In celebration of Bike to Work Week, Clark Nexsen’s Anne Seeley revisits her personal journey to utilizing alternative transportation and discusses the benefits and challenges of integrating cyclists into our busy transit network.
Biking can have a transformative impact on a community at every level – economic, social, and environmental. As I began my foray into regular biking, I also discovered that I even began to change, to appreciate elements in my community I may have overlooked before. This discovery has invigorated my growth as a daily bike commuter and expanded the way I think about alternative transportation in our communities.
Three years ago, my relationship with and knowledge of commuter biking was quite different. At that time, our office had recently relocated into downtown Raleigh, a 30-mile, high traffic commute for me. My first step along the alternative transportation continuum was to begin riding public transit, using the bus line that began just three and a half miles from my house and dropped off within a few blocks of the office. Less than a year later, my car was hit at an intersection and totaled. Rather than purchase a new one right away, I decided this was the moment to commit to alternative transportation by biking to the station, riding the bus to work, and walking the last few blocks.
Today, more than two years later, I have become an avid cyclist, a proponent of public transit, and I still don’t own a car.
The benefits of biking are extensive – many of them are personal, but many more positively impact the greater community. On the personal side, I’ve definitely realized the benefits of reliable exercise and I love how awake I feel after my ride in the morning. Perhaps even more importantly, biking has helped me integrate into my community to a much greater extent. I chat with other bikers, wave to the same runners every morning, and am cheered on by elementary students as I bike up a giant hill.
While making cities more bike-friendly presents undeniable challenges, the potential for positive results is substantial. Town and city planners now promote biking as a means to develop healthy, sustainable communities and support economic growth. Numerous studies indicate the benefits of stronger multimodal transportation networks – networks that encourage walking and biking as well as using public transit and driving.
Did you know that just 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day reduces a person’s chances of diabetes, dementia, depression, colon cancer, cardiovascular disease, anxiety, and high blood pressure by 40 percent or more? That has huge implications not only for each of us individually, but in the greater context of reducing our healthcare costs as a nation. As I mentioned, part of the beauty of biking is that I get this reliable exercise, during time I’d have to spend commuting regardless, and I don’t have to set foot in a gym.
As an architect and a LEED accredited professional, sustainability is part of the language I use every day. It’s bigger than reducing our carbon footprint – what most people think of when words like “transit” and “automobiles” are thrown around – biking, walking, and the use of public transit literally sustains our natural resources and our communities longer. Our roadways experience less wear and tear, our public infrastructure budgets stretch further, and yes, our air quality undeniably improves.
The business case for biking is more complex, but equally meaningful. Driven in part by the Millennial generation mindset about sustainability and livability, businesses increasingly consider alternative transportation and bike access in their relocation and expansion decisions – both to meet the needs of consumers and to attract top tier talent. This positively impacts real estate and home values, translates to job creation, and more money circulating in a community. Further, a study of greater Portland, OR, found that cyclists spent more per month across the establishments they visited than customers arriving by any other transit method. In Memphis, TN, bicyclists are viewed as a critical component to the revitalization of the Broad Avenue Arts District, with the addition of bike lanes not only attracting cyclists but also slowing traffic and causing more consumers to notice businesses. One owner noted that her business revenues have grown on average 30 percent per year – as an art-related business in a tough economy.
Changing our Transit Network
Changing our transit network to fully integrate biking (and other modes of transportation) takes time. From an investment standpoint, it pays off on multiple levels: the addition of bike lanes costs less than other types of roadway improvements, and creates more jobs per dollar spent. To make these changes, town and city governments are encouraging people to get out and ride and setting aside funding to create clear bike lanes. Typically, we see these shifts occurring first in dense downtown areas to reduce the speed of cars and make moving through downtown friendly to both cyclists and pedestrians. One of the key benefits of bike lanes is increased safety for pedestrian traffic as well as bike traffic – slower moving cars and the assignment of a bike lane combine to reduce accidents and keep sidewalks clear.
In many cases, towns are converting multilane streets into a single lane in each direction, allowing them to add bike lanes, parking, and wider sidewalks for pedestrians. The recent Academy Street renovation employs these principles, supporting more active and safer streetscapes. As bikers increase in visibility, drivers’ response is slowly shifting. For example, contemplate how you drive in a busy downtown versus a two or three lane road with a median between – in one scenario, you are actively anticipating people, bikes, strollers, and other cars to impact your forward movement, while in the latter situation you are far less alert for slower moving people and bikes. The creation of a systematic network of streets with official bike lanes not only promotes and protects bikers, it protects drivers and pedestrians as well by slowing cars and requiring drivers to pay greater attention to non-vehicular movement. Some areas are also considering designating bike corridors, which are secondary streets running parallel to a main street, but geared toward bikers.
Unquestionably, in many cities across America, there remains much progress to be made to safely accommodate cyclists with minimal disruptions to cars and pedestrians. But we are on the path. Making bike lanes consistent from block to block, ensuring adequate bike lane functional space, and educating drivers is key to transforming our transportation system long term.
For those considering bike commuting, I suggest starting small. Try biking for ice cream or an afternoon snack on the weekend when there is less traffic – and as you prepare to bike to work, consider shifting your schedule slightly – plan to arrive 20 minutes earlier or later to avoid the worst traffic. This will help you gain confidence and experience. Any time you choose to bike to your destination, you are making the positive choice to become more active and taking one small step in changing how the community in which you live functions.
Anne Seeley, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, is an architect in our Raleigh office who specializes in educational design and research. To speak with Anne, please call 919.828.1876 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.