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Old 11-22-08, 03:29 PM   #1
brianinc-ville
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How to change your town's commuting culture?

Hi, everyone.

So, here's my situation:

I live in Greenville, North Carolina, which is a town with a university but not exactly a university town. While there are lots of students, it's not (yet, anyway) an intellectual/arty/liberal population like you'd find in Chapel Hill, Charlottesville, Athens, etc. It's a small Southern city, pretty much. That's a fine thing to be, in lots of ways, but it hasn't been great for biking. Even though Greenville isn't particularly big, the development patterns for years have favored suburban-style sprawl. The city is growing fast, and if the pattern stays the same it'll look like Charlotte or Atlanta pretty soon.

Fortunately, it's not that big yet. I'm part of a bike task force that's working to put in bike infrastructure and nudge the city away from totally car-centered development. It's pretty exciting, really: Greenville is still small enough that, if we do the right things now, it could actually turn out as a good place to get around without a car. The terrain is flat and there's no snow or ice.

Here's the thing, though: most people around here seem to have the usual American mindset about bikes: they're either for sport, or for kids, but they're not for going to work or going shopping. People are scared of riding on the roads and they don't see the need for bike lanes or separated bike paths (which, to tell the truth, wouldn't serve very many people right now, because most people are scared to ride bikes or see it as childish or unmanly or something). So, like most of America, we've got a chicken-and-egg problem. It's hard to change the culture without changing the infrastructure first, but it's hard to get the money and support for changing the infrastructure without changing the culture. I'm sure lots of you know about this.

So here's my question: speaking practically, what's the best move to make first? What's the most effective action for changing people's attitudes? I'm especially interested in hearing what people have done in conservative areas of the U.S. Thanks!

Brian
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Old 11-22-08, 04:18 PM   #2
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"Build it and they will come", I say.

It will be difficult to do this in DC, what with our streets being densely packed and sidewalks narrow and broken. To put bikeways in Capitol Hill, for example, you'd have to displace up to half of the cars parked in the street, and that's just not going to fly -- these cars are owned by the residents themselves, and there isn't anyplace else to park them.

But, if you can start fresh like it seems Greenville might be, you might be able to work it out. As long as the bikeways go from one useful place to another, and they're visible enough to be seen from the road, they'll sell themselves.

I emphasized visibility because I don't think that rails-to-trails and park-like paths help themselves very much. Even though I can ride unimpeded from Bethesda to Georgetown, I'm hidden from public view (which can be dangerous) and nobody else can see how easy it is (which would be an attractive virtue).

I've been places where bikes, cars, pedestrians, and public transit all have their place. I saw almost every kind of person on bikes, not just the fast-pedaling nutjobs like most of us here (myself included). I could see my 62-year-old mom riding there, but not here.
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Old 11-22-08, 04:30 PM   #3
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It really takes a whole series of things...
1. make it more difficult to use a car in a race way fashion.
Simple things like round-abouts can help here.
2. Get the local leadership excited about cycling.
You're going to need the local politicians to tout and support cycling.
3. Build facilities
You need bike parking, and bike suitable roadways... be it wide outside lanes and perhaps sharrows or well designed bike lanes and/or well designed bike paths.
4. People have to feel comfortable riding around to do everyday things.
the closer you are to replicating a near park like experience for local cycling, the more readily you will attract nearly all age groups. Bear in mind that high speed needs have to be satisfied too... so "bike freeways" can encourage commuting.

Oh, you could just read this: http://policy.rutgers.edu/faculty/pu...resistible.pdf
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Old 11-22-08, 04:52 PM   #4
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Restrict auto traffic and increase cycling (and non-cycling) infrastructure. That's the bike-friendly city formula.





