Where’s the Beef?

The Long and Lonely Road – Bike to Work Day 2010

Today was Bike to Work Day in my area. I had high hopes of seeing large numbers of new bike commuters on the road, but it didn’t pan out. In fact, if I hadn’t known it was Bike to Work Day, I wouldn’t have noticed anything at all different about today’s commute.

Our local TV news had a reporter out this morning asking people if they would consider riding their bikes to work. In every case, the answer was no. The reasons included a long commute, the need to drop off kids, the danger of sharing the road with cars, and the desire to remain sweat-free. I suppose this shows that we still have much work to do, and that in many areas the barriers preventing the average person from bike commuting are still firmly in place.

2008’s $4 per gallon gas did significantly more to increase bicycle ridership than just about anything in recent memory. People were hit where it hurts (the pocketbook), and they responded by leaving their cars at home. I remember train cars packed to overflowing with bikes that summer. Today, with gas down under $3 per gallon, I had no trouble finding a place in the bike racks, even on Bike to Work Day.

While events like Bike to Work Day do much to raise awareness, only with widespread improvements to infrastructure, combined with financial incentives and education, are we likely to see substantial growth in bike commuting. In cities like Portland and New York where investments are being made, the results have been dramatic. In other areas…. maybe not so much.

Did you notice a significant increase in bike traffic on Bike to Work Day?

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32 Responses to “Where’s the Beef?”

  • sbcommute says:

    I did see a few more folks on my commute today. I have always been a glass half full kinda guy so I voted that it’s significant.

  • Yangmusa says:

    Here in San Francisco, bicycles made up 75% of traffic on Market Street (the main street from the west side of town to downtown).
    http://www.sfbike.org/main/bicycles-account-for-75-of-morning-traffic-another-record-breaking-year/

    During rush hour there is normally a constant stream of bikes – but still Bike to Work day last Thursday was noticeably more than usual. The more the merrier! Though, that said – the newly installed separated bike lanes are already under-dimensioned for the peak hour bicycle volumes, and cyclists crowd into the road too. This is obviously a nice problem to have :-)

  • James says:

    In Chicago I see a pretty solid number of bike commuters on my daily ride down the path to downtown, but I didn’t really see a huge increase due to bike to work day.

  • Crosius says:

    100% increase on my route! Unfortunately, that only means I saw one other bike.

  • jerry'sdaughter says:

    I think I noticed more bikes on my commute in. But was disappointed that the convoy I expected to join didn’t materialize. Maybe everyone else knew the start time was really earlier than posted? There was just me and a 1 other cyclist. Still had a nice ride in though.

    Agree that raising awareness alone won’t do the job. Happy to say there’s a plan to increase bike lanes in DC. The rest of the metro area needs to get on board with the cycling infrastructure!

  • Elliott @ Violet Crown Cycles says:

    Alan,
    Based on that picture, I wouldn’t expect to see many people commuting by bike. It appears to be in the country. If we are talking about people continuing to live a suburban life where work is 10-30 miles away and stores and restaurants are 5 miles away and usually at bike hostile intersections, then this will continue to be the picture. It is not realistic to think anyone other than the dedicated enthusiasts would bike in this situation. Just throwing a “Bike-to-Work Day” once a year and making no fundamental change to our communities will yield the same results.

    Sometimes, I think having Bike to Work Day hurts us more than helps us. It compartmentalizes bike commuting to one day or week that comes and goes each year instead of being a continual process all year long.

  • Everett says:

    We had three great rides organized today in Detroit (from North, East, West), but also crummy weather. I heard that the weather on the way in was nice, but it is forecast to rain for the rest of the day, keeping more cyclists (myself included) from riding.

  • Scott says:

    I’m working at home today, but I did take my son to his preschool on a trail-a-bike. That was fun and he had a blast! But I only saw a few other bikers today here in New Haven, CT. Most of those were Yale students.

  • rdhd says:

    Not much of a change here in DC by my eyes. But I get in to work at 7:30 and the organized events (free breakfast in Freedom Plaza, etc.) don’t start until like 8am. So maybe there were more people out, just later than me.

    Lovely day for a ride, either way.

  • Brendan says:

    Ours is in early June here in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Since our last day of recorded snowfall is something ridiculous like May 30, it makes it less likely we’d have foul weather (though it was 50s and raining today). No uptick in traffic today, but the folks certainly came out for the events on the locally celebrated day. Mmmmm, waffles…..

  • Alan says:

    @Elliott

    Actually, that’s not the country, it’s a greenbelt that runs right through the center of a city with over 100,000 residents.

    There’s lots of talk about re-urbanization, and it’s a wonderful concept, but it has its limitations. In many areas in California, it would be physically impossible to relocate the large number of suburbanites into urban areas; there’s just not enough space. In my opinion we need to get on with improving infrastructure and mass transit so that the bike/ped and train/bus systems are fully interconnected so we can get to moving people from the suburbs to the city and back efficiently and sustainably. This seems more realistic than trying to completely restructure every city and suburb in the country.

    Alan

  • Michael says:

    Over the last several years there has been a clear increase in the number of people cycling in NYC. Today, my ride into Manhattan from Brooklyn seemed to be shared with many more cyclists even than usual–though that could also be because it is a beautiful day. In Manhattan, too, I saw a larger number of cyclists than usual–though this had its downsides. I saw several small clumps of riders going through red lights without even slowing, one collision with a pedestrian (who had the right of way), another near miss with a pedestrian and some general rudeness towards pedestrians at various intersections.

    It is nice to see more people on bikes; would have been nicer if they’d all been well behaved.

  • Sharper says:

    I noticed maybe a 10% increase, but part of that might be because I recently started taking a longer route and haven’t yet gotten used to the new faces.

