Bike commuting rises, but who is steering the effort?

Articles
December 10, 2008

Bike commuting rises, but who is steering the effort?

Perhaps the bicycle-riding movement would be greater if fuel prices stayed above $4 a gallon. If that were the case, our streets built for cars might soon resemble pockets of Europe and Asia where the nerve of bicyclists is a match against the horsepower of automotive engines. In the United States, an aggressive bicycle movement might well be unsafe because our culture adores the likes of full-throated Mustangs, luxury Beemers and sizable Hummers. Cars are our transportation, even when energy prices run amok. How confident would you feel commuting to work by bicycle—given our narrow or non-existent bicycle lanes, countless potholes, poor lighting, and legal systems that fail to clamp down on inattentive, drunk and suspended-license drivers? Nonetheless, some municipalities and companies are incentivizing employees to travel to the office or traverse their campuses on two wheels. SupermarketGuru.com loves this in concept, but believes some of these programs are premature, that there are many safety issues to consider first before placing riders (many of them new) in vulnerable positions on the road.

Perhaps the bicycle-riding movement would be greater if fuel prices stayed above $4 a gallon. If that were the case, our streets built for cars might soon resemble pockets of Europe and Asia where the nerve of bicyclists is a match against the horsepower of automotive engines.

In the United States, an aggressive bicycle movement might well be unsafe because our culture adores the likes of full-throated Mustangs, luxury Beemers and sizable Hummers. Cars are our transportation, even when energy prices run amok. How confident would you feel commuting to work by bicycle—given our narrow or non-existent bicycle lanes, countless potholes, poor lighting, and legal systems that fail to clamp down on inattentive, drunk and suspended-license drivers?

Nonetheless, some municipalities and companies are incentivizing employees to travel to the office or traverse their campuses on two wheels. SupermarketGuru.com loves this in concept, but believes some of these programs are premature, that there are many safety issues to consider first before placing riders (many of them new) in vulnerable positions on the road.

The Clif Bar Food Company in Berkeley, California gives workers a one-time benefit of $500 to buy or repair a bike if they pledge to use it at least twice a month—and nearly half of Clif’s 227 staffers have made that pledge, according to a USA Today account. About half of 8,000 employees at Lockheed Martin in Sunnyvale, California, use 250 company-owned bikes to travel across its property, a spokesman told the paper.

Moreover, bike commuters in Minneapolis rose by 49% between 2006 and 2007, the U.S. Census Bureau reported. And that number rose in New York City by 35% between 2007 and 2008, said the city’s Department of Transportation.

What will push more of this activity is the recently passed Bike Commuters Act, which will give companies a tax credit of $20 per cycling employee starting next month.

All good in concept. However, many questions come to our minds at SupermarketGuru.com: Will cities push to widen and mark bike lanes to give riders their own space, and incorporate these lanes into new road plans? Will lighting be improved?  Will education of car drivers and bike riders be mandatory about how to peacefully co-exist? What’s a reasonable distance to commute…one, two, ten miles or more, depending on locality? What’s the impact on the entire work force when people ride in? Will some offices need showers, changing rooms and bicycle storage spaces? That’s a lot of extra square footage for employers. How about the diminishment of office cleanliness if people bring their bikes to their desks? How would that affect the indoor environment for everyone?  How productive will biking be in rain or snow? And more.

We’re not nitpicking or naysaying. We think bike riding is terrific. But riders need to be safe and co-workers not encroached upon if these biking plans are to work. The exercise could certainly go a long way toward improving fitness and invigorating riders, under the right circumstances. That’s what we’re advocating: an integrated approach between cities, companies and employees that brings the right thinking and energy to an admirable rise in bicycle commuting.