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Old 11-22-08, 05:32 PM   #5
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In general, more drastic measures that clearly "make it harder" to drive a car remain something of a pipe dream in American cities. Even NYC has seen congestion pricing plans shot down, and they may be the least car-dependent large city in the country. People who propose such ideas are often seen as "crazy bike people." Eventually, we may get to the point where policy can actively discourage cycling, but I think the best way to start is probably just by encouraging cycling as an alternative. Once cycling is more acceptable, policymakers may have a bit more freedom to shape transportation choices.

Three things strike me as good ways to approach this without seeming like a "crazy bike person:"

1. Emphasize practical benefits, like money savings to the government over encouraging additional car use or public transit-- a bike lane is cheaper than a bus system, and also cheaper than adding complete car lanes. Reduced car traffic is also a big one-- remember that cars actually benefit if enough people ride regularly, since congestion is reduced.

2. Make it about not just bikes, but livable streets in general. Talk about pedestrian infrastructure like sidewalks (and how bike lanes keep cyclists from terrorizing pedestrians on the sidewalk), and also about methods like traffic calming, which reduces crashes and noise as well as making cyclists safer.

3. Remind people that this is the stage where a growing city can really become a pioneer in a new approach to American urban life; a young portland.

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Old 11-22-08, 07:24 PM   #6
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this recently released report from rails to trails and the thunderhead alliance quantifies the benefits from investing in alternative transportation systems....

http://www.railstotrails.org/resourc...A_20081020.pdf
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Old 11-23-08, 11:09 AM   #7
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While I am supportive of well designed and implemented infrastructure I also believe that those changes are a result of something that happens earlier, something subtler and simpler.

There is strength in numbers. Start with rides. Ride every where yourself. Have your fellow "task force" members ride together in your community. Don't set an agenda too early, don't politicize the group- the politics will take care of itself. Be supportive of one another's efforts to ride to work and for transportation. Don't feel under an obligation to "evangelize" or to "sell" the idea of cycling- anything worth doing becomes obvious. Encourage one another to "ride responsibly"- depending on the group that can mean strict adherence to all existing traffic codes and laws to more "flexibility" in interpretation.

Avoid the traps of "helmet debates" and "vehicular cycling/bike lane debates" they are divisive and stymy progress. If you set the tone early and keep the dialogue open minded, non-judgmental and throw out the red flag whenever dogmatic thinking takes hold of the group then you will find creative solutions that will indeed address the unique needs of your locality.

There is a misconception that "politics" changes "culture". Culture shifts of it's own accord and politics either follows and paves the way for healthy progress or stands firmly and diametrically opposed to that progress. Bicycling is matching up nicely with a cultural shift and it's not just the price of gas or the resultant destruction caused by an over dependence on fossil fuels but the congestion and, for the lack of a better word, "cager mentality" of being locked in a glass and metal box for a substantial part of our lives. Look for the signs of the "cultural shift" in your community and put your attention there. If that means bike racks at the library or supermarket make that your first task. Start with simple things that you can accomplish. Look for a supermarket with a particularly crowded parking lot that's within cycling distance of the campus- see if they'd give a discount to customers who come by bike ( show a bike helmet at the register) much like the discount given for reusable bags. Getting some simple, positive things done by your task force will give you some momentum to tackle the more challenging, complex and controversial issues like bike lanes and paths, racks on city buses etc.

Good Luck!!
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Old 11-23-08, 01:06 PM   #8
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Buzzman pretty much beat me to it (and much more eloquently than I could have put it). My suggestion was basicly to get some rides going. Something that happens maybe once a month a bit like Critical Mass but without all the law-breaking and conflict. If its once a month people will see you ride by and know that they can join you at the next ride which will start from the same day in the same place. And by only having it once a month while being regular it doesn't happen so often as to make people lose interest after doing it every week or spreading people out across the rides and create a better impact on people who witness you go by.

I figure the best way to let people know that there's a growing bicycle community in your town is for them to see you guys all out having fun riding your bikes. Maybe try to start organizing some kind of movie night or presentations on sustainable transportation once you get things moving. Maybe hold a bike repair clinic once in a while to teach people how to fix their own bikes.

