According to figures from the American Community Survey released by the League of American Bicyclists, .53 percent of America’s commuters ride bicycles to work. Springfield manages 1.2 percent behind Columbia’s Missouri-leading 1.5 percent (based on 2010 data).
Here’s what the League thinks this means:
While this number represents nearly 40 percent growth since 2000, it also shows that we still have a lot of work to do in making our communities truly welcoming to bicyclists.
OK, wait a minute. Springfield is a bronze-level bicycle-friendly community. Is that why we manage numbers nearly twice the national average? And if we are indeed at least minimally bicycle friendly, why is the percentage not larger?
I said it before: There are many reasons why Americans do not ride bicycles to work in numbers as great as we see in, say, Amsterdam. Primary among them, in my opinion, is culture. Riding bicycles to work — despite the crowded and chaotic conditions on the bicycle tracks — is understood to be utterly safe and normal to people in Amsterdam. Riding bicycles to work — despite flat terrain, a grid system, residential streets that lead nearly everywhere, bicycle-friendly status, and Midwestern politeness — is considered utterly crazy and dangerous here.
In my opinion, and as I hope my (soon-to-be-released) documentary film will demonstrate, riding in Amsterdam is far more troublesome — even more dangerous — than riding in Springfield.
So what’s the barrier? Culture.
Build all the infrastructure you want. But it will not raise participation enough to crack the culture barrier. The only way to do that is to change the culture.
That’s what the 1-Mile Solution is all about. Further, it takes the focus off commuting. I think we make a big mistake focusing on commuting because it is fraught with culture barriers. Who wants to be thought crazy by their co-workers?
If we can encourage someone just to ride within a mile of home — a few minutes to a friend’s home or to pick up a gallon of milk just one day per week — we can begin to change the cultural attitude. People will demonstrate to themselves that riding a bicycle is safe and normal. It will take a long time to accomplish.