The fresh breeze of the Central Valley air cools my face as I ride down Quail Lakes Drive at an average of 20 miles per hour. I ride to my English class at San Joaquin Delta College. Eight minutes later, I park my bike in a premium spot, closer to my classroom than any car space in the lot. This is my morning routine. Due to stoplights, stop signs, and the tedious search for a parking spot, cycling is the fastest way to get to campus; it is also more efficient. Throughout the world, people are switching licenses for helmets, fuel for food, and four wheels for two. The cause for the switch is the overwhelming evidence that bicycling promotes a more connected, healthy, and profitable community.
I am fortunate enough to have bicycle lanes in my neighborhood of Quail Lakes, which encourage me to bike daily rather than drive. In Stockton, however, the required bicycling infrastructure is scarce. By marginalizing such a wonderful activity, Stockton has effectively turned its back to a possible solution to many problems the city faces. While some believe that it is a trivial pursuit, I trust that the benefits of such implementation can positively impact the city and its many ailments.
DETACHED FROM THE PEDAL
Perhaps the most impending of these conditions for growth in Stockton is its apathy. Many residents do not care about their town, its people, or its future. There is a distance between the city and its people, a distance that even its three highways cannot connect; the sense of community is dying in Stockton. In “How Stockton’s Car Dependent Growth Shapes the Way Children Feel about the City,” David A. Garcia (from stocktoncitylimits. com) claims that Stockton needs to develop more accessible communities to cyclists and pedestrians in order to fix the indifference of its citizens. According to Garcia, the new research indicates a probable cause for Stocktonian’s disconnection. Considering the growth of Stockton’s suburbs has been rather significant since the dissection of freeways, one must drive an automobile to get anywhere. A recent study shows that children who live in areas with a lot of traffic and car-dependency have difficulty grasping their neighborhood and exhibit a general dislike and aggression toward their community. Garcia describes the lack of walkability in sprawling North Stockton; there are no restaurants or grocery stores for miles in the 8-mile area. Using the Walkscore algorithm in several areas of Stockton, the author obtains low scores that signify low-level of services within walking range of families. It is simply too inconvenient for residents in Stockton’s suburbs to walk to amenities. Garcia argues for a stronger sense community, and if the city becomes more pedestrian and bicycle-friendly, then it can be accomplished. Distancing individuals from a community has many negative effects that can destroy neighborhoods. By developing proper infrastructure, the city can motivate its citizens to go outside, meet neighbors, improve the community and at the same time their health.
With a lack of motivation to leave their homes without a car to explore Stockton, people are gaining weight at a worrying rate. Obesity is now an epidemic in the United States. It is a taxing problem in society that leads to increased public health costs and decreased individual productivity. According to “What America’s Most Obese Metro Areas Have in Common” by Elizabeth Mendes, Stockton is tied for first place as America’s most obese metro area. The study referenced was conducted in 2009 by Gallup and Healthways, a partnership which created the Well-Being Index, which surveyed over 300,000 people in the U.S. for medical data. The study showed that Stockton ranks low in exercise per day and high in blood pressure and cholesterol levels against a national average. This combination, the study suggests, is directly related to the whopping 34.6% obesity rate in Stockton. Consequently, one of the most often quoted benefits of bicycling is the improvement of health; cycling is a cardiac exercise that works out many muscles in the body. The people of Stockton could benefit from the exercise, as it reduces obesity and morbidity, while simultaneously increasing physical activity and cardiovascular health. If the city implements proper policies and programs, we can ride down the grotesque hill of obesity into the valley of health. Although it is a serious issue to Stockton, obesity is not the only troubling thing on the rise.