Once you have built up a group of people that now see how awesome bikes are then you can start having some movement to push for the infrastructure and know that when its built there will be people to use it. This is all a pretty hypothetical process on my part though, as I really have no experience in any of this. Good luck, though!
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Old 11-23-08, 04:17 PM   #9
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Another suggestion: Seek allies, especially those whose interests compliment yours like business and neighborhood groups. Work some of their projects and activities.
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Old 11-23-08, 08:58 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by buzzman View Post
While I am supportive of well designed and implemented infrastructure I also believe that those changes are a result of something that happens earlier, something subtler and simpler.

There is strength in numbers. Start with rides. Ride every where yourself. Have your fellow "task force" members ride together in your community. Don't set an agenda too early, don't politicize the group- the politics will take care of itself. Be supportive of one another's efforts to ride to work and for transportation. Don't feel under an obligation to "evangelize" or to "sell" the idea of cycling- anything worth doing becomes obvious. Encourage one another to "ride responsibly"- depending on the group that can mean strict adherence to all existing traffic codes and laws to more "flexibility" in interpretation.

Avoid the traps of "helmet debates" and "vehicular cycling/bike lane debates" they are divisive and stymy progress. If you set the tone early and keep the dialogue open minded, non-judgmental and throw out the red flag whenever dogmatic thinking takes hold of the group then you will find creative solutions that will indeed address the unique needs of your locality.

There is a misconception that "politics" changes "culture". Culture shifts of it's own accord and politics either follows and paves the way for healthy progress or stands firmly and diametrically opposed to that progress. Bicycling is matching up nicely with a cultural shift and it's not just the price of gas or the resultant destruction caused by an over dependence on fossil fuels but the congestion and, for the lack of a better word, "cager mentality" of being locked in a glass and metal box for a substantial part of our lives. Look for the signs of the "cultural shift" in your community and put your attention there. If that means bike racks at the library or supermarket make that your first task. Start with simple things that you can accomplish. Look for a supermarket with a particularly crowded parking lot that's within cycling distance of the campus- see if they'd give a discount to customers who come by bike ( show a bike helmet at the register) much like the discount given for reusable bags. Getting some simple, positive things done by your task force will give you some momentum to tackle the more challenging, complex and controversial issues like bike lanes and paths, racks on city buses etc.

Good Luck!!
What he said.
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Old 11-23-08, 11:09 PM   #11
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Thanks everybody, and particularly Buzzman. Yes, the cultural shift is coming, even in eastern NC, but it's very, very slow. This is still a fairly conservative place; telling people "we could be the next Portland (or Davis, or even Chapel Hill) is still a good way to make enemies. There's a mindset that just doesn't like anything unfamiliar. And right now I often feel like I _am_ the cultural shift -- of the 15 or so members of the Bike-Friendly Task Force, only two of us actually ride bikes to the meetings. Even the bike advocates are scared. Both of us recently moved here from other cities and don't find it unusually threatening to ride here, so I'm convinced that it's the cultural attitudes of the town, not the streets themselves. There's a supermarket less than a mile from downtown and the campus, but I hardly ever see anyone locking up a bike there besides myself. There are actually a couple of bike paths around town -- put in in the last burst of bike enthusiasm, 25 or so years ago -- but I rarely see anyone else on them. So yeah, I'm trying to get a group of people out for the monthly bike ride like PLyTheMan says, but it's hard to identify enough people to form a group. Still, these are all good suggestions, and thanks, everyone.
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Old 11-24-08, 08:30 AM   #12
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Thanks everybody, and particularly Buzzman. Yes, the cultural shift is coming, even in eastern NC, but it's very, very slow. This is still a fairly conservative place; telling people "we could be the next Portland (or Davis, or even Chapel Hill) is still a good way to make enemies. There's a mindset that just doesn't like anything unfamiliar. And right now I often feel like I _am_ the cultural shift -- of the 15 or so members of the Bike-Friendly Task Force, only two of us actually ride bikes to the meetings. Even the bike advocates are scared. Both of us recently moved here from other cities and don't find it unusually threatening to ride here, so I'm convinced that it's the cultural attitudes of the town, not the streets themselves. There's a supermarket less than a mile from downtown and the campus, but I hardly ever see anyone locking up a bike there besides myself. There are actually a couple of bike paths around town -- put in in the last burst of bike enthusiasm, 25 or so years ago -- but I rarely see anyone else on them. So yeah, I'm trying to get a group of people out for the monthly bike ride like PLyTheMan says, but it's hard to identify enough people to form a group. Still, these are all good suggestions, and thanks, everyone.
When you lock up your bike at the supermarket... is it to an actual bike rack?

