eMission control – Focus: Bikeways – Part 2

People reading “eMission control – Focus: Bikeways,” posted Apr. 28, 2013 and as it relates to “Air Quality Matters” may right now be questioning what biking as a recreational activity has to do with matters of air quality. And that’s a valid point. And exactly the reason for “eMission control – Focus: Bikeways – Part 2.”

320px-MUTCD_R3-17.svg[1]People may also want to know for what bicycles are used: Are they ridden mainly for recreation or for the purpose of transportation? Excellent question; and one I hope to provide answer to in this, the second part of the bikeways focus.

As a resident of Fresno, a city of a half-million people located smack dab in the center of California in the western U.S., I have noticed posted signs that read: “Bicycle friendly community.”

As it relates, what is a municipality’s intent when portions of roadway space get designated for bike use exclusively? Is it done with vehicle traffic calming in mind: to slow speeds, reduce car use and therefore vehicle miles traveled, in other words? Is the motivation to facilitate air quality improvement? Is it simply to promote bicycling? Is it all these things?

To be honest, I only know of one Fresnan who actually uses his bicycle as a means to get to and from his job. But, he is also an active recreational bicyclist and bike race enthusiast, so that may play into it.

Now I’m thinking back to my college days in 1973 through 1976. One of the first things I did after arriving in town and getting situated was to buy a bicycle, because frankly, this was going to be my primary means of getting around campus and town. Please note I did not own an automobile at this particular time in my life.

Besides myself, there were many who rode bicycles. Bike racks around campus were always well utilized. And there were plenty of these. Incidentally, the college is California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.

Dexter Lawn, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo
Dexter Lawn, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo

In Fresno, I just don’t see bike riding to the extent I did when living in San Luis Obispo, yet the two towns are only separated by a distance of about 140 miles driving and probably 120 miles as the crow flies.

So, why the difference?

Firstly, it is important to note Fresno, because of its interior location, is deemed semi-arid with the temperature differential between highs and lows being greater compared to San Luis Obispo where, situated along California’s central coast, its weather is more temperate or moderate. Other towns I have noticed where biking is popular are Santa Barbara and Corte Madera, both of which are California coastal communities, the latter being located north of San Francisco.

Secondly, I am thinking age, physical condition and a person’s inclination to exercise, are also factors.

What I am skeptical of is the notion that there are multitudes riding bicycles expressly with air quality improvement in mind. Personally, I just don’t see it. Having made that comment, though, I understand that this might prompt rebuttal. So, please feel free to weigh in. In fact, I would strongly encourage such.

Which brings me to my next question, which is: If a municipality goes to considerable lengths and spends considerable sums of taxpayer monies to add miles of bike lanes with the aim (and hope) of getting drivers to forego their cars in favor of riding bikes with their use being predominantly for transportation and environmental sustainability purposes, would the monies not be better spent on other traffic calming methods, programs or efforts? I truly believe this is a legitimate question.

It seems to me that in places where bicycling is already popular, added investment in trying to encourage more such activity makes sense. But it may also make sense to improve bicycle infrastructure in areas where people ride bikes – period, regardless of whether the percentage of bike-riding people is small or large. What do you think?

On the other hand, expecting scores of people to vacate their automobiles and instead hop on bikes for purposes of not only meeting their transportation needs but doing their parts to help clean the air, well, honestly, I’m not convinced. Besides, what I have also noticed is that areas that have poor air quality are also ones where I don’t see much bicycling activity the opposite tending to be true in cities and regions where air quality is good. But please keep in mind that not all areas with good air quality are also bicycle-riding meccas. To reiterate, I firmly believe location- and/or weather- and/or inclination-to-physical-exercise-specifics are the key determining factors as to whether an area is a haven for bicycle riding or whether it is not.

That’s my take.

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