GAS PEDAL STIMULUS
GAS PRICES CONTINUE GETTING higher and its economic impact limits everyone’s coffers. Bicycling is a great alternative to gas fueled vehicles. The fact-sheet “Pedaling to Prosperity” provided by the Sierra Club, League of American Bicyclists, and National Council of La Raza shows how the development of infrastructure and use of bicycles saves the average American a lot of money. According to the study, a car’s yearly cost is $8,220—compared to $308 for a bicycle. On a national average, America saves $4.6 billion annually by cycling. The study also shows the amount of money saved on gas if American drivers were to ride only 8 miles per week on a bicycle as $7.3 billion per year. Therefore, it is vastly more economical to ride rather than drive. Consequently, riders who are saving money on gas are spending it on local businesses. Winter Gardens, Florida, is a small satellite town near Orlando; it is a clear example of the affluence biking can bring. The article by Dan Tracy, “Bike Trails Pump $42M into Central Florida Economy, Study Says,” explains the financial potential a bicycle trail can offer. Tracy interviewed several business owners and professionals, including a booming bicycle shop in downtown Winter Garden. An economic and communication specialist in the planning council praised the trails and stated that, on average, a cyclist will spend $19 at local cafés and restaurants. The three bike paths create over 500 jobs and generate over $40 million in revenue, according to a study cited by the author. Tracy also interviewed the city manager, Mike Bollhoefner, who “Credits the trail with the resurrection of Winter Garden’s downtown, which was packed with empty buildings before the first section of the path opened in 1994. Now, Bollhoefner said, there is a waiting list of businesses wanting to rent [the] space along a vibrant main street.” The paths completely rejuvenated the city’s downtown area, increasing property values of areas by as much as $47 million. And that is another tendency of creating bicycle paths: as infrastructure increases, land values follow. Entire neighborhoods can be uplifted by cycling.
In the project report, Property Value/ Desirability Effects of Bike Paths Adjacent to Residential Areas by David P. Racca and Amardeep Dhanju for the Delaware Center and State for Transportation, the authors claim that bicycle infrastructure in cities have helped property values, small communities, and lowered crime. The report cites several studies that found the bicycle paths and trails to be favorable and beneficial, according to many surveys of residents. Moreover, property values and quality of life have improved in residential areas near bike paths. According to the report, the overwhelming majority of homeowners prefer green spaces like bike paths and trails in a neighborhood; they have also indicated that it increased the appeal of the property. New residents who moved to an area after the construction of bike lanes and paths showed a definitive appreciation of the amenity, often being a deciding factor for homebuyers.
Stockton is constantly cited as the epicenter of the foreclosure crisis. This issue led to city-wide bankruptcy. Although investments in bicycle infrastructure allow people to save money, property values and desirability to increase, and small businesses to benefit, can Stockton really afford to finance such projects?
Referencing back to “Pedaling for Prosperity,” the fact-sheet maintains that it is economically sound for the city to invest in cycling projects. According to the study, Portland, Oregon only spent around $60 million on its bicycle infrastructure—the equivalent of one mile of urban highway—and is currently the media darling for bicyclists, which regard it as one of America’s most bike-friendly cities. The Environmental Protection Agency confirms the claim of cost-effectiveness in its “Transportation Control Measures: Bicycle and Pedestrian Programs” fact-sheet. It states that bicycle riding reduces municipal services costs that deal with automobile traffic, resource consumption, land use, and waste disposal. In addition, the investments made in bicycle paths by the city can also mean savings in commuter, recreation, and community programs. In order for Stockton and its residents to stay healthy, save money, and increase revenue, there must be a complete package of improvement that encourages riding, including bicycle infrastructure, programs, and incentives.
The scholarly article “Infrastructure, Programs, and Policies to Increase Bicycling: An International Review” by John Pucher, Jennifer Dill, and Susan Handy, found many cities that have developed proper bicycle infrastructure and have seen a significant impact in the number of cyclists. This case study examines 14 cities, large to small, that have implemented a wide range of public policies and developments to promote cycling. Boulder, Colorado saw large increase in cyclists thanks to a determined campaign that expanded pathways and programs for cyclists. Muenster, Germany, a city similar in size to Stockton, doubled their network of bike lanes and paths, bike stations at terminals, modified intersections and turning lanes, and made other improvements. The number of cyclists rose substantially. The study also showed how coordinated efforts of bicycle infrastructure development and incentives undoubtedly multiplied the number of cyclists in a city. Without a doubt, infrastructure is required; that is one of the main reasons why I ride, rather than drive, to campus. However, when it comes to curbing the bad habit of driving, there needs to be a more assertive influence.
