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Bike commuting: Reaching the tipping point?

Posted Jan 15 2009 8:16pm

When it comes to bicycling, are we approaching a favorable tipping point?

A recent Bike Commute Tips Blog post on the surge in bicycling in Massachusetts prompted a comment from a reader:

All these stories about high gas prices getting people back on their bikes...It makes me wonder, is all of this a momentary blip? Or are these stories...chronicling a sea change? Is it possible that we are at a tipping point in American culture, where the idea that bikes are a viable means of transportation becomes mainstream? One thing is sure: people's attitudes are changing, and we are at a unique and exciting time in our history.
Another reader commented that $4 a gallon gas isn't a tipping point, as motorists can adapt to improve efficiency by buying smaller cars or hybrids, and the collapse of SUV sales is one sign this is happening.

Have we reached a tipping point?

I agree that higher gas prices alone-- even the much prayed for $10 a gallon --aren't enough to break America's auto addiction. Proactive advocacy by bicyclists will still be necessary. The media and policy makers are paying attention, bicyclists are being heard and we are making our case. Which makes this moment an exciting one for alternative transportation advocates.

Transit demand is also surging, and this presents an opportunity for bicycle activists. I've always believed that bicyclists succeed when they build coalitions with transit, environmental, and community advocates. We can help foster bicycle commuting by joining with transit advocates to call for improved transit, while simultaneously demanding improved bike access.

This opportunity is illustrated by a recent article in San Jose Mercury News, 'Large shifts in behavior' during commutes create new problems:
Transit ridership is up across the Bay Area, but riders say parking at Caltrain and BART lots is so jammed that you have to arrive before 6:30 a.m. to find a free spot. More drivers appear to be leaving their cars at home and bicycling to transit, but bike racks are filling up on local buses and Caltrain, and some riders are being left behind.
Many of these rapidly crowding transit agencies might be tempted to reduce bicycle capacity to make more space for passengers. Bike advocates need to join transit advocates to demand more frequent service to relieve overcrowding and more dedicated bike parking facilities such as the Palo Alto Bikestation or Warm Planet Bikes.

We should also challenge free vehicle parking at transit stations, and urge fees that could be used to improve transit service. To me, this would be the tipping point: Seeing public support for raising the cost of driving to support alternatives. We're not there yet. But there is clearly a favorable trend--which I trace back to the passage of ISTEA in 1991--which bicycling advocates need to exploit.

What would you consider the tipping point?

Visit:Americans Driving At Historic Lows: Eleven Billion Fewer Vehicle Miles Traveled in March 2008 Over Previous March, U.S. Department of Transportation
Visit:GM Mulls Dumping Iconic, Gas-Guzzling Hummer Brand, CNN
Visit:Will We Ever Get Out of Our Cars, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit:Bicycling against car culture, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit:Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site
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