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Something to Learn: Cycling as Transportation

by Jesse Peers, Cycling Coordinator at Reconnect Rochester

Journey from Car Driver to Bike Educator

In 2012, I was just as car-dependent as anybody when Mike Governale’s Rochester Subway blog and ROC Transit Day caught my attention. It was Reconnect’s creativity and ROC Transit Day’s great buzz that got me thinking about getting to work without my car. When my uncle gave me his old mountain bike around that time, I gave biking to work a shot. I discovered it was just as quick as driving, but I wasn’t very comfortable and stuck to the sidewalk.

“I wanted to be less frightened on my bike.”

Confession time: Just ask my parents – I’ve always been a risk-averse, shy, non-confrontational person. When you conjure up the mental image of a macho, super-confident cyclist, that wasn’t me! I wanted to be less frightened on my bike, so when I learned my friend Tracey Austin was teaching a two-hour bike class at the Rochester Brainery in 2013, I jumped at the opportunity.

Bike Education Built My Confidence

Tracey, who had been trained as a bike patrol officer through IPMB (International Police Mountain Bike), was very knowledgeable and reached her students where we were at. No question was off-limits or too stupid. After a brief slide presentation on traffic law and best practices, we headed outside. We learned how to inspect our bikes to ensure they’ll operate properly, and we spent 20 minutes or so learning basic handling maneuvers such as the quick stop. Then came the best part: We navigated Rochester’s streets together on our bikes.

It was a beautiful late August evening, and together we made left turns in left-turn-lanes (!), something I had never done before and would never have done by myself, if not for riding in a group. I recall biking across the Pont de Rennes Bridge for the first time with a gorgeous sunset transpiring before our eyes. It felt like we were Hogwarts students riding broomsticks around the city. When the class concluded, something in me had changed. I knew what the simple bike was capable of and I was now confident enough to bike on most streets. That fall, I started biking regularly.

Ditching the Car for Good

Three months after that class, I got rid of my car and haven’t had one since. I’m healthier, I’ve drastically reduced my carbon footprint, and I’m saving over $6,000 a year. In the intervening 6 years, I took two more intensive bike classes that exponentially increased my confidence and knowledge. And in 2017 I got certified myself (alongside some friends) as an LCI – a League Certified Instructor – through the League of American Bicyclists.

“I’m healthier, I’ve drastically reduced my carbon footprint, and I’m saving over $6,000 a year.”

If I Can Do It, Anyone Can Do It

I talk to so many people who say “You’ll never get me on a bike.” “No way will I ever ride among cars.” Listen, I totally get it. I’ve been there. I understand how scary it feels. It took a class for me to get comfortable on my bike and I suspect that’s the case for many.

If you consider yourself “interested-but-concerned” when it comes to biking (most people identify in this category), I urge you to take a class. It’s not boot camp. It’s fun, cheap and some of the best money you’ll ever spend.

This isn’t about “getting rid of your car.” This is about taking opportunities to bike. The low hanging fruit: the majority of car trips which are under 2 or 3 miles. As I said in a recent podcast interview, “We’d live in a different world if we saved our cars for long trips, when the weather is bad, or when there’s more than one occupant in the car. If we only biked for short solo trips in good weather, it would change everything.” And honestly, even if you only ever intend to bike on our beautiful river & canal trails away from traffic, you’ll still benefit from a class: You’ll get more comfortable on your bike and cycling will become more enjoyable.

“If we only we biked for short solo trips in good weather, it would change everything.”

Staying Safe is Mostly Up to You

Top-notch bike infrastructure that makes people of all ages and abilities comfortable absolutely has a place in getting more people on bikes. Reconnect Rochester and Rochester Cycling Alliance volunteers are relentless in advocating for that infrastructure.

But I fervently believe that bike education has a crucial role too. Infrastructure alone isn’t enough. Even if Rochester becomes the Copenhagen of North America, there will never be protected bike lanes from your doorstep to your destination. You are going to have to mix in with traffic some of the time. You’re operating a legal vehicle and need to not only know traffic law, but abide by best practices a certified instructor can teach you.

