Walking and bicycling can be a great way to get around. Take biking for example: it’s cheaper than driving, it’s good exercise, it’s non-polluting, and it’s fun, unless you live in a city that’s not bike friendly.
There’s nothing like the feeling of speeding smoothly down a tree-lined bike path on a late spring morning with a warm breeze at your back. But what if there’s no bike path to get you where you need to be?
Then the sidewalk will have to do.
But hopping curbs every block, riding over treacherous, tire-popping cracks, and living in fear of turning vehicles every time you approach an intersection is anything but fun and relaxing.
How about using the street instead?
That is a possibility, but what if there’s no dedicated bike lane on your route? Then you’re stuck in the mix with hundreds of cars that are full of texting drivers who aren’t paying attention to the road.
The reality is that if you live in an area lacking safe, bike-friendly infrastructure, such as bike paths or well-designed bike lanes, it removes some of the joy out of bicycling. You might not want to bike at all. The lack of bike-friendly options probably has a lot to do with why more people don’t use two wheels on their daily commute.
Fortunately, things are getting better for bicyclists. Many cities that were once not bike-friendly are beginning to build the bike-able infrastructure that makes it easy and safe to get from one part of the city to another on two wheels. This is in large part due to more people demonstrating that they want to choose active, pollution-free forms of transportation. After all, who wants to spend the morning stuck in traffic?
The switch to more bike-friendly cities is also thanks to the work of advocacy groups that are dedicated to improving the bike and pedestrian culture in their communities. Elizabeth Harvey works for one such group—the Bicycle and Pedestrian Resource Center, part of the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center—in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Elizabeth has been an advocate for walking and biking ever since she saw how bike-friendly the transportation system was in the Netherlands, where she studied abroad in college.
“I was just so fascinated by their use of bicycling, and how popular it was, and how easy it was to get around,” she said in an interview with Fast Forward. “It wasn’t something that was a unique, special, or cool thing to do. It was just a normal form of transportation.”
This experience inspired her to pursue a master’s degree back home in city planning. She wanted to do her part to make walking and biking more viable transportation options in American cities. Today, at the Bicycle and Pedestrian Resource Center, she’s making this happen through research and advocacy work. One of the ways she creates change is simply by being an active voice for bicyclists and pedestrians in the area. For example, by surveying people in the community to determine their perceived barriers to walking or biking, she can inform lawmakers and government officials on ways to create a more bike-friendly environment. This might mean building more infrastructure, like bike paths or bike lanes.
“People are interested in bicycling, but there are barriers. … [For example], the infrastructure is not there so they don’t feel safe. So building safe infrastructure can go a huge way in increasing the diversity and the inclusivity of bicycling,” she said.
It could also mean getting new laws passed that protect nonmotorists.
“The other side is improving policies,” she said. "Improving the legal standings of bicyclists so that they will feel safer. Enforcing laws on the road so that drivers aren’t aggressive against bicyclists. That can be a real problem.”
Ultimately, Elizabeth explained, the goal is to create an environment in cities where walking or biking can be part of the norm, rather than an exception.
“Bicycling and walking doesn’t have to be something that is a unique or a necessarily different form of transportation, but something that can be integrated—and should be integrated—into any multimodal plan in any town and country,” she said.