Ed France sat relaxed outside of Bici Centro, sharing stories with me about the Santa Barbara bicycle scene, his experiences with bicycling and local politics, links to videos on bike thievery experimentation, and even stories from NPR. Biking is not only his passion, but his profession. As Bici Centro’s Executive Director as well as head of the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition, Ed has become a leader in making bikes accessible to the community while keeping riding fun and exciting. But even in a progressive community like Santa Barbara, obstacles to bike-based living remain. We sat discussing these obstacles and why it’s important to solve them.
Ridership in Santa Barbara is strong. The Census Bureau found that from 2000 to 2011, Santa Barbara County saw a whopping 63% increase in bicycling. At the recent Santa Barbara Earth Day festival, over 1,000 bikes were valet parked, while an additional 600 were self-parked at bike racks provided by Bici Centro. Yet even with this level of growing popularity, bicycling is still in the minority (4% of workers commute by bike in the county) and faces a number of challenges. Access to secure parking, safety and theft issues are a constant dilemma.
The issues that bikers face are all symptoms of a greater fundamental problem, according to Ed. “At the most basic level, it’s about legitimacy and making bicycling a legitimate form of transportation,” he says. “When you look around at how bike theft is treated versus car theft, for instance, you see the disparity. Finding a stolen bike is a low priority for police, but that bicycle could have cost over $1,000! This type of ‘entry-level crime’, if caught early on, could halt repeat offenses. But its just not a priority.” This quickly gets to the heart of a common problem for those trying to commute or travel by bike: not being taken seriously.
In a world with over 7 billion people, bicycling should be given much more prestige. Consider the following. In a full life cycle assessment in the EU, a single bicyclist was found to emit 21g CO2/passenger/kilometer versus a car at 271g CO2/passenger/kilometer. In a 2009 study by the US Dept. of Transportation, titled the National Household Transportation Survey, it was found that the average trip to or from work for the average individual was 6.85 miles, while trips to school or church were 2.24 miles. According to Rails-to-Trails, making “mode shifts” from car to bicycle for these types of shorter trips (1-3 miles), could save over 1 billion gallons of fuel per year in the US alone. But until bicycling and bikers are taken more seriously, the benefits offered to society by this environmentally friendly mode of transportation will continue to evade us.
Bicycling to get around goes against the grain of how we have culturally envisioned transportation in the 21st century, possibly because it seems antiquated and inferior in the era of the automobile. But cyclists, marginalized on the road, understand the value bicycles bring to their community and to the natural environment. And from the fringe, they’re finding their own ways of growing a bike advocacy movement.
The Reasonably Polite Seattleites recently made a guerrilla installation of reflective pylons on an unsafe bike line. Artistically inclined New York City cyclists paint bike lanes themselves. In Toronto, the Urban Repair Squad was one of the original pioneers of makeshift lanes to give bikers safer distance from cars. And in Santa Barbara, Bike Moves amasses dozens of bikers to claim the road for a (law abiding) car-free joyride one night per month.
At Earth Day in Santa Barbara, referenced earlier, the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition, in conjunction with Bici Centro, set-up their popular Bike Valet program. The point of this program, explained Ed, is to create a VIP experience for bikers. Before this unique bike parking program was implemented at Earth Day, cyclists didn’t even have the minimalist ‘hitch’ bike posts to park their rides. Now, Ed explained, “bikers get to park the closest to the event, in a secure area where they can leave their belongings, for free, and they can come and go as they please. This legitimizes biking as a valid form of transportation by treating bicyclists as a priority, and keeping their bikes and valuables safe.”
As the conversation wound down, Ed made a passing comment that he and other bike advocates wanted Santa Barbara to be “the Copenhagen of the Pacific Coast.” Copenhagen enthusiasts state, “40 years ago, Copenhagen was just as car-clogged as anywhere else but now, 36% of the population arriving at work or school do so on bicycles from all over the Metro area.” In referencing Copenhagen, what Ed and other bike advocates and nonprofits are really trying to achieve is ‘livable’ cities, where despite increased population and development, people can still enjoy getting around easily and being outside without the accompanying traffic, air, and noise pollution.
If you are one of the many who care about the future of bicycling, wherever you live, get involved. In Santa Barbara, it’s CycleMAYnia all month long! CycleMAYnia is program run by Traffic Solutions with funding from SB County Measure A, and provides an open invitation for bike enthusiasts and newcomers alike to learn about your bike’s mechanics, to volunteer with like-minded folks and organizations, and to dig into the alternative transportation scene. There are meetings and discussions regarding new bike paths, traffic problems, safety, and City Master Plan updates. With over thirty opportunities to get involved all month long, there’s no excuse not to check it out!
To build livable cities and liveable communities, we must find a way to value biking and make it and other sustainable transportation options the most convenient, safest and quickest means of transportation. There’s a growing group who believe it can be done. What’s your vision?
By Sarah Clark, Contributing Author. Sarah graduated with a BA in Environmental Studies from Brown University in 2008 and received her Master of Environmental Science and Management degree from the Bren School at UC Santa Barbara in 2012. She currently works at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS). An avid nature-lover since childhood, Sarah shares an equal passion for the great outdoors and writing.