    That said, I think I might have passed you on the American River trail yesterday morning, Alan, around 7:10 at the 4 mile marker. If so, many kudos for pedaling the whole way!

  • Tony Dyson says:

    I commute in the NE corner of the Denver Metro. Saw one other adult cyclist on my route. Sad.

  • Tony Dyson says:

    $4 a gallon was just a market-test. After demand for oil has exceeded supply for a few years, we’ll look back fondly on “only” $4 a gallon. That will be the time to be a bike-rack manufacturer.

  • bongobike says:

    This morning in Austin I actually saw a definite DROP in bike commuters. It was pretty disappointing after seeing the success of bike-to-work day last year, when the free breakfast stations were brimming with riders and I crossed paths with commuters all over. There was hardly anyone out there today. :(

  • Alan says:

    @Sharper

    Sorry Ryan, you must have mistaken me for some other middle-aged goof on a basket bike… :-). I took my usual commute across town to the train and took the train downtown. I don’t usually bring the bike with me downtown, but a friend and I had plans to attend the BikeFest so I brought the bike into work with me. It was kind of nice having the bike with me for a change.

    Alan

  • Steven says:

    Not only was there no increase in bike traffic, but it was raining this morning so I didn’t see any of the typical recreational cyclists either (I leave for work @ 5:15am). It was a normal day for commuting in the worst city for cycling in the US, Memphis, as I was pulled over by a cop who wanted me to get on the sidewalk. 8th time this year I’ve been pulled over…sigh…

  • Ints says:

    This morning in Seattle there was an encouraging increase in riders. Of note were many new riders pairing up with more regular commuters. On my 9.5 mile ride, I passed four sponsored comfort stations, which are all over town today. There is a morning rally at City Hall (Mayor McGinn is a commuter cyclist) and an after work street party out in Ballard. A big day for cycling here.

  • Alan says:

    @Ints

    That’s really encouraging – glad to hear it! Have a wonderful day….

    Alan

  • Andy in Reno says:

    Reno bike traffic was also way down from last year. I remember fighting through bike traffic on my usual trail last year =). Unfortunately, this year I only had to share with handful of people =(. Come on big oil…..lets get those prices back up and remind people to ride those bikes!

  • Dustin S. says:

    Hi Alan,
    I must say I was a bit disappointed myself yesterday. My company had organized rides going to the office from every part of the Sacramento region, but at most I saw two more people in the locker room than usual. I did notice an increase in riders on my route, but they looked to be of the recreational variety out enjoying the beautiful weather we had. I think it is going to take a year-round effort to really get more people riding to work, as oppossed to dedicating one month a year for that purpose.

  • Stephen D. says:

    I expected to see a few more commuters than normal, which is typically zero. I noticed no new riders on my route.

    What was nice was a well-stocked Bike to Work refreshment station hosted by a neighboring business, Nokia. I’m enjoying my Clif Mojo and coffee as I write this.

    Although I was the only one at the station at the time, about half the snacks were gone, so maybe Nokia and other businesses in the area had an early turnout.

  • Logan says:

    No such increase here but perhaps it was due to the rain here in Portland this morning. Its the usual excuse for folks. ;)

  • davidg says:

    I live in a smaller town so not many on bikes anyway. Bicycles are looked upon mostly as a child’s toy. The “fuel crisis” a few years ago set off a litany of lip service, grumbling but no real change in peoples habits. Even those of modest economic means spend more than they can afford to own and drive a car. There are a few other people I see consistently, maybe four. Long story short, no didn’t see anybody new. I would like to though.

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    To be honest, I find the Bike to Work Week/Day/Month initiatives counterproductive. In my view, they contribute to the perception of cycling as something unusual, something that is never done under normal circumstances. There are better ways to promote cycling if that’s the intent.

  • Rob says:

    This is bike-or-walk-to-school week at my 10 year old’s school. We only live two blocks away, so she normally walks, but his week, she’s wanted to ride. It’s been a madhouse of bikes at the school each morning she’s pulled in this week. They don’t have enough parking space at the racks, so little bikes are locked to anything — fences, signs, whatever they can find.

    I’m pleased even if it’s just temporary.

  • Dan says:

    I’m not sure how I feel about bike-to-work day/week/month. I know that “every day is bike-to-work day,” but I believe there’s some value in these highly visible events. At least BTWD is a big and visual event with a positive impact, as opposed to Critical Mass.

    Here in Chicago, the “official” bike-to-work day isn’t until June – http://www.activetrans.org/biketoworkweek

    Despite lousy weather, I saw a few extra cyclists on my route this morning. I imagine we’ll see a lot more during the Chicago-only BTWD.

  • Kate says:

    Nope, I was all by myself…just like usual.

  • RDW says:

    No visible increase here in my part of West Michigan but the weather was not conducive at all. Maybe for the best, I’m afraid any first timers giving it a shot here today might have been permanently turned off to the idea after riding to work in a drenching rain and then home in a severe thunderstorm. On the plus side I have been seeing more bikes on the roads in the past few weeks.

  • Dweendaddy says:

    In New Haven we had our monthly bike to work breakfast, sponsored by a local coffee shop that supplied coffee and breakfast. 80 people showed, which is more than average, but it was a beautiful morning. I think these things don’t bring in a ton of new riders, but in cities with small ridership, it gets a few people together to talk bike politics, often a first step to getting involved in bike advocacy. As has been mentioned in comments before, CM can serve this purpose, too.

  • David P. says:

    I rode my bike to work yesterday for the first time (42 miles round trip) and will likely do so once a week throughout the summer. Did see a couple of other riders on my trip home that looked to be bike commuters.

 
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