Telegram Tribune

Give the Bicycle a Better Chance

If you have resided in San Luis Obispo County for a while, traffic congestion has probably entered your community’s landscape. One of the obvious culprits is SLO’s accelerating population, but another factor contributes to this growing element as well. Not enough people ride bicycles.

If you’ve ever graced the serene, mountainous community of Boulder, Colorado, leisured through the inviting northwestern city of Eugene, Oregon, or sojourned through the peaceful, valley town of Davis, California, then you may have noticed a unique atmosphere created by the residents as they carried on about their daily business. They have a secret. Their City Government Offices promote agendas that nourish cycling culture.

Boulder, Co founded the program GO Boulder in 1989. GO Boulder has been helping preserve their city’s quality of life by encouraging individuals and businesses to make alternative transportation part of their daily lives. Many Boulder residents believe that bicycling offers more than just relaxing weekend recreation. Bicycling is a lifestyle. One report claims if current growth continues, by the year 2010 more than 62,000 cars will clog the streets, avenues, highways, and byways of beautiful Boulder County. All of this inevitably adds up to more traffic congestion, increased noise and air pollution, lower employee productivity, and expanded intrusions into environmental habitats. Presently, Boulder’s City Government Offices, regional and local organizations, and community members all cooperatively work together to plan their city’s transportation needs. As part of that effort, GO Boulder provides information and facilities for all forms of alternative transportation -- from public transit and ride sharing, to walking and bicycling, to programs such as flextime and teleworking.

130,000 people comprise Oregon's second largest city, Eugene. For nearly 30 years, bicycling has hovered at the top of city agendas, and many cite Eugene as a successful example of cycling culture. With the help of energetic bicycling advocates and a supportive City Council, bicycling has become part of Eugene's great lifestyle. Eugene’s system includes 28 miles of off-street paths, 78 miles of on-street bicycle lanes, and 4 bicycle/pedestrian bridges spanning the Willamette River. To further facilitate bicycle commuting, Eugene brings together busses and bicycles. The Lane Transit District requires bicycle racks on all their buses to allow for more bus-bike comminuting and provides bicycle parking at most bus stops. The benefits of Eugene’s cycling culture remain clear: reduced noise pollution, protected environmental habitats, added opportunities for physical fitness, decreased air pollution, increased employee productivity, and enhanced city charm.

California also boasts a city dedicated to bicycling. The Public Works Office of Davis, CA designed a city transportation plan in December of 1987, and it mentions bicycles no less than 23 times in 5 of the 7 elements contained in the plan. Section 4.4 of the Transportation Element is devoted to bicycle circulation considerations. This plan promotes bicycle use as a viable, attractive, non-polluting form of transportation and assures safe and convenient access to all areas of the city. Within that plan, The Ad Hoc Bicycle Task Force has developed more detailed goals and objectives to help substantiate their vision of Davis. The Ad Hoc Bicycle Task Force develops and produces a Davis area bicycle route map for public use. The Task Force distributes the map, free of charge, to all employers, bike shops, public buildings, and schools. The bike map is updated annually and includes articles on bicycle issues in the City's newsletter (presently titled Environworks), and distributed to local newspapers. The City of Davis General Plan drafts and generally provides bicycle lanes for all collector and arterial streets. City bus routes also directly serve bicycle facilities. Davis City Planning brings together bus and bicycle by installing bicycle parking at most bus stops. The California State Administrative Code, which establishes a Bicycle Lane Account and provides $30,000 per month, finances such worthy projects through a gas tax. Caltrans administers this account and requires a minimum local cost share of 10%. A municipality must have an approved General Bikeway Plan to be eligible for these funds. Davis’ cycle culture continues to remain strong, partly because Caltrans recognizes Davis’ enthusiasm and continues to fund them accordingly

Enough about other cities, what does bicycling have to do with San Luis Obispo? Plenty! One resident of San Luis Obispo insightfully assessed the problem of traffic congestion in a letter to the Telegram Tribune. "Widening roads and building parking structures is part of the old way of thinking that got us where we are today… Widening roads to "solve" traffic problems is like loosening your belt to "solve" your obesity problem… Alternatives to automobiles need to be the highest funding priority for our transportation dollars" (Dec. 5 1998). According to San Luis Obispo’s Bicycle Transportation Plan (1993) road widening projects typically exceed $1 million per mile. Increased bicycling and reduced vehicle use can defer the need for these projects. The Plan also asserts that if bicycles made 10% of work trips in the city that are currently made by single-occupant vehicles, the annual reduction in the air pollutants would be approximately 73,000 pounds. The results of not heeding to these facts alarm many SLO conscious residents.

However, thanks to the commendable efforts of Terry Sanville at SLO’s Public Works Department, the city of San Luis Obispo is currently entering phase 2 of the Bicycle Transportation Plan. Phrase 2 calls for more bike lane from Florence St to Jennifer St Bridge. In addition to such phases, SLO’s public transportation system, SLO Transit headed by Brandon Farley, is cooperating with the objectives outlined in the Bicycle Transportation Plan. Furthermore, the Downtown Concept Plan (1993) states that the City should "provide more facilities that encourage and enhance the use of bicycles." All these objectives certainly beg attention, but ultimately demand action.

These plans offer a start, but unfortunately there are not enough. Such efforts require full participation of residents. San Luis Obispo County has always boasted charm and appeal. Let’s not lose it to growing traffic congestion and increasing air pollution. Bicycle use in SLO will conserve energy, contribute to cleaner air, reduce noise pollution, limit unsavory traffic congestion, improve personal fitness, and enhance our county’s appeal.

So the next time you’re idling in your favorite car at your favorite traffic light and you’re sharing some delicious exhaust with the commuter in the next lane over, look around and say to yourself, "Burn fat, not fuel."

For more information concerning this article, consult the following sources:

Public Works Department of SLO. Terry Sanville 718-7178
SLO Transit. Brandon Farley 781-7121
Cal Poly Wheelmen Bicycle Club
SLO Bicycle Club
Sierra Club

Anthony Halderman is a Cuesta College teacher who enjoys moonlighting as a freelance writer. You can reach him at

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