That was one thing I really noticed in Austin Texas... the ubiquity of bike racks.

Auto parking is available everywhere in America... but where do you securely park a bike? It's a simple small thing... but bike racks are a start.
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Old 11-24-08, 09:07 AM   #13
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Hi, everyone.

So, here's my situation:

I live in Greenville, North Carolina, which is a town with a university but not exactly a university town. While there are lots of students, it's not (yet, anyway) an intellectual/arty/liberal population like you'd find in Chapel Hill, Charlottesville, Athens, etc. It's a small Southern city, pretty much. That's a fine thing to be, in lots of ways, but it hasn't been great for biking. Even though Greenville isn't particularly big, the development patterns for years have favored suburban-style sprawl. The city is growing fast, and if the pattern stays the same it'll look like Charlotte or Atlanta pretty soon.

Fortunately, it's not that big yet. I'm part of a bike task force that's working to put in bike infrastructure and nudge the city away from totally car-centered development. It's pretty exciting, really: Greenville is still small enough that, if we do the right things now, it could actually turn out as a good place to get around without a car. The terrain is flat and there's no snow or ice.

Here's the thing, though: most people around here seem to have the usual American mindset about bikes: they're either for sport, or for kids, but they're not for going to work or going shopping. People are scared of riding on the roads and they don't see the need for bike lanes or separated bike paths (which, to tell the truth, wouldn't serve very many people right now, because most people are scared to ride bikes or see it as childish or unmanly or something). So, like most of America, we've got a chicken-and-egg problem. It's hard to change the culture without changing the infrastructure first, but it's hard to get the money and support for changing the infrastructure without changing the culture. I'm sure lots of you know about this.

So here's my question: speaking practically, what's the best move to make first? What's the most effective action for changing people's attitudes? I'm especially interested in hearing what people have done in conservative areas of the U.S. Thanks!

Brian
Changing the culture and, infrastructure is definitely needed.

Yet, I think it is more severe than just, which came first, the chicken or the egg.

I see it as a vicious circle. Because, any form of government(federal, state, county, city, town, municipal) will make the excuse that, they won't change the infrastructure if the general population doesn't want it. Yet, They will certainly act on the overall greed of the general population, if they want more ease in driving and, buying gas. Coupled with less common sense for a cheaper form of transportation and, fewer people wanting to get exercise at the same time they commute.
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Old 11-24-08, 09:44 AM   #14
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...what's the best move to make first? What's the most effective action for changing people's attitudes?
I have a web log entitled "How To Start A Bicycling Revolution In An Unfriendly Bike City"

Here is a link to my "Demands Of The Revolution" page. Might be something there you can use. My focus would start on things that EVERYONE would agree upon - smoother road surfaces, wider lanes on more dangerous roads, etc. Start with things that motorists want first. They have lots of power.

http://joey-bike.blogspot.com/2007/0...evolution.html

My favorite bike friendly addition to roads are "Sharrows". They get painted on existing roads that do not have room for bike lanes or shoulders. They are cheap and effective, especially if you are working with existing infrastructure. I have info about sharrows on the linked page too.

