“I don’t believe a bicycle is a transportation device”

Errand runner, cargo hauler, commuter

It’s the quote heard ’round the world (or at least throughout the transpo bicycling blogosphere). At a recent Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Transportation Committee meeting, Supervisor John Cook, while debating the need for improved bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, made the following statement:

“I don’t believe a bicycle is a transportation device. I think it’s a recreation device. The big problem is people don’t want to ride their bike in the rain or get sweaty before work.”

Hmmm, you could have fooled me (and many of our friends and readers).

Fortunately, it sounds as if Supervisor Cook is in the minority on the Board, which implemented a comprehensive bicycle initiative in 2006.

More @ The Washington Examiner
More @ Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling
More @ DC Streetsblog

32 Responses to ““I don’t believe a bicycle is a transportation device””

  • Mark says:

    I live car free, and ride my bicycle regardless of weather (we don’t really have weather in San Jose, so that is not really a big deal). Despite this, I would agree with Superviser Cook in that I feel that bicycle infrastructure is for recreational devices. The roadways are all the infrastructure that I feel I need – all I ask is that we not have laws banning bicycles from some roads.
    I’d love to see more transportation and utility cyclists on the road, but I don’t think that bike trails and paint on the roads are going to do much to help that. Spend the money on enforcement of traffic laws and I’d be much happier.

  • Alan says:

    Hi Mark,

    Congrats on living car-free; I hope to do so someday, though we’re only car light for now.

    While I certainly agree that we need to do everything we can to preserve the existing rights we bicyclists have as road users, as well as step up enforcement of existing traffic laws, I also feel we need improved bicycle-specific infrastructure for the many people who might consider riding a bicycle for transportation if they felt safer. Studies have shown one of the major obstacles to increased bicycle use is the fear of cars. It seems unlikely we can assuage those fears without providing some alternatives to our existing conditions. I think the European approach as seen in the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, and elsewhere is a fantastic model that could teach us a lot here in the U.S.


  • Doug P says:

    Here in Sacramento cycling is popular, but the bike racks (at Trader Joe’s for example) seldom have more than one or two bikes, in spite of the good weather and super-crowded parking lot. So maybe Mr Cook has a point. However, one could argue that most vehicles on the road are ego devices, ten times too big and expensive than they need to be, like the feathers on a male peacock..just a display , not really useful in the strictest sense. But that’s OK, because automobiles are sacred cows in America.

  • doug in seattle. says:

    I’m sorry, but infrastructure is for all cyclists, including practical ones. Here in Seattle, thousands of people use the Burke-Gilman rail trail to get to work every single day!

  • Alan says:

    @Doug P

    Hi Doug,

    You have to wonder though; would more people ride their bikes to Trader Joe’s (and elsewhere) if we had a comprehensive system of bikeways in downtown Sacramento? It sure seems like they would if you look at the great things happening in Portland.


  • Paul says:

    I only have a bike, how else could I get around?

    I live in Britain, which recently had a sustained period of ‘bad’ weather so there was lots of snow and ice on the roads. I could still ride quite happily. It was safer and easier than being in a car.

    I was in Copenhagen during the UN Climate summit, and rode around everywhere with the rest of the ordinary people of Copenhagen with the snow coming in sideways and rain and slush.

    Many people are afraid of the idea of facing ‘bad’ weather, but that is the reality of living on our planet. Many people are afraid of using their own energy to get around, but they’ll have to one day.

  • Rex in Phoenix says:

    I wonder how one ascertains the vehicular needs of a stranger on the road or in a parking lot? I have four kids but sometimes have to drive the mini-van by myself. I guess at such times it’s technically only six times bigger than it needs to be—maybe that absolves me of some of the sin.

  • Doug P says:

    I get the impression even East Sacramento residents who live near Trader Joe’s (and have a nice little neighborhood ride to the store) never ride there. They have no excuse! Bikeways are a great idea, especially If that changes the attitude that biking is dangerous. Portland is a great example of where we could be. I saw full bike racks there. I hear in Montreal bike racks are stuffed to capacity, so it must not be the weather!

  • Andrew says:

    @ Mark

    I think paint on the roads makes a huge difference in the willingness people have to undertake transportational cycling. I’m hardly a shy cyclist, but even I found it a little bit unnerving when I was commuting 40 km last summer and twice a day had to change lanes across freeway on-ramps in rush hour traffic because the right lane exited. The simply is no fast, safe north-south bicycle corridor in Toronto.

