Thursday, December 18, 2008
Creating a Bicycle Culture
By Anthony Ben'jammin' DeNardo III
[This Soapbox was published in the Fort Collins Coloradoan Monday, December 15, 2008; Anthony sits on the Board of the Fort Collins Bike Co-op]
We've built a gold level bicycle friendly community according to the League of American Bicyclists. But motorists killed two bicycle riders - in bike lanes - on city streets just four months apart. Why?
Perhaps we’ve failed to create the culture that goes with our bicycle infrastructure? Italians have a reputation as being bad drivers yet Italy is considered to have a great bicycle culture. Almost everyone rides a bike: small children go to school on their mother’s bike and the elderly ride all the time. In Italy, motorists see bicycles everywhere and they respect them since the cyclist on the road could be their grandmother.
We promote a world-class bicycle infrastructure in Fort Collins and, while the bike plan speaks to education and enforcement issues, they are not addressed very aggressively. In short, we’ve no plan to build a bicycle culture. It’s time we begin to move from a “car culture” to a “car, bicycle and pedestrian culture.” Here’s one idea on how to start.
Police Services moved to Timberline Road last year at the same time that City Council approved a two-year lease for the Fort Collins Bike Co-op at the Poudre Valley Creamery. Until last winter Police Services collected, tracked, impounded, and handled all abandoned and stolen bikes in the community. Those tasks are now all handled by volunteers at the Bike Co-op.
Today the City is saving the cost of one full-time equivalent staff person ($38,000 average) plus benefits ($15,000?) NOT counting police cruiser and officers’ time to retrieve bikes. So the Bike Co-op is saving taxpayers around $60,000 annually. Why not use some of that savings to help create a bike culture?
The Co-op could work with the City Bicycle Coordinator to develop and take bicycle safety seminars to public schools. The City’s Bike Library fleet could be used for field trips on the Poudre Trail. Parents and educators should be made a part of the process since most are motorists and can benefit from this cultural education as well.
Fifteen to twenty thousand new people move to Fort Collins every year. Most are CSU students and many have never lived in a “bike town” before. CSU needs a bike “coordinator” who, in cooperation with the City’s bike coordinator, can teach those newcomers what life in “bike town” is like: be predictable, use lights at night, stop at stop signs and lights, go the right way in the bike lane, and more.
City and CSU Police need to become engaged in helping to create this culture. They don’t have time or staff, they might argue. But some of the friendliest bike towns in the US have police forces that undertake “sting” operations to enforce cyclists’ stopping at stop signs and using lights at night for several days a year, namely at the beginning of the academic year. Maybe City Council could help them find the time.
And maybe now is the time to quit talking about what a great bicycle town this is and to start creating the appropriate culture.