Posted by Jonathan Maus ( Publisher/Editor ) on May 23rd, 2008 at 2:01 pm
“Here in the thick, nervous mainstream, some of us may even be convinced that biking to work would be healthier, cheaper and better for the environment than the typical car commute. We just don’t do it.”
–Shelby Wood in the Oregonian
It’s a problem some of you reading this might be facing right now.
You want to be “green”, reduce your carbon footprint, get in shape, avoid gridlock, and join the exciting, sociable, sustainable, two-wheeled, human-powered transportation revolution.
You know going by bike is a great way to get around the city. Heck, these days it seems like everyone’s doing it. Yet you still leave the bike at home.
The reason? Fear.
Shelby Wood, a reporter with the Oregonian who covers the green beat and writes the PDXGreen blog, can relate. She published an article today that lays out the top three reasons she doesn’t ride to work:
- Fear of being killed or maimed by a car or truck.
- Fear of being killed or maimed by something I do that causes me to slam into a car or truck.
- Fear of arriving at work, or back home after work, stressed out by spending 30 sweaty minutes trying not to get killed or maimed by a car or truck.
Wood (and the “thick, nervous mainstream” she says she represents), are a challenging subject to bike advocates and planners. She leads an earth-friendly lifestyle, she loves bikes, she’s fit, and she actually wants to ride more for transportation. Yet even she hesitates.
The “interested but concerned” riders that Wood symbolizes are in every PowerPoint and presentation on bike safety given by PDOT bike planners. Everyone who works on bike issues, it seems, are trying to figure out how to get more of them to ride.
Some of their solutions so far include developing more safe, low-traffic “bike boulevard” streets, arming citizens with information and maps on biking, and pushing forward with innovative measures (like bike boxes and painted lanes) to increase visibility and awareness between bikes and cars.
But even these measures might not be enough to persuade the masses to go by bike.
Wood’s fears may seem misplaced to some, but perception reigns (and it’s also very hard to change).
Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet to alleviate the fears that accompany the prospect of riding a 30 pound bicycle mere inches from fast-moving, massive, multi-ton cars and trucks.
It will likely take a “thousand tiny cuts” approach to move beyond this fear syndrome. It won’t go away until we begin a massive re-purposing of our public right-of-way, or until we invest more in safer bike facilities, or until politicians take the bike advocacy reins and force real change.
On a smaller scale, there are lots of things existing riders can do to help change the culture of fear around biking. A great first step is to become a biking buddy to a friend who doesn’t yet ride. Encourage them, show them the ropes, and eventually they’ll go from “interested by concerned” to “enthused and confident.”