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Five Tips for Growing Bike Ridership

By Heather R. Johnson on November 6, 2014

The bike path along Lakeshore Drive
Chicago / J. Kyle Keener

As the San Francisco Bay Area city steadily increases in population, Oakland has been making alternative transportation a priority. As a result, the city ranks higher each year on bike ridership surveys.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2014 American Community Survey data ranked Oakland at No. 8 nationally for the highest share of bike commuters. Financial site Nerdwallet.com analyzed factors such as biking population and safety to deem Oakland No. 9 in its May 2014 Best Cities for Cyclists survey.

Oakland has several plans in place to encourage people to choose two wheels instead of four. The membership-based, volunteer-driven Walk Oakland Bike Oakland (WOBO) launched the Oakland Bikeways Campaign in 2011 to add new and upgraded bikeways, continuous bike routes through five busy corridors and ultimately complete 218 miles bikeways by 2020. Teaming in part with Bike East Bay, WOBO has achieved many of its goals.

“We want world-class bikeways,” WOBO president Chris Hwang says. “We’re really focusing on quality rather than quantity.”

Busy Telegraph Avenue, which runs from downtown Oakland to downtown Berkeley, and urban 14th Street, which runs from the densely populated Lake Merritt area through downtown to West Oakland, are the first two areas of focus.

In addition to working with the city to add more bike lanes and “sharrows” (shared lane markings) where bike lanes aren’t possible, WOBO has launched campaigns to obtain new pedestrian-initiated signals and crosswalks and pushed the city council to adopt an ordinance that requires secure long- and short-term bike parking in construction and remodeling projects. Add to that increased bike racks, bike corrals and a few bike repair stations, and you’ve got a city that likes bikes.

Hwang, on behalf of WOBO, suggests these five tips for cities interested in launching or improving their own bike campaign:

1. Research your state’s Complete Streets policy.

Jurisdictions across the U.S. have adopted Complete Streets programs that ensure roads are built to accommodate all types of traffic. Cities take their own initiative to adopt the policy.

2. Consider public transit.

“A city that is transit friendly is bike friendly,” Hwang says. Consider transit, walkability and livability issues when developing a transportation plan.

3. Worry less about parking.

More parking lots won’t necessarily bring more people into a city or neighborhood. Also, consider that not all households have cars. “We have to think more openly about how to attract individuals and families who don’t have cars,” Hwang says. “They also want to increase walking and bicycling in their daily lives.”

4. Remember quality of life.

Parklets, which are usually sponsored and maintained by a local business or organization, provide additional public seating and bike parking and beautify a street, all for the price of two parking spaces. Parklets also create extra “eyes on the street” for added public safety.

5. Consider an Open Streets event.

The initiative temporarily closes streets to traffic, so people can walk, bike, roller skate and socialize. Cities across the U.S. are launching Open Streets events to achieve “environmental, social, economic and public health goals,” according to the Alliance for Biking and Walking.

By making it easier, safer and more fun for residents to ride, a city isn’t just promoting bicycling in general. “It’s about building better cities to live in. By slowing down the pace, we change the way we see our communities,” Hwang says. “That’s good for our quality of life and economic development.” 

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