Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Rocket Skates

Why do people fear commuting by means other than car and how do they get over that hump? I posed the question to the great folks over at the MTBR Commuter forums and got a lot of really great answers. I also talked to a colleague who signed up for the commuter challenge but didn't ride once during, though has ridden three days since. Her story is similar to many people's stories, I think.

So let's what is it that keeps people from riding? Or busing? Or walking, for that matter? We need to understand this before we can start developing ways to get people out there and out of their cars.

The two most common concepts that arise are fear and comfort. Indeed, when speaking with my colleague, her reason for not riding during the challenge was that her commute was ten miles each way along a busy roadway. She was afraid that the ride would be too hard or too dangerous.

As Straz85 comments on the discussion, "-Most people are scared to ride on roads, especially during rush hour (why my wife would never ride to work)"

Scared. People are scared of riding bike for many valid reasons. While most cities are starting to have at least a minimal amount of bike infrastructure, there is a long way to go until bikes have the same level of access as other vehicles do without utilizing the existing roadway system. And many roads were never designed to support mixed traffic use.

Anchorage, Alaska is a good example of this. We have an extensive network of multi-use pathway, off-road bike lanes, and on-road bike lanes. Even so, there are roads in this town I will not ride on if I can help it and for a number of reasons. Fear being one of them. Most city streets here have 45 MPH speed limits. Many are set up as three or four lanes of traffic in each direction with poor to no lane marking and no run-out or shoulder area on the edges. Essentially highway-style roads with the occasional traffic light. If a dedicated bike commuter won't ride those roads, why would someone who's not nuts do it?

Unfortunately it seems that these non-bike friendly corridors are along major north/south or east/west routes, making it such that they are nearly impossible to avoid for at least part of a person's commute or the bypass of these routes adds so much length to the ride that it makes it daunting for most people.

There is also fear in relation to drivers - heck, we all know that bikes are hard to see and many drivers just aren't aware that there could be cyclists out there, especially when it's dark, cold, or rainy. We all hear stories all the time about cyclists getting run over and hurt or killed. The news likes to make a big deal out of these types of stories, which is great - raise awareness - but also has the affect of increasing fear and diminishing ridership.

Another common refrain has to do with comfort. "Why do any work when you can get in a comfy climate controlled SUV and have the 300HP engine do all the work for you (Straz85)?" A person doesn't need to think or preplan for a drive. Doesn't have to worry about the weather or the light conditions. Just drive. And that is a big appeal. I get that. But it's just conditioning. We've learned to feel that driving is the only way to go to the point that we don't think about it as a choice that we make each morning.

Many potential cyclists also worry about how they will be able to present themselves in a professional manner after riding in to work. Some folks want or need to shower after a ride. Many females have some strange need to put on makeup and do their hair (I can't pretend to understand this...), and some folks need to wear "professional" attire. And some employers are responsive to this, as Tripped1 states:

I have a shower and lockers, and the main reason that I can easily get away with it is because throwing jeans a shirt and a pair of chucks in a backpack is pretty easy. If I had to do business casual with the office rats on the other end of the building it would be more of an issue (or my cube would look like a store display) for a woman, that is even more of a challenge, depending on office dress and the amount of warpaint your wife wears.

My roomate is a a woman that works in an office that is WAY more restrictive dresscode wise than mine, she has a hard time even riding a motorcycle to work, much less riding a bicycle.

There are many, many reasons why people don't ride. There are just as many for why people chose to not use public transportation, but for now I want to remain focused on the bike as a commute tool as this where I got my start in moving from car-centric to car-lite.

Tomorrow we'll look at some of the ways that these fears can be calmed.

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