We’ve become bike friendly — but where are the riders?
It’s the cool thing for cities to do now — encourage bicyclists — by building protected bike lanes and erecting bike stands at just about every available spot on sidewalks. Some cities have used bike stands as the opportunity to invest in interesting art, as we will be doing.
Most of us rode bikes as children. That’s how we got around before our parents had two cars and Mom was transporting us here and there. You don’t see many kids riding bikes anymore. And, witness the local high school parking lot with every available bare spot covered with cars. Few bikes are tethered to the bike stands. When I lived in Germany with my military family, all kids rode bikes — everywhere in all elements. Either that, or you were stuck on the Army base. I loved the freedom my bicycle gave me to explore.
Those pushing the creation of bike-friendly communities are generally the local bike clubs and those in the city transportation departments who themselves are recreational bike enthusiasts. Much time and energy continues to be spent on a small percentage of the population who ride for fun — and the very few who commute daily via bicycle — with the hope more will abandon their four-wheel cars for non-motorized two wheels.
Some would say our four-season climate inhibits bicyclists; however, in some cities where bikes are the favored form of transportation, weather doesn’t seem to matter. You wouldn’t dare inhibit a bicyclist in the shared bicycle/pedestrian lane in auto clogged Amsterdam or Vienna! The cyclists have the right of way and they let you know it.
Some cities, like Carson City, have reduced traffic lanes from four to two in their downtown to better accommodate both automobiles and bicycles, though focus is more on reducing auto traffic in favor of the non-motorized kind. Some cities have experienced huge backlash as a result, though our citizens have been accepting.
Boulder, Colo. — a city often used as a model for our city — removed their bike lanes after citizen backlash when the city reduced lanes without informing the citizens. Nationally, Boulder ranks No. 3 at 8.9 percent for two-wheel commuters, so the backlash was a surprise.
As one would expect, those cities with universities have the largest percentage of riders, though in the overall scheme of transportation modes, the average bicycle commuters total less than 3 percent nationally. According to the League of American Bicyclists, weather-friendly UC Davis CA claims 23.2 percent bicycle commuters, followed by Berkeley at 9.7 percent. Reno commuter cyclists are just over 1 percent even though this is a university town. It would take a very hearty cyclist to commute daily to Western Nevada College!
Surprisingly, Nevada ranks at No. 25 at 0.5 percent when it comes to bicycle commuters. Oregon (2.6 percent) and Colorado (1.3 percent) rank the highest with California at No. 4 (1.2 percent). The state’s four major cities — Las Vegas, Henderson, Reno, and Carson City — all received bronze ratings from the League of American Bicyclists for their continuing efforts to create bike-friendly communities. Carson’s bicycle community is working to earn a silver designation.
Statistics are not available for Carson City since the U.S. Census Bureau only conducts studies of cities with over 100,000 population. Carson City’s mostly flat surfaces make for easy riding for most and, for the serious sports rider, our mountainous trails make for a challenging ride.
I drive through the downtown at least four times a day and have recently begun to pay attention to bicycles tethered to our many bicycle racks. Sometimes there are one or two in front of the Carson Nugget, but for the most part, the racks are empty. On Saturdays, some of the west side residents ride their bikes to the Farmers Market, but for the most part, here cars are still the favored mode of transportation.
I asked Randy Gaa, committed cyclist and Secretary of the 200-member Muscle-Powered bike club, why there are so few riders. His answer was simple, “Concern for personal safety.” He daily commutes from his south Carson home to his work in downtown in all seasons, but cites some challenges in certain parts of the city that still make him nervous. He advises all those who want to commute to carefully plan their route in advance.
The cost of redesigning streets to build bicycle lanes can be expensive. How does the bike lobby justify the expense? Gaa reminded me all bicyclists own cars and pay gasoline taxes — like the rest of non-commuters — to create bike-friendly communities.
Gaa is pleased there seem to be more commuters downtown — he sees one or two now daily — but did concede that seeing even one additional bike commuter could be considered a 100 percent increase in ridership over last year. He further adds, “There needs to be more training as to the benefits of riding.” He cites cycling as a “win-win,” predicting if we continue our quest to be a bike-friendly community, we will see more who will choose to live here or come to visit as well as a healthier population.
When I asked my counterpart in Carson Valley to share his commuter statistics, Bill Chernok wrote, “There is almost no commuting by bike. Bike racks are typically empty and Highway 395 is not terribly bike friendly.” Those in Douglas County, like Carson, ride for pleasure attaching their bikes to their cars to ride elsewhere.
As for the future, expect better bike lanes on South Carson Street as part of the overall redesign. Traffic is expected to decrease dramatically with most trucks and through traffic diverting to the completed freeway.