100 years’ age, their bones may become much more brittle and harder to heal. Providing access to bicycles that don’t fall over is thus important for many people. We learned this while discussing with the community why bicycles on sidewalks are such a huge issue for some older folks: simply being knocked over can break a hip, causing disability for life. It can even be fatal. ”
As society braces for an aging demographic, providing viable travel options that don’t require driving is more important than ever.
The extra good news: bicycling is low or no-impact, great aerobic exercise which helps keep people young and able-bodied, staying above the disability threshold to live a longer, happier life. There are many people who rely on bicycling for exercise that they can’t get other ways, and conveniently obtained while pursuing everyday travel.
- Do’s and Don’t’s: “Don’t preach, be patient and supportive” was a primary theme here. This really became a focal point for outreach ideas. Meggs observed that the highly successful “Travel Choice” and “Travel Smart” strategy of knocking door to door and sitting at the kitchen table with receptive families and households, to help them assess their potential to reduce car use, would be a good strategy to employ.
“People need a helping hand to get them past their barriers. If we find those who want to try, we can shower them with resources and support…many people already have a bicycle disabled by nothing more than a flat tire, collecting cobwebs in their garage or basement — let’s fix that bike for them and lead them out the door to try it again! Let’s hold their hand all the way!”
The need for good incentives such as prizes was voiced by one member. Meggs also observed: “In the Solar Industry, you’re taught to market based on the primary interest of the customer. Some care about the environment, some care about independence, some care about saving money. The same can apply in encouraging bicycling: find out what people care about and show them how bicycling helps them achieve those needs, whatever they are.”
There was, however, debate regarding whether “negative” approaches such as telling people it’s wrong to pollute work. “Guilt doesn’t work; keep it positive” and of course again, “Don’t preach” was voiced. Sagely Chuck Siegal replied, “I don’t know. Think of the Civil Rights movement. There we had many people saying discrimination was wrong, and not only were we preaching, but actual preachers such as Martin Luther King, Jr. were our leaders.” Skepticism was voiced by a female facilitator about the comparison or its conclusion, to which Chuck intoned, “You may be too young to remember the feminist movement of the 70’s, in which women en masse were telling us men what we were doing was wrong. And it worked, too!”
- Families and kids: The success of the free family ice cream rides organized by Alameda Bicycle were influential here. Community-based rides hadn’t succeeded as well in Berkeley, suggesting the official sponsorship and technical support of a well-known shop, along with the promise of ice cream at the end, offered a winning combination. This is evidenced by the ride attracting 90-130 attendees when the program reached full swing. (Kids are motivated to join by ice cream and the fun of the event, while parents are further motivated by having a child do something healthy and social to get a treat.) So successful it was that they found they needed to split the group into the little kids and the faster bigger kids and teens.
- Other topics included addressing barriers to cycling, and more. Bicycle Theft was identified as a major deterrent to cycling. Many people begin riding as a new cyclist, not knowing how to properly lock their bicycle; once it’s gone (in the blink of an eye), they may not try again. However, many everyday bicyclists go many years without losing their bicycle by following a few basic practices which anyone can and must learn before leaving their bicycle unattended — anywhere — even inside a home!
The very Bike Station where the meeting was held was created to retain bicycles (and thus bicyclists) by BFBC, in partnership with BART, the City of Berkeley, the Air District, and others, (now under management in a fabulous new location by Alameda Bicycle).
This was done in because BART stations are primary centers of risk where epidemic bicycle theft occurs (not just of whole bicycles, but of parts from bicycles). Thus one rule of thumb is to never park at a BART station; or at least, to bring a lower value “BART beater bike” and lock it very well. Obviously this is no good because a bicycle is the perfect way of arriving at a BART station for many! New regional efforts such as BikeLink provide new low cost options for secure parking storage at an ever growing number of destinations, particularly near BART and other transit stations. Bringing the Bike Station to its new larger and more accessible street level required ten years of dedicated work by BFBC volunteers.
Meggs reported that while managing the Berkeley Bike Station, he developed several flyers with BFBC to post on at-risk bicycles, warning their owners of risks they’d taken. The flyers had check boxes such as “quick release wheels not locked, easily removed and stolen” and were personalized; “Hi, My name is Jason and I hope your bicycle is still here when you get back!” To be discrete, the flyer was folded over so only plain paper showed, and then stapled around the handlebars to stay put. One version of the flyer urged cyclists to use the Bike Station, even though it was bursting at the gills. For illustration purposes only (and with outdated contact information), one version of the flyer is HERE (PDF). The back could be printed with a warning so people knew to open it up and look at the other side (the warning was not visible when folded and stapled to the bike). That page is HERE (PDF). The crowd Ooooohed, Aaaaaahed and laughed, cheered by the thought of directly helping strangers save their bikes.