Last edited by JoeyBike; 11-24-08 at 09:50 AM.
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Old 11-24-08, 09:51 AM   #15
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I have a web log entitled "How To Start A Bicycling Revolution In An Unfriendly Bike City"

Here is a link to my "Demands Of The Revolution" page. Might be something there you can use. My focus would start on things that EVERYONE would agree upon - smoother road surfaces, wider lanes on more dangerous roads, etc. Start with things that motorists want first. They have lots of power.

http://joey-bike.blogspot.com/2007/0...evolution.html

My favorite bike friendly addition to roads are "Sharrows". They get painted on existing roads that do not have room for bike lanes or shoulders. They are cheap and effective, especially if you are working with existing infrastructure.
As odd as this sounds, I am not sure wider roads are a good solution... wider roads tend to look more like freeways to motorists... the next thing you know motorists are speeding everywhere and driving up the average speeds. I know this sounds somewhat counter intuitive, but narrow roads with multiple lanes tend to discourage speeding. Add sharrows and you encourage sharing that outside lane.

I know I have suggested wider roads in the past, but looking at the current situation in Southern California where newer roads are wider and tend to have bike lanes, we have in effect created mini-freeways where motorists tend to zoom down the roads, which in effect decreases the reaction times for motorists and give cyclists less time to survey the traffic situation.

I have no conclusive evidence to this, just personal observations.
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Old 11-24-08, 10:37 AM   #16
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As odd as this sounds, I am not sure wider roads are a good solution... wider roads tend to look more like freeways to motorists... the next thing you know motorists are speeding everywhere and driving up the average speeds.
Law enforcement comes next. Also, maybe the wider lanes are safe enough to boost the legal speed limit a tad too. I believe in the "everybody" wins approach when possible.

Anyway, wider lanes are expensive and often impossible. Sharrows are dirt cheap (reflective materials and someone to install them properly) and quite effective in reminding motorists that bikes have a right to be on the road. Not the end-all-be-all answer in every situation, but a good start.
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Old 11-24-08, 12:07 PM   #17
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Start by setting an example... get folks out on the local streets and roads riding bikes in a lawful, useful manner, and get local citizens and drivers used to seeing cyclists on the streets. Make cycling a commonplace thing. More bike commuters, utility riders, etc. Rides like Critical Manners help with this, as well as getting local riders used to the idea the bicycles are vehicles, too.

Offer classes... http://www.bikeleague.org/cogs/resou...10&submit.y=12 has a listing of cycling instructors in North Carolina. I didn't see any in Greenville itself, but there's bound to be a couple of folks in nearby communities.

Do you have a local advocacy group? make friends with the press and local media, and get some good stories on cycling as transportation on/in the local news and newspapers.

But the most importatnt thing that you can do is get out and ride -- make the local cycling community much more visible and active in a positive manner.
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Old 11-24-08, 12:33 PM   #18
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Law enforcement comes next. Also, maybe the wider lanes are safe enough to boost the legal speed limit a tad too. I believe in the "everybody" wins approach when possible.

Anyway, wider lanes are expensive and often impossible. Sharrows are dirt cheap (reflective materials and someone to install them properly) and quite effective in reminding motorists that bikes have a right to be on the road. Not the end-all-be-all answer in every situation, but a good start.
Agreed on all counts... except the higher speed "everyone wins" issue. Higher speeds are best left to freeways... higher speeds tend to reduce the comfort level for both cyclists and pedestrians and therefore move the street to one that becomes primarily autocentric. I think even you'd have a difficult time running lights on our wide high speed arterials that are just short of wide freeways.

I'm convinced a grid network is far better than wide arterials.
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Old 11-24-08, 04:01 PM   #19
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Make the downtown more comfortable for pedestrians by widening the sidewalks at intersections. Plenty of quality bike racks. Diagonal parking where cars back in to their spaces, to eliminate the chance of dooring and pulling out into the path of a cyclist. Move storm drainage from the roadside to under the edge of the sidewalk. Make sure the road surface is free of potholes before painting sharrows.
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Old 11-24-08, 04:59 PM   #20
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Agree strongly on training. While there are potential dangers in cycling on the roads, properly structured training does, at least, help to remove "dangers" which are perceived, but do not exist in reality, or, at any rate, only very rarely and can be foreseen and coped with.

