There is room for improvement. People for Bikes, a sizeable, organized and truly established organization here in the United States, has a ranking of best biking cities in the country. No surprise, Boulder Colorado, the home of People for Bikes, comes in at number one.
Santa Fe, not so much. Albuquerque actually came in higher than Santa Fe which isn’t surprising considering the layout and scale of The ABQ in comparison to the ancient and tiny streets of Santa Fe. However, there is SO much room for improvement.
Getting people on bikes isn’t easy. There are SO many excuses/reasons not to ride, some of which I understand completely. I might not agree but I understand.
“I don’t want to arrive at work sweaty.” “I don’t feel safe.” “I carry too much stuff.” “We don’t have bike lanes.” “I don’t own a bike.” “I don’t have time.” “The distance is too far.” “I’ll only ride if someone pays me.” “I’m an American and I have a right to drive a car.” “Bikes shouldn’t be allowed on the road.” “Bikes are causing all the traffic.” “Bikers are entitled and I hate everything to do with them.” These are just a few of the sentiments I’ve heard over the years.
You can’t force people to ride, you can’t shame them into riding. We have to make it safe and we have to make it feel like a first option, and frankly, here in the United States, sadly perhaps, it might revolve around nothing more than finance. Can I save money by cycling? I believe the answer is yes, but making this work on a grand scale will take investment on the front end, and this is where things go sideways here in the good, old US of A.
Oil and gas and the auto industry are two of the most powerful lobby groups in the world. They are not keen on bike lanes or cycling. Insurance is another quagmire. I attended a city council meeting in Newport Beach in regards to adding roughly fifty feet of bike lane to an existing path. The bill for the procedure was $2,000,000 due to the proposed path being under three different insurance policies. Federal, state and local. For the path to be completed someone had to pony up to pay the insurance. I left Newport knowing there was no incentive for the city council members, none of whom rode bikes, to move forward. Newport is one side of the story while the Boulders of the nation are the flip side.
Here in Santa Fe, I believe the future is about bike tourism. In the past three weeks, I’ve seen more bike-packing rigs around town than the entire twelve years prior and it’s not even close. The vast majority of these cyclists traveled here from other parts of the US. Some are doing the Tour Divide, some are doing sections of the Tour Divide and others are just mining the Bikepacking.com site. (This is a great site.) Santa Fe needs a hub for cyclists. Infrastructure, accommodation, cuisine, and community. And it’s TOTALLY doable here. It really is.
We are always going to have the guy in the Dodge pickup who lives out Old Santa Fe Trail who rolls coal on every cyclist he passes. He’s a mess. He’s angry. He hates the world and is never going to come around, but most people are neutral on bikes and if the cycling community brings solid, interesting, committed, paying members of the public to town they will remain neutral or might even tilt toward becoming cycling fans. (Not that they will ever ride but they will be open to you and me riding.)
I’ve been in Santa Fe for three weeks. I’ve used 1/4 of a tank of gas in my truck. (Scouting a gravel ride oddly enough.) The rest of the time I’ve commuted and shopped and trained by bike. Just by using my bike I’ve saved at least one hundred dollars in gas, not to mention I stay in better shape which also lowers my likelihood of health care cost. (Except for my kidney stone.)
I just put my bike in storage for the next few weeks and I actually felt genuine sadness. I think I would be more upset if someone stole my bike than if they stole my truck. We have nowhere to go but up here in the US. Something like 1% of all trips are made via bike. Sure, that’s entirely lame but I try to focus on that big, fat, 99% and think, “What’s the trick to unlocking this little puzzle.”
Now, go ride.