Infrastructure projects like bike lanes, paths, and trails are not the only things that generate more cyclists; programs and incentives are required to motivate the activity as a viable alternative for citizens. The article, “Portland’s TravelSmart and SmartTrips” by Ishani Mehta, details the successful efforts through two innovative and fun programs by the city to promote alternatives like cycling and public transportation versus single-user car trips. The first plan, TravelSmart, was a large-scale study which surveyed over 6,000 citizens before the program began, and 14,000 after. The plan provided individualized information to residents about Portland’s biking and walking routes, along with public transportation choices. The aftermath of this campaign resulted in a decrease of car use and a significant increase of cycling and walking as opposed to the control group that did not receive information. Seeing the success, Portland’s Bureau of Transportation implemented a more interactive and cheaper campaign called SmartTrips in 2005. According to the article, this new campaign provides personalized information to specific residential areas while simultaneously providing incentives through partnerships with local businesses. The SmartTrips program sends newsletters to targeted area household with a calendar of events, Safe Routes to School, transit schedule, and bike clinics. Moreover, Mehta explains, one can request more information and, to maximize the momentum of interest, a goodie bag is delivered within the week on a bicycle. The orders come with the requested information, a choice of one incentive (bike lights, bike map bandana, and so forth), and a thank you letter all in a vinyl tote bag. The goodie-bag is also a welcome present to new residents. The success of SmartTrips is huge; business owners are faring better, air pollution decreased, and it is part of the reason many people move to Portland. Moreover, the cost per person in the exceptional program is only $10. Another successful and inexpensive program that is modeled around the world came from Bogotá, Colombia. Gil Peñalosa writes in “Streets as Trails for Life” about the great benefits of the Ciclovia, a car-free day in the city’s streets where pedestrians rule the streets. The program’s growth has increased radically: from 100,000 participants to 1.5 million every Sunday. The author claims that there is no major capital investments required to create a Ciclovia, as the event uses previously existing roads. Increase in physical activity, social integration, economic development, participants, and a decrease in obesity are just some of its benefits. Furthermore, Peñalosa claims that these events create equality in society, because people of all economic and cultural levels can participate in the same event. Playful, open, and cost-effective programs like Portland’s SmartTrips and Bogotá’s events are being adopted all around the world. Even New York City hosts a Ciclovia-styled event. The effects of such programs are evident; they consistently increase the number of cyclists in a city and provide a wide-range of benefits. While reducing the amount of drivers is the ultimate goal of these campaigns, many people still do not wish to ride a bicycle. Some are reluctant because of the believed danger in biking.
CYCLING FOR LIFE
Living in an automobile-centered society, the pedestrian or cyclist has to be on guard. When I ride, my fixed-gear bike sways with the reverberation of wind pulling me after a car drives past; riding a bicycle is often considered dangerous. Like in many other activities, however, there is safety in numbers. New York City, one of the most densely populated areas in the U.S., has seen one of the largest increases in cyclists. A press release by the Department of Transportation of New York City (DOT) titled NYC DOT Announces Commuter Biking has Doubled in the Last Four Years and Conversion of Parking Meters into Bike Racks to Meet Growing Demand for Bike Parking announced an 8% increase from 2010-2011 in biking. Additionally, compared to the levels of 2001, there has been a 289% increase of cycling in New York City. According to the DOT, safety for all road users has actually improved significantly and is now at an all-time high. Fatalities are low and bicycle accidents are equal, regardless of the sizable increase of riders in the city. Moreover, the addition of bike lanes has improved safety levels for pedestrians by reducing the mortality rate of streets by 40%. This proves that cycling is a safe alternative to driving, and as the number of riders increase, so does security for everyone. As communities dwindle, bellies grow, gas prices hike, and wallets shrink, Stockton must begin to invest in a practical and cost-effective solution that can help the city substantially. By constructing infrastructure for bicyclists, Stockton can close the widening gap between itself and its residents. It can successfully cement communities where both children and adults can ride their bikes to school, work, or stores, and can combat the negative outlook of their city as well as create a healthier and financially-stable neighborhood. Building such a network does not carry a steep price, yet its rewards are plentiful. It can boost the local economy and save the city money. Additionally, programs and incentives further help this pursuit by increasing the number of cyclists. While some believe the path ahead is a dangerous one, we must peddle forward; because, as cyclists grow in numbers, so does the safety of riders. In order to ride the great wheels of progress, Stockton must invest in bicycle infrastructure and programs.