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May 16, 2014

In Celebration of National Bike to Work Day

BikeToday is bike to work day, and across the country, people will be hopping on their bicycles to get to work, school, and play.

Not just today, but every day, growing numbers of people are biking as an everyday means of transportation. Cities are taking notice and starting to make themselves more bike-friendly places to ride, with protected bike lanes, bike share systems, and other bike-focused infrastructure popping up across the country, and not a moment too soon.

How people get around is one of those chicken-or-egg kind of things, and this is proven over and over again in scientific research-- with transportation infrastructure, as they say, if you build it, they will come. The term for this phenomenon is "induced demand."

To illustrate this point in a very non-scientific way, let's go on a little thought adventure. For example, let's imagine that there are no highways. This means that no one is going to drive long distances between cities, because they can't. There's no road!  Now let's imagine that there are highways, but there are no parking spots at the end of the journey. People would be circling the block forever...! Or they just wouldn't take a car in the first place because there's nowhere to put it at the end. You see how this works.  

So let's imagine that there is a highway, but it ends in the middle of nowhere in the midst of a cattle stampede, and then maybe starts up again on the other side of the stampede, where there may or may not be any parking spaces. Ah, transportation infrastructure!

This may seem ridiculous, but this is actually how too many cities have done their bike infrastructure for way too long. Bike lanes can disappear or don't exist in the first place, only sometimes is there bike parking, and sometimes, without the right kind of streets and protections, biking in traffic can feel like being in the middle of a stampede.  

Bike2Luckily, and with no small part played by bike activists and safe transportation advocates everywhere, this is beginning to change. Cities are beginning to figure out that  bicyclists are an economic engine for neighborhoods, and by making safe, welcoming spaces for people to get out and ride, everyone wins. Of course, we also know that biking is good for the climate, for decreasing air pollution (fewer cars!), for public health, and just generally fun.

So, if your trusty steed has been collecting dust, Bike to Work Day is a great opportunity to pump up the tires and give it a spin in an encouraging group, and perhaps even discover some new safe cycling infrastructure in your city.  And let's face it, riding along in a stampede of bicycles on Bike to Work Day is just plain fun.

And if you can't get enough of the group riding fun on Bike to Work Day, check around to see if your city has organizations, social groups, or bike shops that host group rides and events-- and sometimes they're even in costume.  Happy cycling!

-- Rachel Butler, Sierra Club Beyond Oil Campaign. Graphic courtesy of Point6.

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