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Posts Tagged ‘bicycle’

Bike racks in Long Beach

Bike racks in Long Beach help attract customers to local businesses.

One of the truly encouraging trends we’ve seen the past few years is the gradual uptick in urban cycling around Sarasota. Many new bicycle parking racks have been installed and people are slowly catching on to the fact that the bike may just be the best way to get around the downtown area. Plus, the sight, smell, and sound of people riding bikes and walking is just so much more pleasant than those of cars, especially on Main Street. Even during a severe economic downtown, life in the heart of our fair city has become more vibrant, not less.

An article crossposted on Grist and The Nation took a look at Long Beach, California, as it works to better integrate the bicycle as a regular means of transport. Like Sarasota, Long Beach has a climate that accommodates year-round cycling (the only thing required in SRQ during the worst heat of summer is more shade from street trees), a high number of older and retired residents, and way too much traffic. That is changing, slowly but surely, in Long Beach and perhaps in Sarasota as well. Why? Well, besides being good for quality of life, bikes are good for business.

Of course, there are still plenty of cars in Long Beach…but bicycles are getting more respect, not to mention resources, than ever before. With help from state and federal grants and pressure from local cycling enthusiasts, the city government has installed 130 miles of bike trails, established protected bike lanes (that is, lanes separated from vehicular traffic by physical barriers) on major commuter thoroughfares, created bike boulevards that enable kids and parents to bike or walk safely to and from school, and installed 1,200 new bike racks.

Perhaps most innovative has been the city’s effort to establish bike-friendly shopping districts — the first in the country, officials say — engaging local merchants by showing them how, contrary to common belief, biking can actually bring more customers and vitality to shopping districts.

“The math is pretty simple,” says April Economides, the principal of Green Octopus Consulting and the leader of the city’s outreach to local businesses. “You can park 12 bikes in the amount of space it takes to park one car. And someone who shifts from owning a car to a bicycle tends to have more discretionary income, because, for a commuter, the typical cost of a bicycle is $300 a year, compared to $7,000 a year for a car.”

Separated bike lane in Stockholm, Sweden. Where the weather isn't nearly so favorable for cycling.

Besides putting extra money in your pocket, pedaling more and driving less makes it easier to remember why you chose to live in paradise in the first place.

“I like a line by Aristotle, ‘Beware the barrenness of a busy life,’” Long Beach mayor Bob Foster says. “Sometimes I can’t remember at the end of a day what I did the past eight hours. That’s moving too fast. A bit slower pace in life is a good thing.”
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Anyone who’s read this blog from its inception knows that we at Laurel Park Management are big supporters of bicycles and the folks who ride them. To clear up a quick issue of nomenclature, I tend to use cycling when I mean higher speeds, longer distances, stretchier clothes, and bicycling when I mean cruising around, running errands, dressing normally. I’ve written here before about how ideally suited Sarasota is to both cycling and bicycling—bicycling being the subject at hand—but I’ll repeat the key points quickly before moving on to the point of this post…that, for many of us, replacing a car with a bike is not only viable but really pretty smart (if you’re scoffing at me right now or labeling me as one of those enviro-wackos trying to destroy America, please reserve judgment until the end).

When my then-girlfriend and I moved to Sarasota several years ago from Los Angeles we sold one of our two cars and used the money to pay for the move across country. We had enough left over to buy a bicycle for each of us, pay off a credit card, and rent an apartment here in Laurel Park. My girlfriend usually took the remaining car to work up the trail, which left me with a bicycle to use for all my daily needs. It was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

Sarasota is flat, the climate is spectacular, most roads have relatively low auto-traffic loads and speeds, and shopping and services tend to be clustered compactly enough to allow bicyclists to cross off several to-do items in quick succession. But it’s too hot during summer, you say? I bicycle year round and find that shade from trees keeps things sufficiently moderate even on the worst days. What about rain? Thankfully, our rain tends to be pretty predictable. I simply pay more attention to the forecast than I used to. Cars can be an issue, partly because the prevailing mentality of drivers here is, let’s say, Darwinian, and partly because most drivers just aren’t used to looking out for bicyclists. And despite the compact clusters sprawl can also be something to overcome. BUT…by and large, SRQ is a fine place to ride a bike, and it could become a spectacular place to ride a bike if we plant more shade trees, paint more (and wider) bike lanes, and take some simple steps to protect current bicyclists while encouraging new ones to join. Why would we want to do such a thing? Isn’t the car the American way (to get around)?

The honest answer is, sometimes. Cars are great for driving relatively long distances, for rural areas, and for a host of other situations. But in an urban context cars can be more trouble than they’re worth. Using a bicycle as a primary mode of transportation has changed how I interact with the city. I see more, hear more. My senses come alive. The world slows to a human speed. Errands have become enjoyable. And, perhaps surprisingly, I can usually accomplish them faster with a bike than I can by car. This is also due to the advantages of proximity that residents of Laurel Park benefit from, of course, but it still caught me by surprise.

Parking a bike is faster and easier than parking a car. It’s also free. Riding a bike improves one’s health, makes no noise, emits nothing smelly or toxic. Bikes take up roughly 1/10th the space of cars while driving, and as little as 1/15th when parked. Then there are the economic benefits: cars cost a lot to buy, and you still have to insure them, maintain and repair them, and fill them with gas. Bikes are cheap, repairs are simple, maintenance is minimal, and fuel costs are already included in your grocery bill. On the rare occasions when I need a second car I rent one. The cost and hassle are both substantially less than with ownership.

Since becoming a daily bicyclist I’m healthier, happier, and my income goes further than it used to. I’m not saying that everyone should get rid of their cars, but most households with multiple cars can probably get by just fine with one car and a new bike. Heck, a few new bikes. People in Copenhagen, for example, use their bikes not only to commute and shop but also to drive their kids to school (see the picture above) and do a million other things we don’t associate with bicycles.

People who haven’t lived there might be surprised to know that Copenhagen has a lot of cars and that the roads are, at times, filled with car traffic just like they are in Sarasota. The difference is mostly one of options…many people there recognize that certain trips are faster, cheaper, and easier to make by bike. The point of all of this is that there are options, there are solutions to every problem, some of which are so simple they escape our view. If you are looking to cut your expenses, improve your health, get more fresh air, and take better advantage of all that our beautiful city has to offer, I highly recommend selling your car (especially if you have more than one) and getting a bike. Or, if that just isn’t feasible, using a bike for as many trips as possible. You won’t regret it.

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It’s flat, the weather is amazing, it has plenty of public bike racks…so why aren’t more Sarasotans riding bikes? Bicycles can play a huge role in the livability of a place. They provide mobility to citizens of all ages and income, keep people fit, promote social connections, and don’t require a drop of gasoline. Cities and towns around the world are realizing that the more their people are on bikes the healthier, happier, and safer they’ll be. Research even confirms that cities that prioritize bikes reap economic benefits.

Laurel Park Management encourages its residents to utilize bikes whenever possible. Several residents we’ve spoken with run nearly all their errands, including grocery shopping, via bike. The Silva Court Studios even offer free indoor bike parking. From Laurel Park, nearly everything one needs can be reached on bike. And the more people see other people on bikes, the more likely they are to join them.

If you don’t regularly use a bike for transportation, what would encourage you to give it a try? If you already consider a bike to be your second car, what do you think Sarasota could do to make itself more bike-friendly?

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