No matter how much we might want to maintain our car culture, it’s simply not physically possible (see Why Fort Collins Needs a Strong Bicycle Culture: for reasons of practicality). There are only so many cars that can fit on a road before congestion increases to the point of gridlock. No amount of wishing, dreaming, or waxing nostalgic about days gone by will change the present-day situation. We’re already seeing increased traffic on our roads, and with population levels only projected to increase (and that at a rate higher than much of the rest of the state), things won’t get better unless we trade in our car culture for a more balanced transportation system.
The changes have, in fact, already begun. The City has been leaning towards a program of “complete streets.” Rather than building for only one form of transportation (the car), new streets are built to include stops for mass transit, room for cyclists, and separate walking areas for pedestrians, effectively integrating four or more modes of transportation where before there might only have been designated infrastructure for one or two.
But we’re at a cusp where some residents hold tightly to the old days when cars were king. And others have embraced the realities of the new era (one that looks much like the pre-car era, I might add). These two mentalities are in conflict with one another, which builds tension between motorists and others that use the streets. The outcome is conflict, unsafe practices (on all sides), and injuries — even death.
It is only in building a stronger bicycle culture (which, though it focuses on bicycles, includes various other forms of transit as well), that we will reach a point where congestion is reduced, travel times will shrink, and safety will increase across all forms of transportation.
Building a bicycle culture is a multi-pronged process requiring input from City planners and engineers (who design and build the infrastructure we use), legislative entities (who have final say on budgetting items as well as on ordinances and laws that govern how vehicles are to function on roads), and peer acceptance (which involves education so that the Fort Collins community as a whole understands and values multi-modal transportation).
One aspect of cultures is that they tend to bleed over into neighboring populations. You can’t live around Middle Easterners without developing a sense of what makes a delicious shawarma and what is just a cheap facsimile. You can’t live around football fans without picking up a bit of football jargon. And you can’t interact with hippies without beginning to feel at least a bit guilty any time you drink from a styrofoam cup or throw away a piece of paper. So whether you ever sit astride a bicycle or not, if you live in a bicycle culture, you’ll start to learn the rules of cycling and you’ll recognize that a cyclist in the middle of the road is there for safety reasons, not just to be a turd. You’ll appreciate that every cyclist on the road means one less car you need to contend with. And you might even consider pulling the old metal horse from the garage now and again to get to the park, rather than driving your car there.
Having a bicycle culture also means that teens won’t hop on their bicycles and ride like they’re still little kids – without rules, believing that the shorter way is always the best and that stopping is for sissies. Instead, from a young age, kids will grow up riding with their parents and learning that bikes, like cars, should “ride right” – not at all meaning that they should hug the curb, but that they should all travel in the same direction on the same side of the street. They’ll learn to watch for stop signs, drive in a straight line like a car (rather than weaving in and out around parked cars) and signal when turning.
Having a bicycle culture means not only that more people will be out on the roads using their bicycle instead of their car, but it also means a greater awareness of the rules of the road, a better appreciation for others that share the same road, and an attitude of coexistence that values a multimodal culture, instead of the culture clash that we struggle with today.
At the very heart of the idea of building a bicycle culture is a desire not just for a sustainable transportation system within the city, but an inherent understanding that the stronger the bicycle culture is within Fort Collins, the safer our city will be for everyone, whether you’re driving a car, riding a bike, taking Transfort or walking.
We’re certainly not there yet, but we’re on the way. If you feel like you would like to immerse yourself a little more deeply into a multi-modal transportation future for our city, I would encourage you to get involved with Bike Fort Collins, our local bicycling advocacy organization. They support educational programs that help teach cyclists and motorists the rules of the road. (Check out the Legal or Not page on their website. They also run the Safe Routes to School program that goes into our local schools and teaches kids basic bicycle safety.) They advocate for cyclists through their monthly RAT rides in which they test local infrastructure and give feedback to relevant parties. And they host events that help to build a general love of cycling. They’re also frequently looking for volunteers.
I’d also recommend the Smart Cycling class that is free through the city. Take a bike maintenance class through the Fort Collins Bike Co-op. Or consider volunteering some time at the Fort Collins Bike Library.
But the most important thing you can do is to learn the rules of the road and use them — whether you’re driving your car or riding your bike. The roads belong to all of us. Let’s make sure we’re all behaving that way.