It’s Bike to Work Day 2009 and I did not ride my bike to work. Why? I can’t.
I can ride a bike, and I love hitting the road for some recreation, but for me, and for millions of commuters across the country, roads are hostile enough on four wheels, let alone two. I’m also not in a situation where I can take mass transit to work without transferring a bunch of times. So, like most folks, it’s cheaper, faster, and easier for me to drive to work.
Bike to Work Day (part of Bike to Work Week and National Bike Month) is held on the third Friday of every May, and often provides a venue for bicycle and transportation advocates to get employees and employers to think about bike commuting. It’s a great way, particularly when the weather improves, to encourage people to stay healthy, get out of the car, and encourage sound transportation and planning policy that does not take a “car first” approach.
And thanks to the Bicycle Commuter Act, which was included in the passage of TARP in October 2008, there might be even more incentive for employers to encourage bike commuting. Starting this year, employers who provide bike parking, bathing facilities, bike repair, or other bike commuting support, can deduct up to $20 a month per participating employee from their own taxable income.
Why is this important? For all the obvious reasons, of course, but in the planning process, this could represent a positive step for downtown employers who are bound to near impossible-to-meet parking space requirements, and for progressive planning boards who consider bike commuting, shuttles, and other forms of transportation when approving a project.
In a recent NYT online forum, that examined the possibility of car-free communities in the U.S., Witold Rybczynski, the University of Pennsylvania urbanism professor, says:
There are only six American downtown districts that are dense enough to support mass transit, which you need if you’re going to be carless: New York City (Midtown and Downtown), Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and San Francisco. That’s it. The breaking-point for density and mass transit feasibility seems to be about 50 persons per acre, which means families living in flats and apartments, rather than single-family houses, even row houses. Not necessarily high-rise apartments, but at least walk-ups.
Since so many Americans still want to live in houses, this might be unrealistic in existing communities, but he says that a more “realistic goal for most Americans would be a semi-carless community, that is, one that is walkable within the neighborhood for convenience shopping, school-going and errands, and drivable for weekly shopping, consumer purchases.”
This is the kind of thought that has real influence on local planning, all the way from bike paths and designated lanes, to making sure retailers, developers, etc, when seeking permits or development approvals, include ample bike parking in their site designs.
In the meantime, have fun complaining about your own commute at Transportation for America’s (T4America) www.MyCommuteSucks.org and telling Congress to do something about it.
And for good measure, because it’s Bike Day and music is a great learning tool, here’s Queen singing about the benefits of cycling: