Are We Overselling National Bike to Work Week?

And so it begins… National Bike to Work Week 2012 is officially underway.

If you are a newcomer to Commute by Bike, then welcome. Did you find all the information you needed? For God’s sake, I hope so. That’s what we’re about.

Last week I received a message from the California Bicycle Coalition which began with the question,

Want to try bicycling to work but not sure where to start?

And my jaded mind asked, Seriously? Do some people really not know where to start?

Let me Google that for you:

Google Autofill
Google Autofill reveals what people really think.

I don’t think the information is that hard to find. In fact, I think there are four types of people who will participate in Bike to Work Week who aren’t already regular bike commuters:

  1. People who feel guilty about how much they hate bike commuting, but they can tough it out for one week each year.
  2. People who need a collectivist motivation to bike commute so they can talk about it with their friends. I participated. Did you?
  3. People who want free food and prizes offered by their local cycling advocacy organization — the same people who would participate in Burn Your Trash Day if they might win a slice of pizza.
  4. People who don’t quite believe the hype about bike commuting, so this is when they’ll give it a shot.

Will Bike to Work Week stick with any of these categories of participants? I’m skeptical. In fact, I think we may do a disservice when we oversell the joy of cycling. Seriously, some people talk and write about cycling as though a bike were some kind of human-powered orgasmatron. (Yes, that is a safe link. You may click it at work.)

Woody Allen with the Orgasmic Orb
And just like cycling, it’s the helmet that keeps many people from trying it.

Many of the people who aren’t bike commuting are abstinent because they think it sucks. Far from being an orgasmatron, they find it scary and inconvenient, and they live in communities where local planners have never heard of a bike.

And this is the reason to participate: because it’s scary and inconvenient, and because your local planners have never heard of a bike.

Bike to Work Week is when many municipalities and advocacy organizations pay attention to the pent up demand for cycling infrastructure, programs, and other programs. How many people would use cycling infrastructure if we had it? A Bike Count is a tool that Departments of Transportation can use — if they use it — the one week each year when they deign to acknowledge there might be some interest in cycling.

According to the National Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Project:

One of the greatest challenges facing the bicycle and pedestrian field is the lack of documentation on usage and demand. Without accurate and consistent demand and usage figures, it is difficult to measure the positive benefits of investments in these modes, especially when compared to the other transportation modes such as the private automobile.

Having these accurate statistics gives advocates the credibility to say, If you built it, people will use it. This is a fact of cycling that has been proven in many cities. (Sorry, John Forester.) But in many municipalities, the planners are skeptics and they still need these numbers. If you contribute to these counts maybe in the future biking to work won’t be scary and inconvenient — won’t suck.

So if you are one of the people who only bikes to work one week per year, I salute you. I know it might not be all it’s cut out to be by your raving co-worker. But maybe one day, when you are driving in your car, you’ll be able to point to a newly painted bike lane or sharrow and say, I helped put that there. Hell, you may even think to yourself, I’ll use that even if it’s not Bike to Work Week.

Your local bike to work week might not coincide with National Bike to Work Week, so check with you local advocacy organization to make sure you commute by bike when it counts the most.

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