    Bike lanes make it so much easier to take up biking because you no longer need to be concerned about sharing the road with cars. The average commuter, whether on a bike or a car, is not the epitome of predictability so the more unknowns you remove from the safety equation, the better people feel.

  • James says:

    As some other posters have, I might be inclined to see your point about bicycle infrastructure being for recreation. However, Supervisor Cook’s quote didn’t say the trails were for recreation. He painted the the bicycle itself as a toy, something a car-free person would have a large disagreement with, I expect.

    I live in Arlington, VA and commute (drive and bike) into Fairfax and am very disappointed to hear this sentiment being expressed by someone who has influence over local transportation policy. Arlington actually has a fairly good cycling infrastructure, but Fairfax has fewer trails, narrower streets and worse on-street condition, probably because the residents have to commute further to their jobs. I welcome any positive change in cycling infrastructure in the area.

  • Kirk says:

    Look at America’s trajectory for the second half of the 20th century. We created a culture that was almost wholly incompatible with cycling as transportation. Abandonment of urban cores, rise of the suburb and the mall, high speed vehicle corridors. We no longer live and work in the same place. It’s no wonder the bike became an accessory rather than a vehicle. You can’t change a half century of entrenched car culture overnight. We need a slow and steady commitment to making sure that cycles are included when development, urban revitalization, city planning, and the like occur.

    Car free for going on four years and I LOVE riding in the rain.

  • heather says:

    In my experience, bike lanes make a huge difference in allowing someone to switch from being a recreational cyclist to a transportational cyclist. Here in Portland, I’m not at all afraid of getting sweaty or rained on when I bike to work every day, but I am damn wary of being hit by a car, particularly when the driver may be more concerned with getting to his/her office in morning rush hour traffic than in keeping a close eye on what’s going on around them. Now that I’ve been commuting year-round by bicycle for almost 18 months, I’m willing to ride on just about any street, bike lane or not, but you can be sure that I’ll invariably choose the route with a bike lane if one i’s available. It’s safer for me and, frankly, it’s nicer for the cars who don’t want to be stuck driving behind me. Everyone wins.

  • Alice says:

    Ha, my bike is my ONLY form of transportation! :)

  • Sharper says:

    @Doug P:
    It’s worse than that. My girlfriend works part-time at a studio a few blocks from that Trader Joe’s. The studio’s owner only lives a half mile away from the studio, but drives there from her East Sac home. Many of my girlfriend’s clients that live in East Sac seem flabbergasted that she would ride the three or four miles to the studio.

    I think there’s a special demographic problem at play. I can’t avoid stereotyping a bit, but East Sacramento as an area seems to have a love affair with status objects (like Lexus SUVs and large, immaculate lawns in front of large, immaculate East Sacramento homes). The studio owner herself has complained about a strong pressure to conform to neighborhood standards of What You Just Do, like drive the three blocks to Trader Joe’s or the mile to school. From personal experience, too (most recently this Sunday passed), area drivers seem to especially resent M Street’s transition into a de facto bike thoroughfare, but I’m not sure that’s a big factor in perceived low utility biking in the area.

    Meanwhile, two miles to the west in younger, trendier, more irreverent midtown, the bike racks in front of the Co-Op are far more utilized, the bike parking racks at the central city Safeway are almost always packed with bikes, and arriving late (9:00 AM) at the Sunday farmer’s market means you’re stuck with the only lockable bike space left: the chain lashing a port-a-potty to a lamppost. I like what that signifies far more.

  • Sharper says:


    I’ve been thinking about bikeways in downtown for a while now. Specifically, whether bike advocates have been too successful in pushing for ubiquitous bike lanes in Sacramento, making it harder for us to make a good argument in favor of preferable facilities like bike boulevards through parts of the central city.

    Given the choice between a bike lane on every street in the grid or just converting a handful of north-south and east-west streets into bike- and bus-only routes, I would opt for the latter in a heartbeat.

  • Peter says:

    In Victoria, BC the Lochside and Galloping Goose Trails carry thousands of commuters to work every day. I ride 15 km on the Lochside trail to downtown. The dedicated trail is a much more relaxing experience than using a bike lane on one of the main streets. I am a big fan of dedicated cycling routes especially if you want to increase ridership. Many people fear cars (and their drivers) and for good reason. A recent study by the University of Toronto cited aggressive driving as the root cause of car bicycle incidents.

