Will Gas Costs See Surge in Bike Commuters?

As President Bush encourages Americans to conserve fuel, some speculate that the nation might see a renaissance in bike commuting. Andy Clark, executive director of the League of American Bicyclists, discusses the prospects with Liane Hansen.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

With oil and gas prices expected to rise in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, President Bush has sent a memorandum to heads of federal agencies to find ways to conserve fuel. `It is important that federal government lead by example,' reads the memo. It goes on to say that agencies should, quote, "encourage employees to car pool, telecommute and use public transportation to reduce fuel use," close quote. Although there was no specific mention of bicycle commuting in the memo, we've invited Andy Clarke, executive director of the League of American Bicyclists, to join us. The organization's been around since 1880, and Andy Clarke is in the studio.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. ANDY CLARKE (Executive Director, League of American Bicyclists): Thank you for having me.

HANSEN: Do you think the administration's push to conserve is actually going to mean a renaissance for bike commuting?

Mr. CLARKE: I think even without the administration's encouragement, we've seen in bike shops and on the streets and trails more people out riding and more people taking advantage of what's a very efficient and effective means of travel. So I think it's already happening. I hope that with an additional push or some incentive from the federal government and among the federal work force, we'll see even more people out there enjoying the benefits.

HANSEN: Well, of course, there was a passion for bicycling prompted by Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France, and the president himself is a bicycling enthusiast. We have exercise campaigns going on now because of the fight against obesity. You actually just went to a bike trade show in Las Vegas. What's the buzz out there?

Mr. CLARKE: Yes. Well, every year, the bike industry comes together at the Interbike Trade Show, and it's a great affair if you're into the gadgetry and the new bikes and wheels and components and clothing and all the rest of it. And I think in the last two or three years, you've seen much more emphasis on more practical applications of bicycling. So it's a focus on transportation measures. There are more comfort bikes that are easier and less intimidating for people to ride. There's more equipment to put on the bike that will help you with everyday travel. And the timing really couldn't be better because of all those factors you've just mentioned. And I hope that translates into more everyday travel, as I think it is at the moment.

HANSEN: So what is it that keeps people off their bikes, that keeps people from using--if they have bikes, using them to go to work?

Mr. CLARKE: I think there's a number of factors at play, and I hope that the information is now out there and the improvements are being made to overcome some of those obstacles. Some people haven't been on a bike for years. They're not sure they're up to it physically. There are fears of traffic. Traffic is very different now than it was 20, 25 years ago. But all of that is changing for the better. There's a Web site, for example, called activetransportation.org, where you can find out information on how to overcome some of those practical obstacles.

HANSEN: Some roads really aren't bicycle friendly, and there are communities that don't have designated bike paths or bike lanes. The transportation bill that was passed in August is going to provide some $3 billion in funds to actually improve biking and pedestrian access all around the country. How do you think the money should be used?

Mr. CLARKE: I think the money should be used to make the streets and highways in our transportation system the kind of place where people want to ride a bike and to walk, where they feel like they're welcome and invited. And that, on some streets, will mean striping bike lanes; in some places, it means putting in bike parking so there's a secure place to lock your bike. Other communities have had great success putting bike racks on the front of buses to combine bikes and transit. Equally, there's a lot of education that folks can benefit from to learn how to drive around cyclists and how cyclists should behave when they are on the streets.

So there's a lot of different ways that that money can be invested to create more bicycle-friendly communities. We recently gave out our highest Bicycle Friendly Community award to the city of Davis, which for 40 years...

HANSEN: Davis, California?

Mr. CLARKE: Davis, California, which has for decades made deliberate choices as to how the street system is designed and laid out and how their town is laid out, and it's a great place to ride.

HANSEN: Andy Clarke is executive director of the League of American Bicyclists. There are tips on bike community on the league's Web site at bikeleague.org.

Andy, thanks a lot for coming in.

Mr. CLARKE: Thank you for having me.

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