“Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.” –H.G. Wells
Learning to ride a bike is a rite of passage for many kids, accompanied by an exhilarating feeling of freedom to be sailing through the breeze faster than you could run on a contraption powered by your own body. Bicycling ranges from hobby to obsession, from practical transport to exercise, whether your style of choice is beach cruiser, BMX, mountain bike, road bike or unicycle.
What is Benicia’s relationship with biking, and what does bikeability do for our community? These are questions the Community Sustainability Commission has examined closely. The Commission has created Bicycle Benicia (B2) with 2014 goals to make biking in Benicia easier and safer.
What are the benefits of increased bikeability? By examining data from bike-friendly communities nationwide, B2 found that in East Village, NYC, average per capita spending was higher for bicyclists than any other mode of transportation (walking was second). In four years since the launch of a “Bike to Work” in Bloomington, MN, average health care costs rose 24.6%, while Bloomington health care costs fell 4.4%, saving the city $200,000. For US bikeable cities, revenue from tourist biking is high. B2 also cites evidence that property values increase, and that biking to school improves kids’ attention and performance.
In addition to financial benefits, biking lowers greenhouse gas emissions and promotes a healthier, more cohesive community. After collecting national data, B2 set to the serious task of surveying Benicians to learn how bikeable Benicia is, and how citizens find the infrastructure and conditions of bike routes.
Two surveys were developed by B2 members Constance Beutel, Roger Straw, and Nancy Lund, and conducted in two teams of two. The city was broken up into five areas, with the most highly biked area below highway 780, west of First Street.
91 out of 100 participants said they felt safe biking in Benicia, but many people cited heavy traffic, said there was limited space for bicyclists on the roads or that bike lanes or paved shoulders disappeared. Road surfaces were generally good, but 44 participants cited cracks or broken pavement; and 31, potholes. Intersection safety was high, but 39 people either didn’t have enough time to cross before the signal changed, were unsure how or when to ride through, or said the signal didn’t change for bikes at all. About two thirds of participants said driver behavior was good, but others said drivers passed too closely, didn’t signal, or drove too fast. 20 people said there was no secure place to store their bicycle once they’d reached their destination.
Of those surveyed, 86 people had road bikes, 59 had mountain bikes, and 57% considered themselves advanced, confident riders. Streets found most dangerous by bikers were East Second and Military.
These and other findings have been presented to the Sustainability Commission. Next steps depend somewhat on whether a recent grant proposal is accepted, but according to Buetel, B2 is prepared to forge ahead in any case. While road conditions and infrastructure are more challenging to address and depend on city funding priorities, immediate goals include more bike racks around town and working with Google Maps to get bike routes marked. Eventually, the committee would like to see new route signage with QR codes to identify areas of interest and local bike clinics to empower riders.
Presentations will be taken to the schools, the Chamber of Commerce, Benicia Main Street, and realty companies. If the grant goes through, Beutel says the group would like to sponsor a community clinic to fix up available bikes and donate them.
On August 2, the Benicia Bicycle Club (in partnership with the Sustainability Commission and with support from Benicia Police and Parks and Recreation) will host a Bicycle Clinic and Rodeo for riders of all ilk and experience levels. Stay tuned for details by visiting B2’s website at www.bicyclebenicia.org.