At least anecdotally, it appears the number of suburban and rural utility bicyclists is on the rise. I suspect this group of transportational bicyclists is much larger than most people realize — even rivaling urban bicyclists in numbers — yet it has been largely ignored by the bicycling press who seem to prefer to focus on the more hip and trendy aspects of urban/transpo bike culture (i.e., cycle chic, tweed, fixies, etc.).
While I understand the issues surrounding sprawl, there are still a number of valid reasons people choose to live in the suburbs and beyond, including an aversion to the intensity of city life, work that involves suburban/rural activity, the need to be near family, etc., etc. Whatever the reasons, and regardless of the current emphasis on re-urbanization, a large number of people are going to continue to live in suburban and rural areas. And while long commutes and freeways full of cars are certainly not the answer, we have to acknowledge that a complete restructuring of our cities and their suburbs is not going to happen for a very long time, if ever. It’s in our best interests to promote utility bicycling and transit use among this group, and get on with fully integrating our transit and biking infrastructures to efficiently and sustainably move people from the suburbs to the city and back.
I believe there is tremendous potential to increase the use of bicycles for transportation among those who live outside large urban centers. Sure, the distances outside the city tend to be longer, and bicycle-specific infrastructure can be sparse, but the roads are also less congested. I live in the suburbs and I’ve made it work; if it works for me, it can certainly work for many others as well. Changing perceptions about what’s possible, as well as educating people about how to integrate with transit, are key. And because suburban trip distances are greater than what are typical for the city, the potential rewards in terms of reduced emissions are enormous.
I’d be interested to know what percentage of our readers live in either suburban or rural areas.