Q&A Expert talks bikes, growth

2013-02-17T18:15:00Z 2013-02-19T15:03:25Z Q&A Expert talks bikes, growth missoulian.com

Randy Neufeld was in Missoula last week visiting the Adventure Cycling Association and biking through town. Neufeld is the director of the SRAM Cycling Fund, and he talked with the Missoulian about how bicycle infrastructure is a key to economic development in some cities. Based in Chicago, the SRAM Cycling Fund formed in 2008 to grant $2 million a year for five years to improve bicycling in North America, Europe and Taiwan. This Question and Answer is adapted from a conversation with Neufeld.

Q. What brings you to Missoula?

A. Adventure Cycling. I work for the SRAM Cycling Fund, and we have funded Adventure Cycling’s work in the past. They’re making some proposals for future funding, and Jim (Jim Sayer, Adventure Cycling director) has tried to get me out here before.

Q. What’s your impression of biking here?

A. It’s my first time in Missoula, and we went biking one afternoon and saw some of the street accommodations and trail system. It’s very cool. The short time I biked around here, I’ve never seen such driver courtesy. They go 12 feet away from you when they pass you on a road.

Missoula is similar to a few other communities I think of in country, like Madison, Austin, Boulder, and Davis, Calif. They have a large university presence, and the university serves as a base for generating demand for cycling. You can easily see Missoula is open and friendly to biking. I come here in the winter in the middle of February, and people are biking to cafés. Davis might have the highest percentage of bikers in the U.S., like 10 percent of the mode share, but in Europe, people in Copenhagen do a third of their trips by bike.

So Missoula is a star nationally, but not globally.

Q. As the director of SRAM, you talk about one barrier to bicycling being appropriate infrastructure. What are we missing here? What’s new on the horizon?

A. We’re in the middle of an explosion of cycling in the United States. Historically, it’s been the college towns that have been high, but the explosion is not necessarily happening in the college towns right now. It’s in New York and Chicago and San Francisco and Portland, Ore. A couple things are big, and the biggest thing is what’s called protected bike lanes.

This design has some sort of barrier or parking so the bicyclist is not mixing with the traffic except at the intersections. The design isn’t exactly like what you have downtown, but the concept is the same. It’s the idea that an 8-year-old or an 80-year-old would feel comfortable there.

The vision of a lot of cities is that every arterial roadway would have a separated bike lane. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has a goal that 100 miles of protected lanes are built in his four-year term.

Almost all of the separated bike lanes in the U.S. have been built in the last three years. New York kind of started it, and up until 2012, there were about 52 miles nationwide. That number doubled last year to about 100 miles, and we’re expecting it to double again to over 200 miles this year.

When it comes to infrastructure, the biggest development in the world is bike share. It’s the automated bike rental systems that are in Washington, D.C., Paris, London. New York is getting 5,000 bikes in May. Chicago signed a contract this week.

Q. What does all this have to do with economic development?

A. The mayor in Chicago is interested in bike share for economic development and job retention. He feels that unless Chicago becomes a city of a global stature on cycling, we will not be able to compete in the finance sector, and companies will not locate in Chicago. If you go to the Googles and the Groupons and those sorts of companies, there’s a bike at every desk.

I talked to a guy who runs micro-trading at a hedge fund corporation.

He’s richer than God, and he said the difference between a good programmer and a great programmer is about 10 times the productivity.

He can’t pay the difference. The great ones can go anywhere they want, and if the city isn’t cool, if it doesn’t have cool neighborhoods, restaurants, he can’t recruit them. And the new protected bike lanes are one of the first things they show people when they are recruiting some of these creative, super-genius people. The finance people have told the mayor this.

This infrastructure also supports downtowns, and downtowns are so important.

Q. Where does the support for this new kind of infrastructure like protected lanes come from? The strongest cyclists are comfortable in traffic and are often the most vocal advocates.

A. You have to ask yourself, are you content being the only bicyclist in the world, or is this something for the mainstream? Typically a person in the Netherlands doesn’t think of himself as a bicyclist any more than you think of yourself as a pedestrian when you walk around.

In Seville, Spain, biking went up .04 percent to 7 percent in just three years with a public bike share program and a comprehensive network of protected lanes. Some of the cyclists didn’t like the lanes, and the city workers said, we’re not building the lanes for them. We’re building the lanes for everyone. This is a public space.

The promise and benefits of cycling do not occur because one or two people ride. They occur because a significant piece of society uses cycling as part of their everyday life.

Q. Missoula adopted a complete streets policy a few years ago that roads be designed for all users. How critical are such policies?

What’s the best way to implement them?

A. Sometimes, it’s just lip service, but if they’ve changed the way they do business, that’s an important thing. The kinds of facilities we’re talking about are really a step beyond that. This is like preferential treatment.

In Missoula, a good test is going to be the Russell Street project. In the olden days, if we built a road, we would have to build it for all the extra traffic in 20 years, but the graph isn’t the same as it was five years ago. In some places, people are driving less, and millennials are changing things. A good sign for Russell will be if there’s protected bike lanes. I hope there are. I hope they think about transit.

Reach Keila Szpaller at @keilaszpaller, at keila.szpaller@missoulian.com or at (406) 523-5262.

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