Lexington Mayor Jim Gray bought a new Cannondale urban commuter bike this summer. And he intends to use it.
In hoping to make more trips by bike, Gray is following the path of many future-minded civic leaders who are hoping to improve fitness, spend more time outdoors, use a more sustainable form of transportation, reduce traffic, cut down on pollution and address parking problems.
The decision to ride a bike — whether for commuting, running errands or recreation — is both personal and communal.
In addition to the desire to ride, cyclists need safe streets to ride on, and convenient and secure places to park — two infrastructure components that are part of what is called the built environment.
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This summer we learned about many projects across the city intended to promote biking. Twenty miles of bike lanes are being added; the University of Kentucky introduced a bike voucher program to support active transport to campus; there was the dedication of the new bike path through the Arboretum, and Phase III of the Legacy Trail was initiated.
There are many reasons to promote increasing bike use. We all have experienced the inconvenience of having a road widened, only to find that once opened there seems to be more traffic and longer delays than ever. One bike means one less car. Ten people commuting to work or going shopping by bike translates to 10 fewer cars in front of you at the traffic light and 10 more parking spaces. Having more bike lanes makes it easier to reach bus stops, resulting in more bus riders, further reducing congestion.
Rather than being an inconvenience, bike lanes remove slower bike traffic from vehicular traffic lanes, improving traffic flow. They also provide a buffer between pedestrians and car traffic, an important factor when children are walking or playing on curbside sidewalks.
When bike lanes are installed, motorists' driving behavior improves — a plus not only to cyclists but to pedestrians and other motorists as well. Community spirit and property values have been shown to increase on streets that have bike lanes, which everyone benefits from.
Every time you turn around, it seems like Lexington is getting another wonderful place to eat, another interesting place to go or another fun thing to do.
One of the things the current civic revival demonstrates is that Lexingtonians are particularly good at taking ideas from other communities and creatively applying them to our own unique problems and opportunities.
During a 12-day cycling trip in the Netherlands this summer, I learned that the Dutch have instituted a number of well-thought-out changes that have helped make them the most active biking nation in Europe. Perhaps the most important lesson the Dutch have to offer is that if you build it, bikers will come — and come and come.
In Delft, a city of 970,000, the bike garage at the train station has 5,000 spaces. Next year, parking for an additional 4,000 bikes will be added — and that is expected to fall 5,000 spaces short of projected needs.
Experts agree, biking is here to stay. And that's a good thing — for the community, for the environment and for everyone who bikes. As Lexington continues to explore ways to promote cycling, we are moving in a good direction.
So if you see the mayor on his new bike, be sure to wave or say hello. Or better yet, get on a bike and join him. You'll be glad you did.