Monthly Archive for July, 2012

Why I bicycle but my neighbors don’t

By Susan Handy

Davis is one of the few places in the United States where bicycling is a substantial mode of transportation. According to the latest American Community Survey, more than 15 percent of Davis workers usually commute to work by bicycle. Surveys we have conducted at the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis have produced even more impressive numbers:

  • 53 percent of Davis residents bicycle at least one per week;
  • 46 percent of UCD faculty and 40 percent of staff who live in Davis commute to campus by bicycle;
  • More than one-third of Davis High School students usually bicycle to school; and
  • 18 pecent of youth soccer players bicycle to their games.

Compare this to less than 1 percent of daily trips by bicycle in the U.S. as a whole.

The fact that so many people in Davis bicycle is of great interest to other communities that hope to emulate Davis’ success. But even more interesting to me is the fact that so many more don’t: Nearly half of adults had not bicycled in the previous week, more than half of students arrived at the high school by car, more than three-quarters of soccer players were driven to their games. So what explains why some Davis residents bicycle but others don’t?

For adults, the answer has much to do with individual attitudes. In our studies, we found that comfort with bicycling was one of the most important factors explaining who bicycles regularly and who doesn’t. Another important factor was agreement with the statement “I like riding a bike”: those who strongly agreed with this statement were far more likely to bicycle regularly even than those who just agreed. Residents who bicycled regularly also were those for whom a bicycling-oriented community was an important factor in deciding where to live.

In other words, Davis has so much bicycling in part because it attracts residents who like to bicycle.

For children, attitudes matter, too, but as much the attitudes of parents as of the children themselves. Distance from home to the soccer field was an important factor in whether families bicycled to their games, as was the ability of the child to bicycle. But equally important was whether the parent regularly bicycled. In other words, some families are simply more bicycling-oriented than others.

We saw this same effect in our high school study: distance to school was important, but students with parents who were willing to chauffeur them places and whose parents did not encourage bicycling were far less likely to bicycle to school.

Having a driver’s license and access to a car — a condition over which parents have a significant influence — also reduced bicycling. The student’s attitudes mattered as well — liking to bicycle and confidence in bicycling — but much less so than parental encouragement.

In all these studies, women bicycle less than men, and differences in attitudes largely explain why. Women express greater concern for safety, both fear of being in a collision and fear of being attacked. They report feeling less comfortable bicycling and like bicycling less than men.

In our UCD survey, less than 60 percent of women said that they are “very confident” riding a bicycle, compared to more than 80 percent of men. At the high school, girls liked bicycling less and felt less confident bicycling.

A consistent message thus emerges from our studies: While good infrastructure is a necessary condition for getting many people bicycling, it is not a sufficient condition for getting most people bicycling. To get more people bicycling, the city also needs programs that will change attitudes.

For example, training programs for children and adults can help to increase confidence in bicycling ability, while community events may help to increase enjoyment of bicycling. Such activities encourage more residents to take advantage of the opportunity to bicycle that our good infrastructure provides.

Personally, I find it both frustrating and disappointing that bicycling in Davis is not more pervasive than it is. I didn’t move to Davis for the bicycling, but I naturally embraced it as my primary travel mode once I got here. Now I can’t imagine going back to a car-dependent lifestyle, and I wonder about my neighbors who choose to drive even when bicycling is so attractive an alternative.

But, of course, not everyone sees it that way, and that is exactly what we are trying to understand in our next study: Where do attitudes toward bicycling come from and why do some people enjoy bicycling so much more than others? We’ll see.

— Susan Handy is a professor of environmental science and policy at UC Davis and directs the Sustainable Transportation Center. Her research focuses on strategies for reducing automobile dependence.  This column is based on an article that appeared in Access.

What is the Woodland Bike Campaign?

During the five years that I worked as a classroom presenter in Yolo County, I noticed a long lines of cars in front of schools dropping off students in the morning and picking up students in the afternoon.  The bike racks were almost empty.

The topic of suicide prevention is so important that the state of California made it a part of required curriculum for all seventh- and 10th-graders. I loved my job as a classroom presenter on this sensitive topic that many teachers shy away from.

When my job terminated, I was a little depressed. What do you do with yourself at the age of 55? I thought about all the wonderful people I had met, teachers and administrators who genuinely care and work hard for their students and parents. I thought about all the wonderful relationships that had been built in the classroom, with school counselors and nurses, and I thought, “What can I do to help?”
About eight months ago, an idea was hatched. It was small at first and just kept growing. The positive response from school principals, community leaders, service clubs and administrators has been astounding. At its heart is the desire to share the joy of cycling with all the wonderful people that I’ve met in Woodland.
Bike riding brings  joy, freedom, independence and a sense of responsibility and pride, something you don’t get when someone else is driving you around. It occurred to me, after those years in the classroom of telling teens about the grim realities of life, that I could have a more positive impact by encouraging them to do something fun.