Get a core of "bike buddies" (also to be trained so that they have a songsheet in common) to go with newbies. Look at road designs which lead to cyclist-hazarding behaviour by drivers on the newby's route and help them to "read" the characteristics of such designs so that they can be recognised in other places/circumstances, etc.

"Daisy chain" the training, so that recent newbies have the confidence and knowledge to help their friends/families.

Find out which of the local schools has the safest road environment (assuming that there is one) for student cycling and work on a "safe routes to school" programme for that school. This in turn will lead to the need, if successful, for properly designed cycle parking - and here I recommend the "Sprockids School programme, which is available via www. sprockids.something from Doug Detwiller, the founder. It contains cycling material designed to be used within the curriculum, so is doubly helpful. If it's a primary school, try getting a "bike train" going, where kids are picked up in sequence and are shepherded by trained parents.

If there are any suitable trails/quiet roads, get family rides on a regular (monthly?) basis.

If I didn't live 3,500 miles away, I'd be there like a shot to help (:-)
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Old 11-25-08, 08:51 AM   #21
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Another suggestion: Seek allies, especially those whose interests compliment yours like business and neighborhood groups. Work some of their projects and activities.
+1,000,000 If there's a bicycling club in your area, join. If not, start one. Contact these fine folks and ask them how to start. Join the League of American Bicyclists.
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Old 11-25-08, 09:34 AM   #22
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+1,000,000 If there's a bicycling club in your area, join. If not, start one. Contact these fine folks and ask them how to start. Join the League of American Bicyclists.
Oh right... as if that really helps... We have roughly 1500 members in our local advocacy group... just enough to pay a full time representative, but a drop in the bucket as far as representing the local cyclists.

With an area population of about 1.2million, we should have 120,000 commuting cyclists in the area... (1%). We have 1500 members in the local advocacy group... so 118,500 either don't know or care. We even have free Road 1 and Road 2 classes... about 50 people a year are trained... that's what, .0004% of all the potential commuters???

Hey, at least we have a voice, right? BTW the loudest voices in that advocacy group... vehicular cyclists... including John Forester.

Yup, getting the LAB involved and starting a club makes all the difference...
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Old 11-25-08, 09:43 AM   #23
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I love how we're willing to try everything but what's been proven to work. In a couple of years, Portland will break 10%, and the majority of American cyclists elsewhere will continue to sing the siren songs of Vehicular Cycling, Critical Mass, and pretty much everything else that does nothing to increase their local sub 1% cycling populations. Fortunately, a few more cities will likely catch on, and stop wasting any more time trying to reinvent the wheel. And they too will become bike friendly.


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Old 11-25-08, 09:52 AM   #24
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I love how we're willing to try everything but what's been proven to work. In a couple of years, Portland will break 10%, and the majority of American cyclists elsewhere will continue to sing the siren songs of Vehicular Cycling, Critical Mass, and pretty much everything else that does nothing to increase their local sub 1% cycling populations. Fortunately, a few more cities will likely catch on, and stop wasting any more time trying to reinvent the wheel. And they too will become bike friendly.

+1000.

No vehicular cyclist or group promoting vehicular cycling has increased bicycle traffic anywhere.
http://policy.rutgers.edu/faculty/pu...ads_TQ2000.pdf
Can any Vehicular Cyclist show me where VC has increased uptake in cycling?
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Old 11-25-08, 09:54 AM   #25
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Bick racks are the one type of facilities that VC and non-VC people can agree on. I think that selectively placing them at destinations where car parking is difficult would be a good start. The racks will remind people that bikes exist, and tdo it in locations where using a car is particularly inconvenient.

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