The Obstacles To Bike Commuting And Some Ideas On What To Do About Them

Lisa Williams

I found Tom's recent mail regarding the obstacles to bicycle commuting, and everyone's responses to them, very compelling. They were all the more compelling to me when I thought about how unnecessary, and unjust these obstacles are. What possible logical or moral reason can there be to deny anyone the freedom to commute to work by bike? And what, if anything, do companies gain by demoralizing their best employees in such a fashion? In otherwords, WHY NOT have racks? WHY NOT give people a place to change and store clothes? It's not just good karma, it's good business, for crying out loud!

Thinking about it further, I tried to formulate a list of the basic factors that keep bike commuting a challenge and some ideas about what to do about it. Bike commuting today is a decision that involves a major commitment and a leap of faith, and a corresponding amount of ingenuity and dedication to keep it working, rather than "just another transportation option that I can choose if I wish, that has upsides and downsides just like the car or the bus or the carpool." Why?

In my view, the obstacles to bike commuting that every commuter has to deal with at one point or another in their career are as follows (the order does not indicate order of importance):

1. Roadway unfriendliness (bad road design)
2. Lack of intermodal transit.
3. Lack of education.
4. No place safe to put a bike.
5. No place at work to clean up and store clothes, or workplace disapproval.

Two of these are state issues (roadway design, and public transit) , three are not.

(We would like education to be, but we have to face the fact that today the state is not providing these services, and if we want them provided we must step up to the plate ourselves, while working (with? On?) the state to see the importance of offering these services).

However, I contend that even if we achieved Nirvana on 1 & 2, most people would still not commute until they had 3, 4, and 5. People will tell you they don't commute by bike because they feel unsafe on the road from a combination of lack of education and bad roadway design. Those who do ride now and again are too often discouraged by a lack of a place to put their bike. They won't tell you that they don't commute because they fear being sweaty or unkempt. That doesn't mean it isn't a real motivator in keeping them in their car. They are professionals with professional standards, and they want to be up to snuff every morning, which for many people includes some aspects of personal grooming.

Work on 1&2 -- roadway design and mass transit, are things that MassBike has been working on for years and will continue to be core to the organization, just because there is so much more yet to be done. (Past achievements include issuance of a statewide bicycle transportation plan, and the Bikes on the T program among many others). Paul Schimek of the MassBike board is also on the case around education, in particular, offering Effective Cycling classes as he has for many, many moons.

However, tackling 4 and 5 require advocacy in the commercial world to create bike-friendly buildings and bike-friendly workplaces.

So: What about advocacy programs that address "commercial" or, at least, not directly governmental issues? MassBike is considering several examples of direct member services programs in these areas, to

1. The MassBike Stop Bike Theft Kit
2. A Bike Friendly Building program to work with large commercial real-estate companies that have lots of office & commercial buildings
3. A Bike Friendly Workplace program
4. and an information service, The Bike Interest Calendar (this is live now at the Massbike website).

The MassBike Stop Bike Theft Kit, which was discussed on this list a few months ago, is slated to become a reality as soon as I drag my overworked behind down to the Kinko's (lots of very exhausting business travel lately, and mostly with NO BIKE (except that trip to Las Vegas!). I'm in the market for a folder if anyone wants to sell me one.) This, of course, is mostly information. What's needed even more is safe parking. Hence a Bike Friendly Building Program. Some thoughts on this:

I believe that the property holder at Tom's office is Boston Properties, who has in fact been pretty progressive in putting in bike parking facilities. Why? Well, I chatted them up, and this was their answer:

"Bike parking is a property improvement that makes our properties more attractive to our most highly-sought after set of customers -- technology companies and service companies. It adds to the value of our properties and is a profitable investment."

That's why a Bike Friendly Building Program will succeed. We don't have to go with our hat in our hand to these guys and say, please, out of the goodness of your heart, a rack, just one, please, please, please, Mr. Giant Property Owner. We can go and say: This is a program that will make your properties more attractive and help you be more profitable. This is good business, and we're going to help you get there.

What's also needed is a Bike Friendly Workplace program, with similar lines: Bike Friendliness Is Good Business, Darn It!

That said, the fact is that MassBike's current financial situation makes it even money whether the only statewide bike advocacy group will even be able to keep up the programs that keep bicycling on the table when state agencies that decide roadway and transit matters start carving up the money and resources will be able to keep doing just that. Adding additional programs, like Bike Friendly Workplace and Bike Friendly Building, to address the important issues around making commuting better for people who do it today, and add more commuters tomorrow WON'T HAPPEN WITHOUT MORE VOLUNTEERS AND MORE MEMBERS. PERIOD.

1. If you are reading this, and you subscribe to this list, and you are not a member or you have allowed your membership to lapse, call this number right now: 617-542-BIKE and become a member today. This list is free: having bike advocates working every day is not.
2. If you are in a position to help with any of these programs, then do it now!
3. Try to help in other ways. If you're on this list, like me, you probably have excess consumer electronics. This year, I auctioned off my old Palm Pilot and a few other things, with all the proceeds to benefit MassBike.

You, the members of MassBike and the readers of this list, are the cavalry. I am calling you in now so we can win the battles and the war to make every workplace a bike friendly workplace and every building a bike friendly building, and to continue fighting to make every road and train and bus bike accessible. It is a tough fight and it is a long fight, but I believe it is a winnable fight. Will you saddle up and join us? Will you help, with your time, your brains, and your money?

Lisa Williams

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