Autobahns and Bicycles: Bike to Work Day

May is National Bike Month, sponsored by the League of American Bicyclists and celebrated in communities from coast to coast. Established in 1956, National Bike Month is a chance to showcase the many benefits of bicycling and encourage more people to give biking a try. This year, National Bike to Work Week is being observed on May 13-19 and Bike to Work Day is Friday, May 17.

But wait: Why do we need to encourage folks to ride their bike?

In my native Germany, people are bicycle friendly. I remember riding my bike to school every day. Many ride bicycles from barely out of diapers to well into their 80s. Seeing people on their way to-and-from school or work with a bicycle is a common sight.  Although Germany is well known for its automobiles and speed-limit-free autobahns, by all rights it should also be considered a cycling nation. In Germany, about 9-percent of all trips are made on a bike. Altogether, about 75-percent of the population owns a bike, outranked only by Denmark with 80-percent and the Netherlands with an impressive 99-percent! Believe it or not, there are 40-percent more bicycles in Germany than cars.

In Europe, cyclists and bike lanes have become part of nearly every urban streetscape. Year by year, the number of cyclists increases and the call for a robust infrastructure gets louder and louder.  If you are a European mayor, running a good bike-sharing program seems as much a barometer of success as having a good school system.

Bike sharing station in Indianapolis, IN

Indy has become increasingly more bike friendly. In 2014, the Indiana Pacers Bikeshare program began. This program allows people to get a bike from one of the bike stations and ride it anywhere, then return it to a bike station when finished. It costs $1 plus $0.15 for each additional minute, or users can buy monthly or annual passes. There are 29 stations and 250 bikes all Downtown. The program has become so popular that it will nearly double in size by end of August. There will 23 new stations and 275 new bikes being added that will expand the program outside of the Downtown area to popular attraction areas, like Newfields, Riverside Park, Indiana State Fairgrounds and more. This expansion is being funded by grants, so there are no additional costs to residents.

Despite large government investments in cities around the U.S., the creation of more bike lanes does not necessarily translate into more bike riders per capita. Unfortunately, many people barely recognize the bicycle as a legitimate mode of transport; considering it a toy for children, a mode of transportation fit only for those unable to afford an automobile or for bike nerds (like myself). In fact, at this very moment, I have 4 to 5 bicycles that I call my own in my garage.

bike to work with the mayor

Martin and Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett

Most would agree there is more to making a city bike friendly than simply creating pathways. A big part of it is changing attitudes. So, if you’re one of those who embrace all of the positive aspects of cycling, encourage those around you to try it for themselves during National Bike to Work Week!

On May 17, consider making biking to work a new habit and enjoy the benefits that come with it.  Not only does biking have the potential to improve individuals’ health, wealth, and standard of living, but the combination of more cyclists and fewer cars on the road gives our community a much-needed boost.

To create a thriving bike culture in our city, we must begin view bicycling not just a way of exercising, but as a serious form of urban mass transportation.

By Martin Baier, President and CEO