Bicycles: Viable Automobile Alternatives

Dec 16, 2013

Credit WAMC composite image by Dave Lucas

An analysis of the 100 largest urban areas in the country found that since 2000, fewer commuters are using cars to get to work. In fact, in most cities, the use of public transportation has been rising since 2005, and more people are biking to work — even in winter.

The survey by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group shows that U.S. per capita driving peaked in 2004, before the economic downturn.   Advocates say — driverless and self-parking cars aside — America's love affair with the automobile is over. They say we should leverage our transportation future against public transit and biking.

Laura Haight is Senior Environmental Associate with the New York Public Interest Research Group.   "Albany is one of the 100 largest urbanized areas in the United States, and in this report we really prove to be a laggart. We do have a decrease in driving, but we have a much larger decrease in passenger miles traveled by mass-transit. In fact, most of the other places that saw similar declines in mass-transit use were in the south. Those data go back to 2010. Since that time there have been increases in mass-transit use in the Albany area but we really have a long way to go before we really have convenient mass-transit, especially for commuters on their way into work."

CDTA officials did not return calls or emails requesting comment.

Albany Common council member Leah Golby says that with bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure increasing, the council passed its first "Complete Streets" legislation, rooted in Albany 2030, the comprehensive plan for the city announced in 2010.  "So what our complete streets legislation does is really require the city when they're re-doing roads to look at all users to make sure that the streets are safe for everyone. So they have to keep in mind not just moving cars but also moving bikes, so that could also mean putting in bike lanes. It could be putting shared road markings which is what we have called 'sharrows' for bicycles.... when you see the bicycle symbols they are 'sharrows' not actual separated bike lanes.  It could be bikeways which separate the traffic even more from bicyclists and it also means looking at pedestrian accommodations to make sure that pedestrians can have a comfortable and safe walk."

NYPIRG's Laura Haight points to a modest uptick in biking in the Capital City. "It's not very safe. There are many areas where you take your life in your hands going from one place to the next and so we really do need much better transportation design and better traffic enforcement in order to make this area safer for pedestrians and bicyclists."

Bike advocates are touting cycling as a viable year-round transportation alternative in many North American cities, including New York. Dani Simons directs marketing and external affairs for New York City Bikeshare, which runs the popular CitiBike program, which launched this past Memorial Day weekend. The program has nearly 7,000 bikes at 332 stations scattered from Manhattan to Brooklyn. There are three options: a 24-Hour Pass, a 7-Day Pass, or an Annual Membership. Commuters grab a bike  and turn it in when they reach their destination. Simons attributes the program's success to improvements to the bicycle infrastructure.   "The city's added over 325 new miles of bike lanes and somewhere around 25 or 30 miles of 'protected' on-street bike lanes. Basically the bike lanes are flipped so that the parking is on the outside and the bike lane is on the inside so that the parked cars actually form a barrier and protect cyclists from the moving traffic."

Simons sees no reason why a similar bike sharing couldn't be deployed in Albany.    "Y'know it's worth giving a try! I think that there's a lot of interest in bicycling and I think that there's a lot easy ways to kind of make it just as comfortable in the winter as it is during the heat of summer. It just takes a little bit of adaptation and it can happen."

For anyone interested in effecting bicycling changes in Albany, there's a public meeting of the Albany Bicycle Coalition Thursday.