Some musings on the fourth anniversary of the PPSP blog

Four years ago today, the Poky Pedaling Stevens Point blog was unveiled. My post on that day announcing its self-existence asked readers to “have patience as I figure out how to effectively inform, inspire, and amuse those interested in what’s happening bike-wise.”

I’m not about to claim that I’ve figured this out yet. Nevertheless, I continue to keep tabs on events happening around us that affect our urban transportation bicycling environment. And I write about what I discover.

Other media sources may cover the same news, but I feel I provide a richer perspective due to my experiences living in other bicycle-friendly cities, my exposure to news about transportation bicycling from advocates around the US and beyond, and my car-lite lifestyle which allows me to learn what local transportation all over our urban area feels like from the seat of a bicycle on a daily basis. (Daily in good weather, that is. Otherwise, I typically walk. I’m a multi-modal guy.)

The reason I started my blog four years ago is the same as the reason I continue adding new posts today. Without the availability of an informed voice providing a transportation bicycling perspective, people who bicycle can be a demographic who are, for all intents and purposes, invisible. Governmental bodies frequently make good-intentioned decisions while being completely unaware of the adverse consequences suffered by those who bike.

The prevailing attitude is that everybody always drives. Yet data repeatedly shows this to be wildly inaccurate. As an example, the 2013 US Census American Community Survey data indicates that of those people in Steven Point who commute to work, approximately 17% either walk, bike, or use the bus for their work commute on a regular basis. Those bicycling contribute over 4% to this total. Although a minority, this is far from zero. (I recently learned that 2014 ACS data for Stevens Point is available, but I have not yet examined this information.)

In a democracy, government represents all the people. A government treating 4% of its residents as invisible is failing its responsibilities.

Any decision that affects our transportation network needs to consider how people bicycling will be affected. Adverse outcomes for bicycling may still arise from such decisions, but such outcomes need to be publically justified through a deliberate evaluation of available tradeoffs. Only in this manner can the public assess whether our civic leaders are making good decisions about transportation issues and take electoral action accordingly.

My goal for my blog is to provide an informed voice, an important catalyst towards ensuring that those who bicycle for transportation remain visible to our civic leaders. Yet even if I am succeeding at this goal, I am only one voice, only a catalyst. Other voices must join in to convince our civic leaders that making bicycling better is a priority.

Upon moving to Stevens Point over five years ago, I sometimes attended government meetings to learn more about what was happening in my newly adopted city. I quickly realized that no one talked about bicycling at these meetings, a notable lack when clearly appropriate. And so I started speaking up for bicycling at these meetings. For a few years, I was the only such voice.

At government meetings these days, I am not the only such voice. I like to think that my blog and related advocacy inspired others to speak up for bicycling. Regardless, I still marvel at how visible bicycling is currently at local government meetings. A small number of residents regularly voice their opinions on issues that affect bicycling. Several alderpersons frequently bring bicycling into the deliberations on proposed legislation.

On this fourth anniversary of the PPSP blog, I feel it is a good time to reflect on how my one voice has expanded to a small chorus asking for better bicycling in Stevens Point. This is a satisfying transformation.

Nevertheless, we need more voices.

Our bicycle network in the Stevens Point area is good. My Poky Pedals demonstrate this regularly as we ride acceptable routes to destinations throughout our urban area. Yet there are still gaps: uncomfortable crossings of busy streets, poor direct connections whose alternatives involve a lengthy detour, missing bike lanes for safe access to destinations on busy streets.

The tools for fixing such gaps while maintaining adequate traffic flow for all road users are well understood by transportation experts in federal, state, and local agencies all around the US. When making bicycling better is a priority, these tools get used.

This is not a “bikes vs cars” issue. This is simply about creating a fair balance among all transportation modes. When a government official says they can’t fix a gap in the bicycle network, what they usually mean is that they are unwilling to change the existing inequitable balance that creates the smallest possible inconvenience to motor vehicle operators at the expense of the safety of and convenience to users of all other transportation modes.

To fix the many gaps still present in our bicycle network, more Poky Pedalers need to speak up and ask civic leaders to prioritize better bicycling in order to create a fair balance among all road users.

As PPSP enters its fifth year, my hope is that the small chorus currently advocating for better bicycling in Stevens Point grows into a large chorus, because that is when the conversation will change from asking “if” we can fix the gaps to asking “how” we can fix the gaps. As much as I enjoy transportation bicycling around Stevens Point today, I really look forward to transportation bicycling in the future Stevens Point that makes better bicycling a priority.

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