Time to Ride
May is perfect month to pedal for fun and health
By Walt Seifert
“May is Bike Month” is Sacramento’s annual campaign to promote riding a bike. May is the ideal time, and our beautiful neighborhoods are the ideal places, to enjoy spring and have the pleasure of getting somewhere under your own power.
It’s also an opportune time to evaluate how the city is doing in providing citizens a safe, comfortable and convenient environment in which to ride.
There are a couple of objective indices of how well we’re faring. Last year, Bicycling magazine ranked Sacramento 32nd out of the 50 U.S. “cities that are doing the most to make bike urban riding awesome.” The magazine editors rated Sacramento low for safety, citing a high fatality rate, and said “Streets are much less safe in neighborhoods of color.” They listed Seattle, San Francisco and Portland as the top three cities for biking.
“Where We Ride,” a report by the League of American Bicyclists based on data from the Census Bureau, indicates Sacramento is ranked No. 12 for bike commuting out of the 70 largest cities, with 1.8 percent of commutes made by bike. Being No. 12 in the country sounds good, but less than 2 percent of commute trips is paltry, especially considering our weather and flat terrain. However, the census only counts commute trips and we certainly have many non-commute trips being made by bike.
JUMP bike trips are non-commute by definition, since the shared electric-assist bike trips don’t start at people’s homes. JUMP is new to Sacramento (and Davis and West Sacramento) in the last year. The bright red bikes are visible and well used.
Some other changes bode well for bicycling here. The Sacramento City Council is bike friendly and the city has installed its first “protected” bike lanes (physically separated from car traffic by parking or barriers). The city has plans and money to add significantly to its off-street bike path network through the Dos Rios rail trail between Meadowview and Land Park, and the Two Rivers Trail along the south bank of the American River in River Park.
The city and businesses have been adding bike racks around town so secure bike parking is more available. Vision Zero, a program designed to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries, has been adopted by the city, but it’s too early to determine whether all city departments have bought into the vision or to see results.
The “May is Bike Month” promotion is now focused on getting more trips made by bike instead of having participants rack up recreational bike miles. Utilitarian bike trips do the most to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality. When substituted for car trips, they also do a lot for public health.
That’s good. Yet there are other problems that effectively dissuade many people from riding a bike.
Safety is an issue. Nobody should have to die, whether biking, walking or driving, just to get around. The city, region and state all allow traffic speeds that are unsafe. Too many drivers are distracted or under the influence. Attitudes, laws and enforcement priorities all have to change.
Homeless camping despoils parkways with trash and deters bike path use. This sad and intractable problem has visibly worsened. It needs to be solved for everyone’s sake.
Connectivity is improving, but is far from optimal. A bike route is only as good as its weakest link. It’s much too hard to cross the Sacramento and American rivers by bike. Existing bridges are too far apart, don’t allow bikes or are terrifying to bike across.
It takes far too long for a good bike project to go from idea to reality. Funding is always an issue—so are political will, planning and environmental reviews. Many bike projects have been formally adopted for decades, but are not close to being built.
We fail to count bikes (or pedestrians). If you don’t measure things, they are less important. You don’t have data for good decision-making. We count cars every which way, but don’t seem to care how many people are biking or where they ride.
Still, despite the imperfections, many short trips (most trips are short) can be made by bike and can be made safely by following traffic laws and applying common sense.
Riding is fun. You can register for “May is Bike Month” at mayisbikemonth.com and become eligible for prizes. The website has information on route planning, training and a host of events. Bon voyage!
Walt Seifert is executive director of Sacramento Trailnet, an organization devoted to promoting greenways with paved trails. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.