Are We Overselling National Bike to Work Week?

And so it begins… National Bike to Work Week 2012 is officially underway.

If you are a newcomer to Commute by Bike, then welcome. Did you find all the information you needed? For God’s sake, I hope so. That’s what we’re about.

Last week I received a message from the California Bicycle Coalition which began with the question,

Want to try bicycling to work but not sure where to start?

And my jaded mind asked, Seriously? Do some people really not know where to start?

Let me Google that for you:

Google Autofill
Google Autofill reveals what people really think.

I don’t think the information is that hard to find. In fact, I think there are four types of people who will participate in Bike to Work Week who aren’t already regular bike commuters:

  1. People who feel guilty about how much they hate bike commuting, but they can tough it out for one week each year.
  2. People who need a collectivist motivation to bike commute so they can talk about it with their friends. I participated. Did you?
  3. People who want free food and prizes offered by their local cycling advocacy organization — the same people who would participate in Burn Your Trash Day if they might win a slice of pizza.
  4. People who don’t quite believe the hype about bike commuting, so this is when they’ll give it a shot.

Will Bike to Work Week stick with any of these categories of participants? I’m skeptical. In fact, I think we may do a disservice when we oversell the joy of cycling. Seriously, some people talk and write about cycling as though a bike were some kind of human-powered orgasmatron. (Yes, that is a safe link. You may click it at work.)

Woody Allen with the Orgasmic Orb
And just like cycling, it’s the helmet that keeps many people from trying it.

Many of the people who aren’t bike commuting are abstinent because they think it sucks. Far from being an orgasmatron, they find it scary and inconvenient, and they live in communities where local planners have never heard of a bike.

And this is the reason to participate: because it’s scary and inconvenient, and because your local planners have never heard of a bike.

Bike to Work Week is when many municipalities and advocacy organizations pay attention to the pent up demand for cycling infrastructure, programs, and other programs. How many people would use cycling infrastructure if we had it? A Bike Count is a tool that Departments of Transportation can use — if they use it — the one week each year when they deign to acknowledge there might be some interest in cycling.

According to the National Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Project:

One of the greatest challenges facing the bicycle and pedestrian field is the lack of documentation on usage and demand. Without accurate and consistent demand and usage figures, it is difficult to measure the positive benefits of investments in these modes, especially when compared to the other transportation modes such as the private automobile.

Having these accurate statistics gives advocates the credibility to say, If you built it, people will use it. This is a fact of cycling that has been proven in many cities. (Sorry, John Forester.) But in many municipalities, the planners are skeptics and they still need these numbers. If you contribute to these counts maybe in the future biking to work won’t be scary and inconvenient — won’t suck.

So if you are one of the people who only bikes to work one week per year, I salute you. I know it might not be all it’s cut out to be by your raving co-worker. But maybe one day, when you are driving in your car, you’ll be able to point to a newly painted bike lane or sharrow and say, I helped put that there. Hell, you may even think to yourself, I’ll use that even if it’s not Bike to Work Week.

Your local bike to work week might not coincide with National Bike to Work Week, so check with you local advocacy organization to make sure you commute by bike when it counts the most.

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12 thoughts on “Are We Overselling National Bike to Work Week?”

  1. daisy says:

    Last summer, when I first started bike commuting, I found it difficult to find good advice. Sure, there’s a lot of stuff you can find by googling, but I had specific questions that I couldn’t find answered, especially about dealing with sweat, hair, changing at work, clothes, etc. I wanted more information from other women who rode their bikes to work.

    When we’re in the middle of this, the information seems so obvious. But for folks new to it, it can be hard to find.

  2. In my experience (and I’m not just saying this because I’m married to an urban planner), it’s not planners that have to be convinced by traffic engineers who have to be convinced. Planning for people vs getting there fast.

  3. Frank Peters says:

    First, I need a job to commute to…

  4. Ben says:

    I clicked on one of those links (not sure which), and the homepage came up. 🙂

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      Google caught on quickly that some of those low-competition phrases were now on a Website with decent Pagerank. (Not to get all SEO-speak on you.)

  5. BluesCat says:

    Yup, it’s scary AND dangerous, but — if you think about it — so is simply walking out of your front door in the morning.

    And, Karen is sorta right, traffic engineers DO have to be convinced, but what they have to be convinced about is that it’s okay — even desirable — to include more of a “Complete Streets” design in their projects; THAT requires the POLITICIANS who hire those engineers, and write the checks for the design and construction of the projects, to be on-board with it. One sure way for an engineer to lose a public client is to include design features in a transportation project which isn’t what that public client is willing to spend money on.

  6. Chuck says:

    …and so (BluesCat) the people who elect those politicians must be convinced. Those same folks sitting in their cars stuck in traffic who might benefit from getting on their bicycles.

  7. BluesCat says:

    Chuck – LOL! Sounds like the proverbial “vicious cycle,” don’t it? (Not to be confused with Vicious Cycles bicycles!)

  8. Tim Sherman says:

    Bike to work day is my 51st birthday. I am going to get a free breakfast a Denny’s with my wife at 5:30 am. We are spliting up to ride through two check points to get counted twice on our way to work. F5 Bike to Work Day in Seattle is a way to be counted when my vote is not worth a hill of beans. It is my only shot at being. I commute all year. My wife carpools in the cold months. Our car sits in the driveway. Get your bicycle out and ride it. With all of the promises coming in an election year we just need to be counted for what we are. It’s our only shot.

  9. Tim Sherman says:

    We will be wearing our Commute by Bike shirts on Bike to Work Day and pass up the give away stuff to be to work on time. The check points are out of our way and we are just on our way to work. I never see so many bikes in January but I’m glad that they show up in May.

  10. kenneth armstrong says:

    It all depends on: 1. How far away from home your workplace is, if you live 10 miles or more away from where you work, it becomes a time issue. 2. Bike parking for a mass change? Not so much. 3. The weather and work clothes and the convinence (or desire) to change clothes.
    4. Owning a proper bike to ride to work.

    Even if you’re able to overcome all of these things, you still have to want to!

  11. David Craven says:

    10 miles is not necessarily a breaking point when it comes to time. Here in Chicago I commute 11.5 miles each way (or more if I feel like taking a less direct, safer and more scenic route). Time from door to door is a bit less than an hour. By CTA, door to door, time is a little more than an hour. By car, door-to-door, time is between 45 minutes and 1.5 hours (with it often falling in the upper end). In other words, by Bike is often as fast, if not faster.

    The real problem is the bad pavement in certain stretches and the two or three “choke points” where the traffic is troublesome. (The river, Milwaukee Avenue, Harlem Avenue, the Expressways).

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