  • Tom says:

    Supervisor Cook may be a minority view on the board, but his prehistoric view of bicycles is an unfortunate majority of Fairfax County residents. As a local I can say with confidence our roads are loaded with rude SUV pilots who share Cook’s dim view. While our REI’s & bike shops seem filled with customers, recreation in the DC region takes a back seat to the career ladder which I guess is typical in a large metropolis? The good news is we’re making progress (look to Fairfax County’s neighbors for an example) but becoming Portland not gonna happen. The best part is with so many clones of Cook’s simple thoughts you can have many of our awesome trails and waterways all to yourself with some clever scheduling.

  • Alan says:

    Hi Tom,

    “As a local I can say with confidence our roads are loaded with rude SUV pilots who share Cook’s dim view.”

    It’s not so different out here in California. My guess is that a nationwide poll would find a majority of people do, in fact, see the bicycle as a toy and not a serious form of transportation. Looked at in that way, Supervisor Cook may not be so far off the mark after all. It just goes to show we have a lot of work to do in this country.


  • Ben Teoh says:

    Disappointing to say the least. Hopefully they’re open to hearing what people have to say, and act on it.

  • Alan says:


    I vote for bike boulevards *and* bike lanes…:-)


  • Ann says:

    I’ve been away from the D.C. area for a while now. I’m glad to see there are more cyclists hitting the roads there. I gave up riding the roads while in I lived in the area because of aggressive driving, a common problem in most urban areas due to over congestion and poor urban planning. I intentionally retired to a rural area with little congestion and I’m riding the roads again. I am becoming concerned about some urban planners’ calls for extremely dense urban development. I’m afraid it will see an increase in the worst human behaviors–aggression, frustration and recklessness–that make all activities dangerous, but especially those involving roadways. I hope cycling organizations, especially those in urban areas, look to the totality of their communities” situations (present and future planning and zoning projects).

    Ultimately, I think a poor economy coupled with the growing need for additional road revenues may play the greatest role in reducing the number of cars owned by US households, which in turn may make roadways a little safer for everyone who uses them. A current demonstration project mandated by the US Congress that is being conducted by the University of Iowa may well result in a permanent revenue collection program that will automatically levy taxes on car owners based on actual road usage uploaded by data centers from onboard computers/GPS units in cars. The demonstration project is proving the technology works (some EU countries already have such road tax systems in place using such technology). The remaining issues that the politicians will have to agree to (in a non-election year) will be the level of fees that will be imposed per mile and how frequently a tax bill will be issued (quarterly, perhaps).

  • Bill Lambert says:

    I can understand the time demands and the fiscal responsibilities of our elected officials, however we need to look to the future. While the supervisor doesn’t believe people will ride to work in rain or hot weather, he doesn’t understand there are thousands of people here in the U.S. doing that already. A bicycle infrastructure is relatively inexpensive to construct and maintain compared with automobiles. Improving bicycling opportunities will continue to attract new people to commuting. And while we are not talking about changing American culture, we are talking about changing the lives of those who experiment with bicycle commuting. Not only will those people be more likely to ride more and more, they will be much healthier.

  • Luke says:

    What’s the problem with recreation as a form of transportation? I love being on a toy everyday that I bike to work. Maybe people would drive less and be more pleasant if they could see their cars as more fun–not just a way to get crap done fast.

  • Doug R. says:

    As a fellow Sacramentan, all of the above statements regarding agressive drivers is true for us to a “T”. I live in the Sacramento County area and when I commute, part of my ride includes Folsom blvd, Arden way, and Coloma road. The morning drivers are, well, stupidly aggressive!
    Our current bike lanes are not wide enough or kept up! I get flats due to broken car glass and other sharp objects due to cars “flinging” crap into our bike lanes. I feel like the bike lane is a gutter. When gasoline hits 8-9 dollars a gallon and stays there, then we will see much needed improvements. (but only then I fear). I am thinking of buying stock in the Mister Tuffies/ stop flat companies! Dougman

  • Bill says:

    One could argue that the majority of bikes sold in the US are toys, not transportation devices. Look at most bike shops and you’ll see carbon fiber road racers and full suspended ATB’s and cruisers built for style, and only a few more practical machines at the bottom end.

    I don’t have a problem with strictly recreational bikes, I own a couple in that category myself. But I also own a couple that are well suited to real-world transportation, and I’m seeing many more good real-world bikes becoming available.

