Let’s Keep Talking about Bikes!

Recently, Carrboro Town Council candidate Aja Kelleher was quoted as saying, “For God’s sake … Can we just not talk about bicycles for five minutes?”

She made this statement while commenting on a recent Town Council meeting that included questions about bike parking in its discussion of the most recent downtown parking study

Kelleher seems to think (as do some others) that the only way to accommodate visitors to Carrboro’s downtown is to build more and more car parking. She doesn’t grasp the vital role that bicycles can and must play in reducing the need for more space for cars. 

I serve as a board member on the Carrboro Bicycle Coalition. Our mission is to create a bicycle-friendly community through cycling awareness, education, and safety advocacy. We know that many people in Carrboro and Chapel Hill currently bike to work and downtown — and that many more would do so if we can increase biker and pedestrian safety, something that’s been on my mind recently amidst an increase in accidents involving cars hitting bicyclists.

Each parking study in Carrboro has concluded that there is plenty of downtown parking available, but that because of factors such as no enforcement of time limits, lack of wayfinding signs, and a large portion of the parking being privately owned and controlled, Carrboro is not utilizing its existing parking capacity very well.

Related: Will Carrboro solve its parking problem?

Instead of working on these known obstacles, the Town feels the need to add more parking: to pay the owners of 300 E Main for additional parking, to maintain several downtown surface lots for free parking,  and to build a multi-million dollar parking deck adjacent to the new library building.

Adding more car parking only encourages more car traffic to already congested streets. Surely a town that proclaims itself as progressive can see the unsustainable and environmentally damaging future this approach yields.

So to answer Kelleher’s question, no, this is not the time to stop talking about bikes. In fact, it is the time to promote the heck out of using bikes for transportation. 

Almost half of the car trips taken in the U.S.are fewer that 3 miles, a distance that can be easily covered by bicycle. And with an e- bike, this can be achieved by even a beginning adult bicyclist. One study in England suggests that replacing just one car trip a day with a bike trip can reduce carbon emissions by over 50%. In the chart below, you can see how the bicycle compares to other modes:

Looking at the chart above, why wouldn’t a town want to encourage people to go by bike? In addition to freeing up parking spaces for those who must drive, the air will be cleaner, the roads less congested, and the health of the community will be better. 

And those who decide to switch out those car trips with bike trips will enjoy better personal health as well. Studies have shown that people who bike regularly have a lower incidence of heart disease, obesity, depression, and even some forms of cancer. Children who bike to school are more attentive in class than those who arrive by car. Bike riders will also save thousands each year from reduced car use and maintenance costs.

Regarding the Town’s promotion to Buy Local, there have been multiple studies that show those who travel by bicycle tend to spend more locally than those who get into their cars to go shopping.

Carrboro has a compact downtown and is an easy bike ride from many parts of Carrboro and Chapel Hill, but with the exception of a few local businesses, there has been little effort to encourage people to arrive by bike.

There are ways to do this: we could add covered bike parking, businesses could give biking directions on their website, employees could receive incentives to bike instead of drive, and we could promote bikes as a viable transportation option year-round, instead of mainly during Bike Month.

So yes, please, let’s keep talking about bikes. They are a big tool in the toolbox and must be a big part of the conversation if we are going to have a sustainable future.