Cultural events, rides and even Halloween strategies filled a good portion of the rest of the proverbial pannier, in discussing how to carry forth the ONE-THOUSAND NEW CYCLISTS campaign.
Sustainability and Impact
“This campaign has the potential to grow and continue even after we reach 1,000 cyclists. Unlike some campaigns that are anti-climactic and lose the energy which has built up, this one can continue to be fine-tuned and to sustain itself. We’re really breaking new ground here which can lead to tremendous long-term results as we organize to fulfill what is really this great community need. It’s really exciting!” said Phil Morton, member of the Board of Directors of Berkeley’s Bicycle Coalition, BFBC.
Helping People Help Themselves
EBBC, its member groups, and local bicycle shops already have many resources to offer prospective new cyclists in enticing them into the fold.
New Street Skills classes are one, a tremendous and free opportunity to gain confidence and experience for cyclists of any skill level.
Local recreational clubs such as the Grizzly Peak Cyclists offer shorter rides for beginning cyclists among their many organized group rides.
Thanks to the extensive efforts of the outstanding new group, Walk Oakland Bike Oakland (WOBO), the East Bay has enjoyed its first Ciclovía (Oaklavía), in which a network of streets are closed to car traffic so all ages and abilities can enjoy the complete street as safe and fun public space.
Every May there is a major regional mobilization around Bike to Work Day, organized centrally by the Bay Area Bicycle Coalition and carried out by local bicycle groups such as EBBC, SFBC, MCBC, SVBC, and more.
We can thank Oaklavía and Bike to Work Day for some of our newest cyclists filling the streets: The survey for this new campaign found that Oaklavía and Bike to Work Day were the launch points where some new cyclists began their everyday riding! (It’s not just higher gasoline prices that motivate change for the better!)
Missing Link Bicycle Collective hosts free Bicycle Repair Classes as well as free tool stations, and a variety of community-based bicycle repair shops offer inexpensive or free access to parts, tools and assistance. In East Oakland there is The Bikery and at Aquatic Park (adjacent to the Adaptive Cycling Center mentioned above) there is Street Level Cycles at the Waterside Workshops, to name just a few. Free flat repair courses were taught today as part of the 10-10-10 events.
And of course there are legions of everyday cyclists who love to answer questions and offer help (just ask one!).
Anyone familiar with urban cycling knows there is tremendous untapped potential to get more folks riding for everyday travel. Once their initial barriers are overcome, people find again and again that those many benefits keep them coming back to bicycling; it’s a joy, not a chore. Riding is an investment in a whole new you.
While one man explained that he rides bicycling to overcome laziness and wake up, a young woman said “I ride bicycles because I’m lazy ~~ it’s quicker and easier than anything else.”
Most automobile trips in the USA are short trips easily accomplished by bicycle. Again and again we see new cyclists amazed at how easily and quickly they arrive at destinations they previously thought required a car, even several miles away. This of course, only if there’s a way to get there.
Infrastructure and Behavior
“Most often, bicycle advocates focus on infrastructure, trying to ensure a safe route between home and destinations, and a safe place to keep your bike when you arrive,” said campaign leader Jackson.
“This campaign is not about infrastructure, it’s very much about behavior. It’s about riding the infrastructure we have while other groups continue to work to improve it.”
Some say infrastructure should be the primary focus until cycling hits 10%. An influential workshop at Velo-City Global 2010 (the largest bicycle conference in the world) discussed just this; anything below 10% is a “Starter City” under this theory. Then, it declares, promotion of riding can begin in earnest. However, there is no doubt that enough infrastructure exists to add far more than 1,000 new cyclists to our streets and no systematic campaign to do so has yet been attempted. This effort is poised to break records and our perception of what’s possible, just as athletes broke the four-minute mile. [Note, Meggs was fortunate to attend said workshop this year in Copenhagen, a city of cyclists! That conference adventure shall be the topic of an upcoming blog post and presentation, recently given as well).
Cars and this Campaign
Being counted among the 1,000 New Cyclists does not require anyone to give up their car.
Of course the private automobile is a huge public health problem, and a sustainability problem on all fronts: economic, environment, health, and more. This author applauds the work at http://carfree.com/.
Certainly fear of traffic was cited as a primary barrier to new cyclists which must be overcome. (Most often through training and experience.)
However, the campaign is not focused on the car. The principle goal here is to help people find out if cycling is for them, even if it’s only for occasional trips.
Hailing from an American auto-making city which suffered and struggled after car manufacturing moved away, a gentleman named Robert offered that the campaign is not inherently anti-car. “Cars are useful for certain things. This to me is more a question of the right tool for the job. You wouldn’t use a bazooka to remove a screw. You just need a simple screwdriver. Sure, maybe an electric one, but that’s enough. Our cities support this, we just need to help people realize they can do it.”
Another gent summed the beauty, grace and freedom of the gift of bicycling in poetry:
It’s the closest thing to being a bird.
We bird through intersections.