Saturday, August 04, 2012

Saturday Omphaloskepsis: What stuff encourages bike commuting?

I have been seeing many studies and surveys about the importance of cycling infrastructure, such as having enough bike lanes and having enough bike parking. Other studies have cited the need for making bike lanes protected from cars or to provide bike "highways" through cities. Further studies have made recommendations about signage (e.g., why do cyclists run STOP signs?), and still others have made recommendations about training (for drivers, cyclists, and enforcement).

Fewer have made comments about addressing the local cycling culture, probably taking a "if you built it they will come approach", but I argue that providing a variety of easy-and-comfortable-to-ride bikes will be a necessity for encouraging people to ride a bike instead of taking the often far-more-comfortable car. Indeed, if you go to most bike shops in the US, you'd be hard pressed to find a commuter bike that doesn't look like a more upright mountain bike. Where are the electric bikes? Where are the classical "everyday bikes" that are so common almost everywhere else in the world, save for North America? Furthermore, with so few "everyday bikes" around, the majority of what people see on the roads are either road bikes or mountain bikes (or things that look like either of these, but tend to be set up for the rider to sit more upright). ... or folding bikes.

I also wrote about the need to condition people into thinking that cycling is an equivalent option, which is a behavioral approach to complement the calls for adding public biking infrastructure (bike lanes, bike parking, changing speed limits, cycling highways, etc.) as well as a behavioral approach among cyclists to incorporate cycling into their normal daily routine (from choosing where to live to what to ride and when to ride). As a person who specifically chose not to have a bike and not to ride the bus (except when necessary), I have conditioned myself to the normalcy of riding.

However, in a recent blog post over at Scientific American, Scott Huler reviews a survey article about the importance of including showers as part of the "if you build it they will come" mentality:
The research is good and sensible — Buehler sampled the commuting behavior of several thousand D.C. residents and found that if you have free parking and other driving amenities at your place of work you’re 70 percent less likely to commute by bike. And what would make you almost FIVE TIMES as likely to commute by bike? A place to park the bike, a locker — and a shower.
Huler also describes how the incentives to increase bicycle commuting should not be thought of as a single thing, but as a series of multi-layered choices. The presence of free car parking should not be taken as granted; requiring payment for parking will also contribute to cycling (especially if bike parking is free). Furthermore, parking is another thing that an employer might be able to control (along with the availability of showers at work):
Remember that bike lanes also make a difference — and that employers making the counterintuitive move of NOT providing free parking also helps. And you can see, as Jaffe sums up: “Bicycle commuting is a complex behavior that needs multiple layers of policy encouragement to thrive.” And remember — that’s just like all commuting, which is complex behavior affected by multiple layers of policy. All our policies for the past half-century have favored automobile commuting, so we shouldn’t be surprised that’s what most of us do. And changing policies and priorities doesn’t mean cars are wrong or that cycling requires public subsidy or management to thrive. Just that if we want different results, we have to take different actions.
Pretty useful to remember.

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