Keep your eye out on the Reconnect Rochester event calendar for bike education class opportunities, like the “Getting Back on Your Bike” virtual presentation I’ll be giving on April 25 for the Central Library. This summer, we hope to have a couple on-bike classes similar to the one I took in 2013. A typical intro class includes a classroom presentation, basic handling drills and a short group ride where we navigate various infrastructure and intersection scenarios together.

Final Two Words: Just Ride

Beyond bike education, I urge you to just ride. Rochester has a wonderful bike scene and there are weekly rides for people of all ages and skill levels that will resume when we get the thumbs-up from officials. Send me an email to subscribe to the RCA’s monthly news, to be apprised of upcoming classes and rides, or if you have any bike safety questions.

A recent study found that people who drive to work would much rather teleport if such a thing were possible. Cyclists, however, the study found, wouldn’t teleport – because they actually find empowerment and joy in the journey.

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Behold the Bike!

Few inventions have the efficiency, health benefits, affordability, urban design potential, safety features and environmental friendliness of the modern bike. It’s not your grandmother’s bicycle; it’s a revolutionary component in our future transportation portfolio. There have been bikes. There will be bikes.

Bikes started as glorified hobby horses (the walking machine), then got pedals (the velocipede or boneshaker), then rose up and sped up (the high wheel bicycle), then began settling down for speed and safety (the hard-tired safety), and now they are fast, sleek and efficient. It was a long (and sometime dangerous) haul; and, if you are quick about it, you can see the entire history of bicycles at the Pedaling History Bicycle Museum in Orchard Park, NY before it closes. (If enough visitors go, maybe it won’t close.) [http://www.pedalinghistory.com/]

Now, in many modern urban communities the bicycle is more than an old contraption made new and glorified by bike clubs and enthusiasts. Bicycles are not simply hangers-on, like horse-riding or Model T driving on Sunday. Bicycles are becoming an integral part of planned transportation systems throughout the country. Note how cities like Portland, Oregon and Boulder, Colorado are retrofitting their vehicle-dominated streets into bike boulevards (BTA: Bicycle Boulevards Campaign) where commuters and even kids off to school can get to their destinations year-round and safely.

Year-round and safely? In New York State? In the rain, the snow, heavy traffic, though the mud, across busy bridges, to grandmother’s house and still be presentable?

Become a believer. When more people bike more drivers accept them on our streets—which, of course, they have every right to be. In official studies: under 6.5 miles, the public prefers bicycling over mass transit. Bicycling produces zero greenhouse gas emissions, has relatively inexpensive repair bills, and because of the soaring cost of road and bridge maintenance our regional planners consider bicycles a serious component of our future transportation.

If we make our streets more bike accessible, protect bicyclists from fast-moving traffic, create innovative all-weather bike corridors, [http://rochestergreenway.org/]and provide convenient and comprehensive bike parking, the public will bike. Already, many cities have found a way to bicycle-friendly their streets, not because it is trendy, but because there is no faster, more efficient, environmentally and urban-friendlier way to get around than the bike. [http://www.bikeleague.org/programs/bicyclefriendlyamerica/communities/]

Too expensive, too radical, too dangerous, too slow, and just too much darn trouble? As opposed to what? Billions of dollars on maintaining our existing vehicular dominated streets? An obese society that spends zillions of bucks for insurance, parking, fuel, repairs, and the vehicles’ price (the ‘Clunkers for Cash’ program is drying up)?

The real impediment to creating a Rochester, New York that moves around in massive numbers on bicycles and renews our sense of community from our too expensive isolation tanks is Attitude. Everything else is there, the technology, the know-how, and the vivid examples of bike/transportation modes across the spectrum of world cities. Behold a healthier lifestyle.

Frank J. Regan [RochesterEnvironment.com]