Martha Roskowski is Vice President of Local Innovation for the national non-profit PeopleForBikes. She runs the Green Lane Project to get better bike lanes on the ground in U.S. cities. Previously, she led the City of Boulder’s innovative transportation planning, policy and program efforts. She ran the America Bikes campaign on the federal transportation bill which created the Safe Routes to School Program and launched the Complete Streets movement. She also spent seven years as the Executive Director of statewide advocacy group, Bicycle Colorado.
More People Getting Around on Bikes
When you look at who rides bikes, the majority of biking in this country is still for recreation, whether it’s just out with your family on some easy trail, some paved path or it’s a road rider out for exercise. But where we’re seeing the big growth is around what we call “everyday riding:” this idea of a bike as a way to just get around town. We see some people commuting long distance, but what we’re really seeing a lot of is increase in use of bikes for short trips. Whether it’s to go to work or to the grocery store, or to the farmer’s market, there’s just a lot more interest in that.
A Major Shift in Transportation
You never really know if you’re at a tipping point until afterwards. It’s a hindsight thing. But when you look at a lot of these shifts that we’re seeing of young people waiting longer to get their driver’s licenses, and being more interested in living in a quote “Urban Environment.” They’re less interested in driving long distances to work at a suburban campus. They’re more interested in living closer to where they work. I think part of it is attitudinal, that just this romance of the car I think is dimming…I think the other reality is economic: that a lot of our young kids just don’t have as much money anymore.
Bike Infrastructure Is an Easy Investment
All transportation infrastructure is expensive, right? People on the outside are just aghast when the millions of dollars enter the conversation. But when you look at most of the projects that are underway to create space for bikes, they are really cheap compared to other transportation-related investments—whether it’s adding a lane to a highway in an urban area, or putting in light rail, or even building new sidewalks…It’s repurposing space. In some cases where we have really wide travel lanes you can create different structure, bring different order to the street and it’s not really that expensive.
Who Fights Against Bikes?
…At a very local level there is a lot of support broadly for the idea of bikes. But then it comes down to, “All right, we’re going to put better bike lanes on this corridor.” Then it becomes very intense, because you’re talking about fairly traditional turf wars. In some cases it is a zero sum game that you’re going to remove some parking, you’re going to remove a travel lane, and that gets ferociously intense. We hear a lot of people say, “I’m not against bikes. I love bikes, just don’t put it on this street. Put it somewhere else.” I think it’s that we have ceded the vast majority of our public space to cars—either the movement or the storage of cars—and it’s hard to shift that. It’s hard for people to give that up when they’re accustomed to it.
Changing Perceptions of Cycling Safety
…What’s happening is there’s this realization that if you provide people with safe and comfortable places to ride by creating protected bike lanes on big, busy streets, by connecting them to completely separated pathways and side streets where the volume and speed of traffic is low, that people will ride. So they’re not crazy to not be out there on the streets today. The good news is that there’s rapid progress. In transportation terms there’s pretty rapid progress toward retrofitting streets to provide those spaces where people feel safe, and they are safe.
PeopleForBikes: Getting More People on Bikes More Often
People for Bikes is a national non-profit. We are based in Boulder, Colorado. We were originally formed by the bike industry— leaders of the major bike companies—to help get more people on bikes more often. So we work on a variety of levels. My work in particular is on helping cities build better infrastructure for bikes: better places to ride, understanding that better places to ride is a key piece of making it safe and comfortable and attractive for more people to get out on bikes.