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Friday, August 23, 2013

Wheels of Change: the Rise of Bicycling in America

Bike enthusiast Marissa Huber gears up for her daily commute
Bicycling in America is changing: it’s getting bigger, better and broader.
Always linked with freedom and fun for kids and fitness for adults, bicycling is becoming fashionable. Just watch any evening hour of network TV: nearly half the commercials you see — for cars, insurance, mobile phones, cereal or whatever — will show smiling, healthy people riding bikes.
Grown-up bicycling for short trips has moved from the quirky category (see Steve Carell in The 40-Year-Old Virgin) to stylish and hip (see Leonardo DiCaprio on a New York Citibike in Us Magazine). Thankfully, the changes in bicycling go way beyond image.
Bike riding in big U.S. cities — especially for commuting and other short trips — has nearly doubled in the last decade. Most mayors and city councils view bicycling as a cost-effective solution — a transportation choice that helps reduce traffic congestion, air pollution, and the costs related to providing parking. City leaders are mindful of one, simple statistic: half of all the trips Americans make are three miles or less. Cities all across the country are investing in better bikeways and supporting the highly visible addition of short-term bike rental systems (bike sharing).
This has been the summer of bike-sharing in America. After impressive launches in Europe and Canada, sophisticated, automated bike rental systems hit the ground in Denver and Minneapolis three years ago. Washington, DC, soon followed.
At first, the usage figures were modest. This year, however, the game has changed dramatically as New York  (Citibike), Chicago (Divvy), and other large-scale American city systems debuted. Today — and every day during Daylight Savings time — close to 100,000 trips will be made on U.S. bike-share bikes. This is a big enough number to change the face of the urban experience…and generally, it’s for the better.
Just about every U.S. city that has installed a bike-sharing system has made simultaneous investments in bike infrastructure. Many cities are building separated, protected bikeways that appeal to inexperienced bike riders who won’t pedal if their only separation from fast-moving motor vehicles is a white painted stripe on the pavement. (Unfortunately, the old-school bike lane remains the state-of-the-art in too many places.) Meanwhile, the number of separated green lanes in U.S. cities has doubled in each of the last two years, and this trend seems certain to continue.
U.S. mayors see clear links between bikeways and business. Cities compete fiercely to attract corporations, and many pay special attention to the dynamic companies — particularly in the tech sector — that hire highly educated, highly motivated workers. Mayors know that these firms want to locate in cities where (among other things) it’s easy to live a compact lifestyle and get around on a bike...


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