By Anum Yoon
Though cycling to work has the potential to reduce your carbon footprint and improve your overall health, you’re probably not doing it. In many communities, bike lanes simply don’t exist, making it difficult or downright dangerous to battle automobile traffic to bike to work.
Cities like Washington, D.C., and New York have installed bike paths for commuters, and the investment has paid off. In D.C., bike commuting has increased by 120 percent, and in New York ridership has doubled, all thanks to offering cyclists appropriate infrastructure. While it’s certainly good news, the sad fact remains that the U.S. still lags far behind European nations when it comes to bicycle commuting.
Why are Americans so slow to adopt bicycle commuting, even when investments are made in bike lanes? Infrastructure is only part of the story.
In contrast, most Americans see cycling as a purely recreational activity, a sport taken up by weekend warriors and triathletes looking for a new fitness goal. Even in locations where cycling is common, riders tend to be students, and the image of cycling in these locations is dominated by photos of racing bikes carrying surfboards and backpacks full of sporting gear.
Because most Americans view cycling as recreation rather than as an appropriate mode of transit, there has also been a backlash against building new bike lines in some large cities. New Yorkers complain about lost parking spaces and reduced lanes for cars, while Chicagoans feel that pedestrians are put at risk by speeding cyclists.
It’s also important to recognize that bike lanes aren’t the only infrastructure required to make commuting doable for many people. Businesses and communities need to invest in places to store bicycles safely and conveniently, too. After all, if there’s no place to park your bike, you’re never going to ride to work.
In the end, these changes will only happen if people demand them. If you want to ride to work but are missing the tools and support you need to feel safe doing it, start advocating for change through your local political process. Get involved, and you can make a difference in your community that everyone can benefit from.