Reluctant to Change, Grow, and Become Safer

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by Byron on May 24, 2011 at 8:18 AM

As if all the Lance Armstrong doping news wasn’t depressing enough, a new study finds that Americans aren’t walking anymore and cycling has stagnated. This despite active online communities promoting exercise (such as this one, Livestrong, etc.), the popularity of fashion-friendly Cycle Chic, and the bike appearing everywhere in pop culture.

Research shows that walking has increased only slightly and cycling has stagnated during the past decade. Both activities have decreased among women, children and seniors…

We’ve noticed this ourselves in different posts calling for a new approach to advocacy, the need more infrastructure, and the lack of focus on safety.

What struck me was the social inequity,” said Pucher. “Most of the increase is in middle-aged men. That says we’re doing something wrong in the United States.”

He believes American resistance to active travel has more to do with safety concerns than suburban sprawl.

Getting more people on bikes isn’t about just encouraging riding in plain or fashionable clothes. It’s not about riding without helmets either, but overall safety and both urban and suburban infrastructure. David posted on that last month when he attended the New Amsterdam Bike Show. Safety concerns are what I hear about the most from non cyclists.

Having published this blog for over five years now, we want to stay upbeat, positive and be bike “huggers,” but on Bike to Work Day this crossed my path on the Alaskan Way gauntlet.

Commute Hazards

The same route now has randomly closed gates and fences that abruptly push cyclists out into traffic.

Fence Blocks Path

That traffic is coming off of a ferry or getting onto highway 99. We formed an ad-hoc peloton of way-seekers, until one of us figured out the route

Oh! You want us on a busy off/on ramp road and crossing two lanes of traffic to head North. Got it.

Besides lack of infrastructure, we’ve got baby-boomers running the bike industry and the only marginal increase in new cyclists are white, male baby boomers. Then when asked Americans say, “we’re afraid to ride in traffic!”

Editorially speaking, it’s time to stop romanticizing Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and focus on the problems we’ve got here in the States. The industry should innovate with better marketing and killer apps instead of carbon layup that sells the fitness fantasy. Matt was disillusioned by the leaders of the Bike Industry at Sea Otter when he wrote:

I feel like every challenge we heard facing the industry could have been turned around into a positive but that most of the industry seemed reluctant to change. I got increasingly frustrated by some of the responses of company presidents from major manufacturers that I swear one of these days I’ll publish a manifesto on Bike Shop 2.0, how to build a bike shop that uses the internet to its advantage, adopts used bikes, and caters to non-riders

It’s true and sadder than another witness testifying against Lance.

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Comments: 8

Anecdotally, my world is quite the opposite of the trending.  My 5yo son rides his bike regularly and my wife has started bike commuting daily as of about 4 weeks ago.  Also, where I live in Victoria, bike commuting has become quite a movement and I would have to argue that here, numbers are up significantly.  Safety concerns might be real, or an easy way to resist a profound change in one’s life which involves getting out of the comfortable/warm car and onto a bike in the morning. 

I do agree that there is much to be done to make cycling more viable to more people, and industry won’t provide all of the answers.  One of the biggest problems (and safety issues) at least from my perspective is that as cyclists numbers increase, so does the friction between motorists and cyclists, sometimes with volatile interactions between them. 

Industry indeed has a role in driving change, but they also have to stay profitable which often means feeding the beast that they currently know and understand.

@guy you’re correct and another post in this series is, “the bike backlash.” I’m no sociologist, but would think cars see us taking lanes from them, provocatively dressed, and ignoring traffic laws and it annoys them. Would annoy me too. I was in NYC two weeks ago and a cyclist riding with us got attacked.

@ Byron, bike backlash is a real and messy issue.  Most times that I’ve tried to address it on a “Micro” level, I get stonewalled.  Motorists see it just as you stated it above, and the self-righteous cyclists get indignant and find ways to validate their behavior; “It’s safer for me to filter forward and run the light than to wait” is a common refrain that I hear.

Sadly people only listen to the voice they want to hear.

Hear hear!

California in particular is becoming more brown and Asian, yet almost everybody in the California bike business are white, male boomers. This person led a 40 mile social ride in San Jose last Friday (yes, while wearing that little dress), and old white honkies like you and I are completely irrelevant to her.

That’s right Richard and we’ve discussed previously that alt-lifestyle people cycle too.

@Byron: What do you see as potential “killer apps” that could help the industry do better with the non-boomer set?

See this post for a similar discussion and thoughts on the Killer App.  That can range from apps (many exist now) that integrate commuting with game theory, to city planning, to a new safety bike. We need something that gets people interested in the bike again. When I say Killer App, that’s a term borrowed from the tech community and means a disruptive new technology like touchscreen phones or iPads. Yes that’s a stretch, but what big thinking is there? The problem, I believe, the reason the industry stagnants is that the pie never gets bigger, just sliced thinner with sales being taken from another vendor. There isn’t a technology, innovation, or social movement that makes the pie bigger.

This is a double edged sword. Yes we need to express how important safety is but not to the extent that it’s off putting for would be cyclists. From some of the Government safety campaigns, you could be forgiven for thinking that cycling is THE most dangerous activity bar none! Of course the message that should be put across is that the benefits of cycling, of which there are many, easily outweigh the dangers.
Great article by the way.

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