People Don't Want to Drive More - But How to Get Them on Bikes?

© April Streeter

Earlier this summer, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) used a bi-partisan polling team to pose questions about transportation to 800 Americans.

Those polled seemed to agree that our current transportation system needs change. According to NRDC, of those 800 polled:

-59 percent feel the transportation system is “outdated, unreliable and inefficient”
-55 percent prefer to drive less, but 74 percent say they have no choice
-58 percent would like to use public transportation more often, but it is not convenient or available from their home or work
-68 percent support more local investment in improvements to public transportation (including 63 percent of those who do not use transit), with 39 percent supporting it “strongly”

And, amazingly:

59 percent would like more transportation options so they have the freedom to travel other than by driving.

To a dedicated bicycle activist like me, these poll results are only a surprise in that a majority of Americans want (like me), to drive less. And it seems, they are willing (in the abstract) to pay for improvements needed in the public transport system in order to do so.

"Many believe Americans are in love with their cars, but most are frustrated with the lack of options for adequate, reliable public transit service," said Larry Hanley, international president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, the largest labor organization representing transit workers in North America. "This poll clearly shows that taxpayers are willing to put their money where their mouth is – backing increased spending to make better public transportation a reality."

© Bikestorming

Interestingly, NRDC's poll didn't include attitudes on using biking to help fill in the gaps of public transport.

And, if the percentage of people using a bicycle for daily commuting (less than one percent) is any indication, it doesn't seem like many believe bikes are their ticket to less driving.

But bike activists (including myself) know that, as far as most cities are concerned, not only can biking be faster, more fun, and healthier than driving or transport, it's also a lot cheaper.

Obviously, lack of infrastructure is one big reason people don't switch to biking. But I'd say there's more to it than that. It's also lack of support. Biking, back in 1890, was what the cool people did. These days, if you tell people you bike to work, and enjoy it, skepticism is high.

The gender divide is also a big biking issue.

In 2009, according to the League of American Bicyclists (which started life as the League of American Wheelmen), women took just 24 percent of bicycle trips in the United States. In communities across the nation, LAB says, women are underrepresented in all aspects of the bicycle movement — from retail to politics, from advocacy to engineering.

It’s time, LAB maintains, to encourage, engage, and elevate more women bicyclists in the United States. LAB plants to undertake the following actions in its new 'Women Bike' initiative:

* Women Bike will bring together women cyclists at key meetings like the National Bike Summit and Interbike.
* Women Bike will encourage, educate and demonstrate how women can take leadership roles in bicycle advocacy.
* Women Bike will help women become bicycle educators and thought leaders in their communities.

Within the space of about a dozen years, LAB said it hopes American women will "ride their bikes at the same rates as American men for transportation, recreation and fitness". That's a tall order and probably needs a bit of magic to fulfill.

For one thing LAB hasn't suggested is how to get non-bikers to understand the fun factor in biking, nor how to make cycling cool.

Tags: Bike-Friendly World | Bikes | Biking