Guest Editorial: Sorry Dick, but Bicycles are Part of Marin’s Transportation Solution

Bike to Work Day, Marin. Photo: Marin County Bicycle Coalition
Bike to Work Day, Marin. Photo: Marin County Bicycle Coalition

Dick Spotswood of the Marin Independent Journal was correct when he recently stated that adding highway lanes won’t fix our traffic problems. A common adage in transportation circles compares building more lanes to doctors counseling obese patients to simply loosen their belts.

However, Spotswood was wrong when he glibly asserted that bikes are of little utility to Marinites traveling to work or doing business.

A recent Transportation Authority of Marin study found that 57 percent of all trips in Marin are under five miles. For trips of this distance, bikes aren’t just a feasible option but often quicker than cars, particularly with Marin’s current traffic snarls.

Thousands of Marin County Bicycle Coalition (MCBC) supporters will attest to that.

A wealth of evidence highlights how safe and convenient bicycle routes translate into less congested roads, especially during commute hours. And of course each bicycle trip equals one less car on the road.

Nearly a third of Marin’s weekday morning traffic comes from students driving to or being dropped off at school. The 83 percent of campuses with Safe Routes to Schools programs have enjoyed school-related traffic reductions of up to 30 percent. This MCBC-administered and Transportation Authority of Marin-funded program works.

Those results have benefited everyone, especially motorists. They’ve also translated into cleaner air and healthier kids.

These aren’t slogans. They’re real facts supported by hard data.

We all know we’re in an era of backlash politics. We can’t, however, let our frustrations with traffic allow us to ignore facts and embrace antiquated transportation policies.

Traffic fixes won’t be found in the rearview mirror.

The MCBC fully understands that not everyone will choose to ride a bike. But many want to use their bikes more often, for a wider range of trips–from commuting, to running errands, to simply enjoying themselves–yet aren’t confident they can do so safely.

A 2015 survey found that 51 percent of Americans wanted to cycle more regularly, but had too many safety concerns.

When communities and regions invest in safe and convenient bicycle routes, people are more likely to turn to their bikes for everyday transportation. Those investments are why the number of bicycle commuters in “bike-friendly” U.S. cities more than doubled between 2000 and 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

What about for longer trips, or Marin’s hills? Are bikes only for the young and fit? Hardly.

As Spotswood discovered recently, electric assist bikes can “flatten” Marin, making local trips both practical and fun. And as he observed, “Cycling infrastructure improvements make riding much easier and safer.”

MCBC–together with our public agency partners–have made great strides toward building a functional bicycle network in Marin. But there’s more work to do.

Marin must concentrate its efforts on assembling complementary strategies to make our transportation system work better for people of all ages, abilities and financial means. Safe and convenient bicycle travel continues to be central to the solution.

Jim Elias is Executive Director of the Marin County Bicycle Coalition.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    How much more Marin could you possibly get than this:

  • p_chazz

    The problem with transportation in Marin is that it is like a shish-kebob with US 101 being the skewer and the communities being the kebobs. Because of this, it is necessary to use Highway 101 for short trips because there is no convenient local alternative. There should be roads connecting Terra Linda with Sleepy Hollow, and roads paralleling US 101 between Mill Valley and Corte Madera–all with bike lanes, of course.

  • curiousKulak

    Well, there IS a road from MV to CM (goes over a hill, but not that bad). And then there’s an old railroad tunnel, which could be re-used for bikes.

    Granted 101 is a default-connector for my towns. Not that familiar with Marin to know if there’s an easy fix.

  • CamBam415

    Really? For both locations you suggested there are already bike paths. It is very easy to get from TL to Sleepy Hollow/Fairfax. And MV to CM via bike has three options but the tunnel would be the best of all. I am fine without car lanes on these roads…

  • CamBam415

    Well said Jim! My bike is faster than the GGT bus on my commute into SF most days and that is just going 14-15 mph on the bike. And on the weekends going to little league and other kids activities it is always faster by bike the car. We are lucky to have decent bike infra already but it could be so much more. MCBC has done a good job championing the needs of bike commuters and errands by bike.

  • John Murphy

    I’ve ridden from the Marin border to the bridge, and was never more than 1/2 mile away from US-101. Part of what you are missing is that you are looking at a road map and saying “Wow, no convenient alternative!” because the map doesn’t show the paths.

    The bike path from the landfill exit at the border, to Olompali Park.
    The bike path by Rickey’s.
    The path from I dunno, Ignacio or something to the next exit, can’t quite recall.
    The path from Lincoln to downtown San Rafael
    The path from Andersen to the Ferry.
    Paths from Ferry to Corte Madera.
    Horse Hill path
    Mill Valley bike path.

    Marin is super easy to bike north to south as a commuter.

  • p_chazz

    Sure there are bike paths, but there aren’t any convenient automobile alternatives.

  • p_chazz

    I’m suggesting new roads for cars, to take the pressure off US 101.

  • thielges

    Spotswood is basically saying “nothing we do can reduce congestion” and setting the stage for his true motive: calling for a moratorium on growth .

  • You’re missing the point.

  • p_chazz

    No, I am offering alternatives to widening US 101.

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