Biking beyond safety and into opportunity

Bicycling in Ada County is on the rise. According to the Idaho Statesman, cycling has increased from 1,073 in 2006 to 7,285 in 2012. But a recent influx in accidents might stall that number within the city. Discussions on the matter always come down to safety of the cyclists, as they should. But city officials might get further in altering the opinions of automobile users if they spoke more openly about the opportunities that could arise for the city if biking was seen as a safe and viable alternative.
Imagine the possibilities that might come from an easily bikable Boise.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia, 2013

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia, 2013

Have you heard about the recent changes to parking in the downtown area? If the city were safer, citizens may be more inclined to leave their car at home and bike down to meet friends at Alive After Five, meet for dinner, or to catch a show at one of the local venues.   Not only will they save money on parking, they are not using any gas and they get to experience the city in an entirely different way.

I recently helped conduct a survey for the  Boise Parks and Recreation. We surveyed users of the greenbelt on two separate days in September to establish who uses the greenbelt and how. Preliminary reports show that those who live closest to the greenbelt are those that use it the most often.  Also, a majority of the people who use the greenbelt get there in their car. A bicycle friendly Boise could change that.

Parents could gather their children and bike to the greenbelt, accessing the parks and even going to the zoo. Perhaps they pack a picnic, or maybe they stop at a restaurant that sits on the way to or from the Greenbelt. Boiseans in general would no longer have to worry about where to park if they want to go to the greenbelt and this could help attract people to the area. Better accessibility will lead to a more equitable public space.

Citizens of Boise are stepping up and coming together to establish ways in which to make Boise safer for all who use the road.  In a meeting sponsored by the Boise Bicycle Project, the Idaho Pedestrian & Bicycle Alliance, and the Treasure Valley Cycling Alliance, 75 people came to discuss the importance of increasing education for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. The Boise Police Department began handing out lights to those they see out after dark without one.

Police Officers are not the only ones handing out lights. While locking up my bike one night before dinner at a local restaurant, a customer approached me as he was headed to his car. He asked if I had a light, which I do. This gentleman informed me of his concern for bikers on the road and told me  he carries lights in his car and tries to give one to cyclists he sees riding without.

The safety of cyclists is of the utmost importance. It should remain at the forefront of the need for bike lanes and for better education for users of the road.  But the benefits that could arise for the city in its entirety should not be left out. Better accessibility throughout the city could help the local economy because it gives people options; the option not to spend money on gas, but to spend it getting into the zoo. The option not to limit your time downtown based on your parking budget, but to spend as much time as you want eating and laughing with your friends as your bike is locked to railing along the sidewalk café.

More options for transportation can create more options for life in general. It’s time to share the road and give everyone more options in their everyday lives.