Changing Perceptions


As I was riding home the other night, with cars streaming by and not another bicyclist in sight, it suddenly dawned on me that we have a long way to go before we bike commuters “own” a significant portion of the urban/suburban landscape. Sure, there are bright spots such as Portland, Davis, Boulder, Minneapolis, and a handful of other unusually bike-friendly cities, but in most places, the reality on the ground is still fairly bleak. However you choose to spin it, it’s difficult to get past the fact that bicycles still only account for around 1% of the trips made in the U.S.¹.

There are many people working to improve that number, but everyone agrees it’s going to be a long time before our bicycle share approaches what we see in the bike-centric European countries. To put things in perspective, according to the same source cited above, the Netherlands has a bicycle mode share of approximately 30%. Education, political action, improvements in infrastructure, and rising gas prices may help to increase bicycle use in the U.S., but ultimately it’s going to take a profound change in the way we Americans think about personal transportation to break the spell of the automobile.

So what can we do as individuals to help move along this process? Supporting organizations such as The Alliance for Biking and Walking, the League of American Bicyclists, Bikes Belong, and the myriad other regional and local advocacy groups is a great start. These organizations work in the political and public realms to further the interests of all bicyclists. But on a personal level, perhaps even more effective is the act of simply riding our bikes everyday to set an example for those who have never considered using a bicycle for transportation. By using bicycles for transportation in our local communities, we demonstrate that bicycling is a simple and effective way to get around and get things done. The sight of average people doing practical things on bikes is a powerful image that helps to dispel the myth that bicycling is only for children, athletes, or the less fortunate in society. Changing that misperception is arguably one of the most effective things we can do to get more people riding.

1. Source: John Pucher, Transportation Quarterly, 98-1

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