Bicycling in Downey during National Bike Month

DOWNEY – National Bike Month is right around the corner, celebrated each year in May, as it has been since its establishment by the League of American Bicyclists in 1956. Included in the celebration is Bike to Work Week  and Bike to Work Day. In addition to Bike to Work Day, Bike to School Day was inaugurated two years ago by the National Center for Safe Routes to School, adding to a WALK to School Day tradition which began in 1997. In fact, Downey schools participated in both events last year for the very first time. Some 13 Downey schools were actively involved in International Walk to School Day, and the District’s four middle schools participated in Bike to School Day, with support from the Downey Bicycle Coalition, local KIWIN’S, a high-school-age service club sponsored by Kiwanis International, and several Downey City Council members.  Kaiser Permanente, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, and the Downey Bicycle Coalition contributed bike lights, fliers on health and safe cycling, and refreshments to the Bike to School Day event.

This year, West and Griffiths Middle Schools have enthusiastically committed to Bike to School Day, and while the number of schools involved is fewer thus far than last year, both school district officials and the Downey Bicycle Coalition are in agreement that Bike to School Day should be given the opportunity to grow organically from within the schools, rather than through District mandate.

This concept—organic evolution—has of course, always been the best (and the worst) way in which both nature and human culture have adapted to changing necessities. The City of Downey evolved from rural orange groves into a classic U.S. suburb at the peak of America’s oft-described love affair with the automobile, and its current infrastructure testifies to that evolution. In today’s climate, with an ever-increasing population resulting in an overcrowded transportation system, as well as the escalating costs—both fiscal and environmental—of mostly fossil fuels, that culture and its infrastructure need to change.

Fortunately, there are successful models for that kind of evolution in the world of bicycling. The Netherlands is a particularly interesting example.  Initially, post World War II, the Dutch were as fascinated with the automobile as were all the world’s developed countries at that time. But the Dutch population began to be troubled by the increasing incidence of traffic fatalities, especially among children, as well as the increasing costs of fuel due to the petroleum shortages of the early 1970’s. (Some of us remember those long lines at gas stations in the U.S.)

So – slowly but surely – the Netherlands infrastructure began to change such that, nowadays, bike paths crisscross the communities and towns of the entire nation, many times offering more direct and more efficient access across these areas than provided by streets and roads for motor vehicles.  Moreover, Dutch children receive official training in how to ride their bikes, as do Dutch motorists in how to interact with cyclists.

In short, the Dutch culture has changed so significantly that almost half of primary school children ride their bikes to school! That number increases to three-quarters of secondary school students, up to more than 80% within 3 miles of school. Likewise, in urban areas, bicycling accounts for as much as 59% of all trips and 29% of commuters NEVER drive a car to work.  Such numbers are currently inconceivable in Downey, and certainly many factors differ from the Netherlands, although both Downey, CA, and the Netherlands offer a flat terrain conducive to bicycling.

In summary, the hope of a natural, organic evolution towards significantly greater bike travel is possible within the City of Downey, just as it has evolved over the past four decades in the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, at least two Downey schools will celebrate Bike to School Day on May 7. And for you grownups, Bike to Work Week will be taking place Monday, May 12 through Sunday, May 18, and Bike to Work Day will be celebrated in the Los Angeles area on Thursday, May 15.

So see you all out there headed to school or work on your bikes.  And stay tuned for more on bicycling next month.



Published: April 24, 2014 - Volume 13 - Issue 02