    The shift to seeing bicycles as vehicles of choice (as opposed to vehicles of last resort for those who can’t afford cars or are too young to drive) will take time, maybe a generation or even two. It will be accompanied by a rise in plug-in electric vehicles (including motor assisted bicycles) and other alternatives to cars (e.g. rail, both light and heavy). The folks who tend to read this blog are probably in the vanguard of that change.

    The best thing we can do is lead by example and keep riding!

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    A few thoughts about this:

    . Cook’s view is not surprising giving the legacy of the past several decades in the US, where bicycles were indeed meant to be mainly recreational. However, this is changing and so is public perception.

    . I do not think it is fair or appropriate to chastise people for driving instead of cycling, including saying things such as “they have no excuse not to cycle if they live only X distance away”. The reason I choose cycling is because I enjoy it and have experienced it to be efficient for my lifestyle – not because some activist guilted me into it. I think we need to tread carefully when it comes to walking the line between showing how one can lead their life and dictating how one should lead their life.

    . Similarly, I don’t understand the need to judge or criticise people for enjoying status symbols, and to suggest that car drivers are status symbol seekers. One has nothing to do with the other, and the preference for status symbols can be easily channeled into bicycles – as is already happening in NYC. There are plenty of posh bicycle brands out there to get obsessed about for all the Prada, Cartier and BMW lovers out there.

  • Doug P says:

    @Lovely, my point was that cars fulfill needs other than transport, just as bikes do. I believe, through much observation of people I know intimately and others, that car buying decisions are often “driven” by ego, status, ect. And these decisions affect us collectively, in the air that we all breathe, our balance of payments internationally, thus the buying power of our currency, not to mention the trillions of dollars we as a nation have wasted on “keeping out petroleum secure”. I have seen how other countries transport their citizens, and my observation is that we Americans are much less practical when car purchases are considered.

  • Alan O. says:

    After a round trip to a meeting (17 miles) and the post office (5 miles), I settled down to read this post. I had to chuckle because I did both trips by bike. The fact is that Mr. Cook’s position is a head-in-the-sand, lame excuse to forego smart bicycle transportation planning.

  • Jamie says:

    I think that John’s statement should be rephrased as such:

    “To me my bicycle is not a transportation device. It’s a recreation device. The big problem is I don’t want to ride my bike in the rain or get sweaty before work.”

    So many people assert their own opinion or situation as a representation of the masses to provide impact, when in fact it is their opinion and they stand alone.

  • Jeff Lock says:

    If our city and transport planners were serious about increasing cycling participation in the transportation mix they would move towards introducing a “Strict liability” law.
    In most of Europe they have these laws. In a nutshell “strict liability” is that if a car hits a cyclist or pedestrian, no matter what the cyclist or pedestrian was doing the car driver is at fault.
    The car being the bigger and more dangerous object needs to be aware of and act safely around bicyclists and pedestrians at all times.
    This leads to the motorists in Europe having a lot more respect and care for cyclists.
    Here is a link that can explain it better than I can.

  • Phil says:

    I ride my bike every single day. It’s my main means of transport all year long. Once in awhile I may hop on the bus with it or put it in my car if I’m going somewhere far, but otherwise my bike is all I need. I’m lucky that it’s easy to store my bike on the train or in my car trunk because I have a Montage folding bike. Even with its folding option though, I could take the train or bus even more than I do, but I’d so much prefer to ride no matter the weather.

  • Doug says:

    Perhaps the Washington Area Bicycling Association (WABA) or the League of American Bicyclists (LAB), both with staffers that live within 10 kilometers of Supervisor Cook should offer to take the fair bureaucrat on a tour of local paved non motorized multi use trails and on-street marked routes designated for bicycle traffic. The Washington, DC area should be at least as vibrant as Portland and Seattle for bicycling transportation, considering population density, and lobbyists per square inch. WABA is a very effective and well managed advocate for cycling. I hope their is a way of enlightening Supervisor Cook and perhaps improving his IQ on the matter, maybe even becoming an advocate. Hate mail and name calling would likely harden is narrow perspective. Some people are not well informed, and this is unfortunate when they become government bureaucrats and influence the allocation of taxpayer funds. I will send a link to this discussion to WABA and LAB for their opinion. Nice work EcoVelo for bringing together excellent information and to all the commenters here for valuable opinions.

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