Cities build new bike paths. Will cyclists come?
While some municipalities see a surge in bicycling, national figures for 2005 show the same number bike to work as did in 1990.
Long Beach, Calif.
Three to four times a week, Jayme Bassett rides her 20-year-old Huffy bike five miles from home to the local metro-train stop. She uses a magnetized key to open the back door of a free-standing, concrete-and-glass building with the word "Bikestation" painted on the front window. The modern structure is ensconced in palm trees and raised above a cement pond, all just yards from platforms to buses and trains.
"Biking is the life," says Ms. Bassett, a teachers' credit union employee who takes a bus or train to complete her trip. "With the price of gas shooting up, smog, congestion, and all the rest, why do we need more cars, SUVs, and Hummers on the road?"
It's a refrain being heard across the United States as advocates push for more bike paths – and cities begin to build them.
There's just one catch. For all the growth in two-wheel travel that some cities are experiencing, a nationwide surge in nonrecreational cycling has yet to materialize. US sales of bicycles peaked in 2005 then fell last year to their lowest level since 2001, according to projections by the National Bicycle Dealers Association. The share of adults bicycling to work was only 0.4 percent in 2005, according to census figures released last week, exactly the same percentage as in 1990 and 2000.
That has not stopped many cities from beefing up their biking infrastructure. For example:
•In Austin, Texas, $250 million worth of trails are planned for the metro area, including 32 miles directly through the town center.
•Dallas/Fort Worth has $900 million in bike trails planned. "Texas is reaching out to embrace biking like never before," says Robin Stallins of the Texas Bicycle Coalition. "That says a lot about a shift of cultural values."
•Chicago has unveiled a plan for 500 miles of designated bike routes.
•New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has called for 200 miles of bike paths throughout the city by 2009.
•Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels released a 10-year master plan in April to "make the city a world-class city for bicycling." It commits $240 million over the next decade for 452 miles of marked routes, bike facilities, roadway crossings and bridges, parking, and maps.
•San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom last month set a goal for residents to use bikes for at least 10 percent of their trips by 2010. In 2005, 1.8 percent of workers age 16 or over commuted to work by bike, census data show.