Changing the Dialogue Around Biking
Kelly Wong, February 19, 2015
Bike culture has seen a huge resurgence in the US over the last decade, and this has led to a growth in bike infrastructure as well as increasing concern surrounding bike safety. Bike safety has become a growing issue not only in discussions amongst bike advocates, but also in all levels of urban policy. Last week, Senator Carol Liu proposed a mandatory bike helmet law for the state of California. Liu has been a long-time supporter of active transportation, and feels that this law would promote safer biking.
However, no mandatory legislation can increase bike safety as much as promoting a bike culture that is informed, aware, and cautious. A new book, titled The Urban Cycling Survival Guide, gives a rundown on how to navigate urban streets on a bike, as well as how to bike defensively. A bike advocacy group in Seattle found that merely changing the language with which we speak about biking has a huge effect on its public perception and makes it much easier to promote bike culture. By using phrases that are people-centric, such as “people on bikes” rather than “cyclists,” bike advocates were able to rebrand the bike argument into one that is centered around safety and personal responsibility.
Of course, some areas of the US are more bike-friendly than others. Recently, San Luis Obispo established a powerful bike funding policy that will allot 20% of transportation spending from the general fund to biking. This is an extraordinary amount of bike funding for an American city, and the figure is derived from the city’s larger transportation goals to increase biking and walking levels. San Francisco, which is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the US, will be completing 3 blocks of protected bike lanes and pedestrian upgrades this coming April, albeit after numerous delays. These are encouraging signs which bode well for bike safety in the US, and a sure sign of progress for bike culture overall.