From The Editors: May 27th 2015
Mention bikes in Erie and most people likely think of motorcycles and the rumbling hums signaling that summer has arrived. And most come to this conclusion with good reason, as the stalwart summer festival, Roar On The Shore — the multi-day gathering of bikes, bikers, and the culture that comes with the quasi-Sturgis that's heralded as sound economic development for the City of Erie — is becoming a rival in size and scope to Celebrate Erie. Some even consider it the opening act to the August festival.
Beyond ROTS — and its effect on the City — there are bike nights, too, that reinforce the notion that when we think of bikes in Erie, we think motorcycles first and bicycles, well, hardly at all.
One of the things that motorcycles and bicycles have in common are the perceived risks inherent in opting for two wheels instead of four. As dangerous as motorcycles may be (think: no helmet law in Pa.), bicycles aren't without controversy, too (think: mass hysteria over bike lanes in New York City and the introduction of a bike-share program).
Bike lanes, some argued, would increase bicycle-related accidents, because they'd promote more bicycling and more bicycles sharing the road at the same time as cars creates the more bikes plus cars equals more accidents all around equation.
"Evaluating the Safety Effects of Bicycle Lanes in New York City," a study published in the American Journal for Public Health, revealed that the "installation of bicycle lanes did not lead to an increase in crashes, despite the probable increase in the number of bicyclists." Rather, the study noted, "the most likely explanations for the lack of increase in crashes are reduced vehicular speeds and fewer conflicts between vehicles and bicyclists after installation of these lanes." That is, creating a lane for cars and a lane for bicycles means a clear separation leads to an increase in safety for all travelers.
But it doesn't stop there. When Citi Bike, the recently debuted bike-sharing program in NYC, launched last year, critics cried foul, suggesting that cabs would inevitably end up mowing down cyclists, spilling the blood of innocent pedaler making their way through the Big Apple. Fast-forward a year later to the shocking news in NYC: No one found bike lanes on trial, charged with first-degree murder of cyclists and/or drivers.
According to Citi Bike, the 8.75 million trips that resulted in 14.7 million miles logged on its bikes led to just a hundred crashes — and zero deaths. This news isn't uncommon, as bike-share programs throughout the world aren't leading to mass — or nearly any — casualties. Rather, drivers are learning, adapting, modifying their driving tendencies as they acclimate to the increased presence of cyclists.
Realizing that bicyclists and increased bike traffic won't correlate to an increase in biker deaths means that biking isn't just for small towns or rural paths. Rather, it means biking works in bigger cities and the use of bikes has the potential to build better transit by at the very least creating more alert drivers and at the very most reducing the number of citizens opting for motor-powered transit to take them a mere mile.
After all, that AJPH study notes that of the nearly 140 million commuting trips made daily, less than 1 percent are made by bicycle. What's more shocking is that approximately 25 percent of trips made total less than one mile in distance and 75 percent of those trips are made by car.
Aside from the obvious conclusion that if any of these short trips were to be made by bike people would get more exercise, which could lead to a reduction in obesity, bikes can also help to build stronger communities.
Take for instance the work the Sisters of Saint Joseph Neighborhood Network are doing in Erie. And consider Erie's Eastside Opportunity Corridor being developed by County Councilman Jay Breneman and City Council President Dave Brennan. Katie Chriest covers both of these — and more — in a riveting feature on Erie's bike (read: cycling) culture and how these examples demonstrate how people are endeavoring to make Erie a bikeable city, one more bicycle-friendly while making Erie a better city.
Is promoting bikes, bikers, and biker culture revolutionary? No. Is it controversial? Not really.
But it gives us hope that people see that bikeable cities mean improved cities, and they aren't afraid to dare to have such dreams in a smaller (read: shrinking) city — especially because the current population statistics don't have us all that revved up.