News Flash: Commute times for car drivers are continuing to rise and so are frustrations with traffic:
So why don’t more people get off the wagon? The number one reason more people don’t bike to work regularly is because of safety concerns. However, there is a symbiotic relationship between the number of cyclists on the streets and the perception of safety among them. In other words, when more people bike, the safer they feel. Also, when more people bike, most cities will begin to listen and help to improve bike infrastructure, such as increasing the numbers of protected bike lanes, which makes biking safer and increases the perception of safety among bikers. So the real question is which comes first: bikers on the road, or biking infrastructure?
Some cities will build it and hope that they will come. Others are persuaded to invest the effort and money in building bike infrastructure only as a reaction to bikers on the streets, and often only because of increasing accidents. Progressive versus reactionary. Sounds like a culture war. Unfortunately, we bikers are caught in the middle of it. Most of us don’t feel that our cities are doing enough, especially compared to places like Copenhagen, where fully half of all commuters use a bike regularly (here’s why, according to a very knowledgeable source).
This is great information, but it doesn’t really change the fact that most bike commuters, or potential bike commuters still don’t feel safe biking in their city.
The problem is: If we wait until our cities build out a Copenhagen-like biking infrastructure, the Earth might not still be inhabitable by then, or we may already be extinct as a species. Plus, most riders want to feel safe in their riding choices and don’t want to risk riding where they think it might be unsafe. So what can we, as bike commuters, or potential bike commuters, do now? Here’s my solution: Create Your Own Copenhagen!
Even if your city doesn’t score too well on the People for Bike’s site, chances are there are some bike lanes, or trails somewhere close to your work. Maybe your city as a whole leaves a lot to be desired from the bikability perspective, but there probably is some infrastructure somewhere. Here’s how you can take advantage of it:
Step 1: Identify Biking Infrastructure Near Your Work. Google Maps can help here. Here’s how it works: First find the menu icon. It consists of three parallel bars and looks like this:
Then, select Bicycling. Bike lanes and trails will show up as dark green lines on the map. Remember too that many low traffic roads may not show up as having bike lanes, but may still be very conducive to biking because of small traffic volumes.
Besides Google Maps, another resource that focuses on more detailed bike navigation and maps and includes safety ratings of streets for bikes is LaneSpotter. They have a mobile app that makes it easy to find your bike-friendliest route from A to B.
Step 2: Find Housing that is Accessible to Biking Infrastructure. Check out Bike Score/Walk Score. There, you can look for neighborhoods that are conducive to walking, public transport, and biking.
Maybe where you already live is good enough, or maybe it would be worth it to move. It has been for me several times. Also look for bikability to shopping and other activities. Why live far away from everything you need? Better to scale back and move closer. Think small.
Step 3: Be Creative in Finding Your Commute Route. Your route doesn’t have to be totally direct. Biking is fun. Why cut it short? Safety is better than speed. Plus, your route doesn’t have to be the same each way. In the mornings, when traffic volumes are low, I go a different way than when I come home and volumes are higher. Also, light affects safety. Consider changing work times in the winter. It may be better to come in earlier and get on your way home while it is still light out. Scout out the possibilities for making your route as safe as you can. You may find that it’s easier and safer cutting through some parking lots, or walking trails for short distances to get around traffic bottlenecks and safety concerns. Google Maps won’t tell you everything. This is where LaneSpotter can help, since they have more detailed information about your city’s bike infrastructure and safety issues. But, it’s also good to get on the ground and scout it out.
Another thing to consider is public transportation. Most bus and train systems allow you to bring your bike, so why not try a hybrid route with some public transportation and some riding? Knowing how to get to home by alternative methods might come in handy if it is raining hard when you are ready to ride home from work.
By taking these three steps, you can find a route to work that you feel good about and feel safe with. Remember to bike safely by observing the rules. If you can get from home to work and from home to shopping and going out and feel safe about it, who cares if the rest of the city is relatively bike unfriendly? If you don’t want to ruin your life by sitting in traffic and getting frustrated for hours a day, then do some research, find a location that has a good bike route to work and shopping and move there. Even if you don’t live in Copenhagen, at least you can carve out your own little piece of bike paradise. Biking to work will change your life. Don’t underestimate the rewards. It may be worth a move.