While I like to tout how often I bike commute to work or ride for recreational purposes, I am fortunate enough to be able to afford a car and also to have those opportunities. My bicycle is my commuting mode of choice during fair weather, but if it is necessary due to scheduling or weather conditions, I will drive my car instead.
Automobile/highway advocates often think that bicycling by adults is only a fitness kick of middle-age or the middle class. They couldn’t be further from the truth. Sadly, for far too many Americans, bicycling is the only viable option for getting to work, shopping, and for running other errands. Why, you may ask? Several reasons:
- Not everyone in our country can afford buying, leasing, maintaining, or renting a car (or multiple cars for that matter). For the working poor, the homeless, or the unemployed, a bicycle or walking may be their only viable transportation lifeline.
- For some, even inexpensive public transit may not a viable alternative, as it is not always available, convenient, accessible, or logical. For example, who wants to ride multiple buses along a circuitous hour-long route when a 20 minute bike ride can get you to the same place.
- In addition, reverse commuters (city core to suburbs or other parts of the central city) do not always have the same number of options that traditional commuting routes do. Think this silly – there were more commuters traveling out of the central city to suburbs or other parts of the central city in 2000 than traditional commutes from the suburbs to downtown (35 percent compared to 19 percent). Suburb to suburb commuting has been the most dominant form of workplace commuting since 1980 and even less transit options are available for this travel pattern (46 percent in 2000).
- In many urban areas, if you happen to work the second or third shift, good luck finding public transit available after 10:00 pm or prior to 6:00 am.
Here in Mid-Michigan we have been fortunate enough to have a bicycle donation charity in operation since 1994 called Share-a-Bike . It repairs donated bicycles and provides them to the less fortunate for free. Share-a-Bike operates on individual donations and through support from organizations like MSU Bikes, the Tri-County Bicycling Association, and the League of Michigan Bicyclists. Aside from being a vital transportation lifeline, these donated bikes can also help reduce childhood and adult obesity and diabetes rates by providing the recipients with an active transportation and recreation options.
These are just a few demographic and socioeconomic factors why active transportation options, complete streets, multi-modal transportation planning, and above all funding for alternative transportation are so important to maintaining a healthy and vibrant community. The almighty car cannot and should not be the only option! Placing all our eggs in one transportation basket (highways) is a recipe for disaster that I am truly tired of watching this nation repeat over and over again like lemmings.
One of the most mentioned needs when I was doing the trail survey last week was the need for portable potties along the river trail where businesses are not there, the suggestion was to have access to toilets at a range of at least one every 3-4 miles. This is another reason why we need to have more businesses along the river, cause the city may not be able to afford the maintenance of those, yet if we are serious about using our trail system for transportation, before we expand even more, this is a need that can’t be overlooked. Diabetics who choose to exercise along the trails or bike may especially benefit, but so do others.
Thank you, Janine. I agree that portable potties would be useful to all along the trails.
What about composting toilets along the trail? Portables are unsightly, costly, chemical intensive, and water wasteful. If your trail area is designated park land, it may be easier to go that route. Composting toilets are what many national and state parks, and other public land management systems use. Vault toilets rarely smell (due to the design) and take far less maintenance than portables.
One other reason the bicycle is the only viable transit option is for those who purposely choose not to have a car. My husband and I live in the suburbs without a car, by choice. We just couldn’t justify the cost of a car. Bicycling and walking are our main ways of getting around, though we use mass transit when we want to go into the urban area, which I did for years until I was laid off from my job. Even more reason that we are glad we did not sink money into a personal vehicle. We have adjusted our lifestyle to the quirks of not having instant transportation for long distances, but we’re OK with that. And, no, we do not have children. But, I do know a family of 7 who choose to be car-free with 5 children in the suburbs. I know a family with 2 children, one with Autism, who choose to be car-free in the suburbs. I know a couple, one of which is paraplegic, who choose to be car-free in the suburbs. Etc, etc.
I know it’s a forced option for hundreds of thousands in this country, and not an option for many. I also know that far too many people overlook the possibility of not have a car and using the power of their own body, potentially combined with mass transit, for transportation. They really think they can’t do it because they are addicted to the instant gratification of a personal car.
None of this is said to overlook the transit challenges all over the country, and the challenges for those who do not have the financial option to use mass transit or a car. It’s time to turn the issue on it’s head and start looking at the personal vehicle as the last option for transportation and build the infrastructure to make bicycling, walking, and mass transit the primary options. Those of us who can make the choice should be the ones spearheading the movements in our towns and counties to put that infrastructure and public education in place for those who can not.
(Thanks for reading my Thanksgiving optimism.)
Very good points and ideas, Bonnie. I think the composting toilets would look much better than portable ones. Thank you.
Excellent article Rick on this segment of the bicycling population that is rarely mentioned. I’ve heard these folks also referred to as the “invisible bicyclists” as they’re often riding at night or low light, in dark clothing, riding against traffic or on the sidewalks. A very tough segment to reach out to with any educational material. Nice of you to plug the excellent work that Share a Bike has been doing in E. Lansing for the area low-income community for over a dozen years. This year I heard they gave away about 600 bikes! Also good to mention that the Mer. Twp. Recycling events in spring and fall have been a great source of those bikes for Share a Bike the past couple years.
Thank you, Tim.
thank you Rick
Thank you too, Jessica, for all of your terrific efforts.
According to the survey we did of clients of local social service agencies, 27 percent of those surveyed used a bike or walked to get to their appointment on the day surveyed.
One would think that getting to a doctor, a mental health clinic, a food bank, a senior center or any other social service agency which is necessary to meet basic human needs should not be a life threatening occurence.
Unfortunately, if adequate biking and walking facilities are not be available– the survey results suggest otherwise. That’s a figure advocates may find very helpful in discussing needs for complete streets…..
Great point, Paul and very interesting information. Thanks.
I’m with Bonnie. I gave up driving during the first Gulf War. When they were talking about “blood for oil”, I wanted no part of it. There were a few years when my housemate had cancer and I had to regain my license to drive her to appointments, but as soon as she was well enough, I stopped again.
I enjoy the challenges – – and benefits! – – that being car-free bring. Like anything, you learn to adjust. For instance, I buy pet supplies and non-perishables in bulk during the Fall so only fruits and vegetables are necessary to purchase/lug home in the Winter. Those that drive in to work and pay for parking are envious of my four-block walk. I’m home long before their car is warmed up in Winter! When you add up all the costs associated with driving (car payments, maintenance, parts, gas, insurance, parking, accessories, etc.), alternative modes of transportation are a huge savings for those than can take advantage of it.
Great article Rick. I especially like the point that many if not most regular bikers are just regular people choosing a non-car option for getting around. This is no more unusual than choosing to walk over driving somewhere. Of course, maybe even walking is too much; as the shopping and eating season takes over, we witness not only the hassles of parking at workplaces etc. but also the craziness of people cruising parking lots for much longer than the walk would take, just to get a spot close to a store and avoid (perish the thought) actually mobilizing on their own pegs. I get it if it’s pouring rain, but otherwise, why bother? Of course, with well placed bike racks (some are another credit to you) the bikers’ walk to business doors is usually the shortest.
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