By Dom Nozzi
I strongly believe that one of the top issues—if not THE top issue—for an organization created to advocate for bicyclists and pedestrians is to grow the number of commuter bicyclists and pedestrians in the region.
We all know the many benefits of doing that: Environmental, economic, social, quality of life, etc.
Additionally, I am convinced that there is another enormous benefit to significantly growing the number of bicyclists and pedestrians. A benefit that is usually overlooked. A large number of bicyclists and pedestrians in a community is an extremely powerful way to improve safety for bicyclists and pedestrians (and the motorists who are now not driving as much). In other words, “safety in numbers.”
Given this, I believe that an essential, perhaps overriding tactic for a bike/pedestrian advocacy group is to promote those tactics that are most effective in inducing large numbers of citizens to become bicycle and pedestrian commuters.
As a 20-year city planner, writer, researcher and town designer, I believe the following are some of the most powerful tactics to grow the bicyclist and pedestrian population, and therefore what should be championed by a bike/pedestrian group:
- Scarce & priced car parking
- Proximity (via mixed use and higher residential densities)
- Relatively high gas prices (via a gas tax)
- Short block lengths and connected streets
- Slow speed street design (via attentive rather than forgiving street design)
- Converting one-way back to two-way streets
- Oppose all road and intersection widening projects, especially those done in the name of safety or capacity; wider roads and intersections are among the biggest deterrents to walking and cycling. Those roads and intersections that are already over-sized (four or more lanes, or one or two turning lanes) should be dieted down to safe, low-speed, human-scaled sizes.
- Full-time local government staff assigned to bicycling and pedestrian commuting
“Safety in Numbers” needs to be promoted and leveraged. Large numbers of bicyclists create a herd mentality: when non-bicyclists see lots of fellow citizens bicycling, they are increasingly likely to join the herd. They are more likely to identify with bicyclists (rather than seeing them as annoying, in-my-way weirdos). When there are a lot of bicyclists, bicycling is more likely to be seen as safe, hip, and normal.
Consequently, there is an additional, important tactic: Soft-pedal helmets and lycra for city commuters. Helmets and lycra discourage bicycling and promote the perception that bicycling is dangerous and weird, not normal.
Note: I strongly encourage helmet use and lycra for off-road trail riding and long-distance, higher speed road riding. I also respect and admire those who currently commute wearing a helmet.
I’m not suggesting that helmet use should be discouraged, I simply believe that as an organization, bike/pedestrian advocacy groups need to turn down the volume on aggressively promoting bike helmets for low-speed town center bicycle commuting.”
Otherwise, the organization will be undercutting this important advocacy objective of growing the number of bicyclists and pedestrians.
Okay, you can now lead me away to be burned at the stake…
Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.
Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com
My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607
My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:
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