I Want to Ride My Bicycle 

Do you ever feel like you’re spending the nicest parts of the day confined in your car? I live in one of the most spectacular places I can imagine yet I often only experience my surroundings from the 97 cubic foot interior of my Subaru. It’s probably why I savor the times I’m able to ride my bike to work or run errands around town with my senses unconfined. Mountainous rural areas can be challenging places to ride, let alone commute by bike, but new state funding programs and innovative local projects are making undeniable improvements to bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure throughout the Sierra Nevada region.Cycling BikeTahoe.org

At the state level, California is recognizing the negative impacts of congestion, fluctuating gas prices, and poor air quality and doing something about it. Through the Active Transportation Program California is investing more than $220 million annually in bicycle and pedestrian projects throughout the state. The program has funded projects throughout the Sierra, including a sidewalk expansion in Bishop, construction of the final section of the “Town Loop” bike path in Mammoth Lakes, a trail connection to South Tahoe High School, and bike safety improvements near Lake Oroville.

California’s commitment to expanding active transportation infrastructure aligns with dramatically increasing bicycle usage nationwide. Since 2000, the number of people who commute to work by bicycle in the U.S. has risen 51% and a 2012 study shows that bicycling on paved surfaces is the second most popular outdoor recreation activity nationwide.

As a member of the Lake Tahoe Bicycle Coalition’s board of directors, I spend a lot of time trying to improve cyclist and pedestrian safety and encouraging people to ride in the Tahoe-Truckee region. It’s rewarding because there’s a lot happening here. Last summer, a dock-less bike sharing company deployed 200 bikes throughout South Lake Tahoe and people logged a staggering 9,300 miles in trips. It’s easy to understand why programs like this are so popular here – congestion, especially in the summer, can easily turn your trip to the great outdoors into hours of scanning the car radio for something to take your mind off sitting in traffic.

For areas of the Sierra Nevada that rely heavily on the tourism economy, investing in active transportation infrastructure makes a lot of sense. From an economic perspective, several studies have shown that customers who regularly visit restaurants, bars, and retail stores by bike spend more per month than customers who visit by car.

Furthermore, bicycling is a lower-impact transportation method than driving and better protects sensitive natural resources in pristine mountain environments. Bike trails are less destructive than expanding or building new roadways and bikes aren’t heavy enough to pulverize asphalt into fine sediment particles that can degrade nearby streams and lakes.

Perhaps most importantly, regional planners also recognize that nonmotorized trail networks can improve visitor experience overall. The Town of Mammoth Lakes, for example, provides a free shuttle from the Village to Horseshoe Lake where riders can cruise down the recently completed and amazingly scenic 5.3-mile Lakes Basin Path back into town.

As a self-professed public policy nerd, I get excited when a single activity can represent the alignment of environmental goals, funding opportunities, local planning priorities, and public demand. I’m lucky to live in a place where this confluence is being acted upon, giving us all the chance to spend more time outside our vehicles. See you on the trails!

Image Courtesy www.BikeTahoe.org