The Woodland Bike Campaign’s No. 1 objective is to get more people on bikes. Right now, fewer than 1 percent of teens ride their bikes to school. In fact, probably fewer than 1 percent of the population of Woodland rides bikes as a form of transportation.

It won’t take long for you to realize why your drive to anywhere in the morning or at 2 p.m. is so darn frustrating. Parents are shuttling their kids everywhere, to sports, to shop, to visit friends. How much time would you have if we were not taxiing our kids everywhere? How much money and CO2 would we save? What would you do with extra time and money you’d save?

I hope you’ll consider being a part of the solution, for far more reasons than can be counted in this column. People ride bikes because they care about the environment, to save money and because it’s healthy — lowering cholesterol, high blood pressure and stress.

You say your bike’s not working, or you don’t have a bike? The Woodland Bike Campaign is sponsoring its next free bike clinic in August at the County Fair Mall. Here, you will find helpful bike technicianss who are willing and able to do an overall safety review of your bike, fix some flats, show you how to pump up your tires, grease your chain and check your brakes. Come and learn how to get a bike and helmet if you can’t afford one.

With this campaign, you have the opportunity to get out there and be the change you wish to see in Woodland. Since you’ll have a little more time and money left over from not driving, please stop by Common Grounds at 729 Main St. and buy a $2 raffle ticket for the deluxe Electra Sugar Skulls Cruiser. Proceeds from the raffle support the free bike clinic and campaign.
For more information about the campaign and answers to your bike-related questions, email Maria Contreras at


Cycling fulfilled my desire for adventure

By Enrique Fernandes

Returning to Woodland unemployed, underwater in student debt and unaccomplished in almost every sense of the word, I didn’t imagine it would be so tough transitioning to the post-graduate life of leisure. Since no job offers with great pay, great benefits and minimal amounts of work required were presented to me after finishing school, I had planned on embarking on an extended break from pretty much everything.

Now, despite having longed for a reprieve from the stress and anxiety that accompanies the life of a student, I found it quite difficult acclimating to the aimless life of languid monotony. Though it was languid monotony I sought after four years of university work, having once achieved it, it wasn’t the panacea I had hoped it to be.

With the disappearance of all deadlines, projects and assignments, which had filled my daily schedule, I assumed all stress would fade along with it. Fade the stress did, but my mind remained unsettled. This relaxation thing didn’t sit as well as I thought it would sit with me.

After spending some time reflecting, I discovered it was recreation I wanted, not relaxation. It was adventure, I concluded, not inactivity that would provide me the tranquility and peace of mind I sought.

So, I decided to completely refigure the laidback plans I had devised for how I would spend my prolonged vacation, but I didn’t have much money to turn those plans into reality. With my ambitions soaring in a direction my savings balance was not, I didn’t have much to work with to obtain recreation or adventure. I was too broke to travel anywhere exotic and too unimaginative to devise some reasonably inexpensive local excursion.

I reached the point of almost giving up on the hope of achieving the excitement and adventure I desired, but then taking up the sport of cycling crossed my mind. It seemed like the perfect activity to supply me with what I was after. The thought of pedaling along miles of country roads and examining territory unfamiliar to me seemed pretty adventurous. It would be a way to get outside the city limits — away from the daily clamor — and reconnect with the countryside I had missed so much.

Solidifying my desire to take up cycling was the relatively light financial burden required to begin. I was able to find a fairly inexpensive road bike at Foy’s Bike Shop, and staying away from any spandex gear helped me trim not only cost, but potential embarrassment.

Within a day of purchasing my road bike, I took my first journey. Heading south on County Road 102, I ended up making a nice 20-mile trip around Woodland. As I began to get more comfortable on the bike, I began myself using it more than just as a recreational toy. I found myself regularly riding my bike to the job I eventually found in Woodland. With the price of gas climbing and carbon emissions growing, it felt good commuting to work in a vehicle other than a car.

The investment I made in purchasing a road bike has paid more than the obvious financial dividends. Cycling has provided me with an avenue to not only escape the quotidian occurrences of daily life, but it has supplied me with an outlet for acquiring adventure and achieving mental clarity.

Having taken numerous rides around Woodland and the Capay Valley, I’ve come to realize that you really don’t need to travel outside of Woodland or Yolo County to experience excitement or thrills. We are surrounded by such incredible natural beauty that I am often reminded of how spoiled we are, as Woodlanders, to be entrenched in the heart of an agriculture epicenter.

By just venturing out around the landscape farmers are constantly cultivating, you’ll find so much uncultivated splendor.