Multimodal and Alternative Transit Adoption



June 14th, 2024

Post by Donna Marbury, Smart Columbus Storyteller

(Photo courtesy of YayBikes!)

When some think of bicycles, they remember them as a childhood mode of transportation that gave them their first taste of freedom and responsibility. Bikes can also provide adults with freedom and responsibility, especially if transportation is a barrier to access to employment, education and fresh food.

Creating safe and accessible bikeways is an important task for any smart city, as biking is a true equitable, economic and environmentally safe mode of transportation, says Catherine Girves, executive director Yay Bikes! The nonprofit organization is celebrating 10 years of providing award-winning biking education in the Columbus region.

“We work with people who might not think of biking as a solution, but they don't have access to a single occupancy vehicle,” Girves says, adding that teaching people the benefits of using bikes for commuting, and not just leisure activity, can give them access to opportunities where transportation is a barrier.

“Four miles is not very far on a bike. You can get that far without breaking a sweat. You can get it that far in about a half an hour or less, and that's incredibly doable,” Girves says. “When you think about the four-mile radius of someone's home, it can mean what feels like a food desert isn't. A person can get to a grocery store that's too far to walk to or get to a job where the bus might leave off. If it's a second shift job, the bus might get someone to work, but it can't get them home. But a four-mile bike trip home is doable.”

Biking education and advocacy
Yay Bikes! was launched in 2009 bring together commuters of different ages and walks of life to discuss the challenges and benefits of biking in central Ohio. Ten years later, the nonprofit organization has 1,377 members, and held 55 educational rides in 2018 that help members, residents and community leaders to understand how to ride a bike safely in a growing city. 

“One of the things we found in biking is the problem is not a lack of information. All of the information we deliver in our curriculum exists and is easily accessible. It is a lack of information that is usable, that is within context,” Girves says. “After a single hour of riding with a person who knows what they're doing, can deliver the relevant information in a context-sensitive moment and can model for you how something works, our riders are given information that they need to be successful. We provide educational programming that after a single intervention, after a single bike ride creates mode shift.”

Girves says that Yay Bikes! also teaches people who rely heavily on cars that bikes can be a valuable mode of transportation. A national survey found that more than half of the population is interested in biking more. In downtown Columbus, Yay Bikes! gave a similar survey and found that 60 percent of people surveyed were interested in replacing a car trip with a bike trip.

“The number among workers in downtown Columbus is actually higher than 60 percent, which is what you would expect given how hard it can be to park downtown,” Girves says. “It's amazing to help people who have access to a car understand that there are moments when coupling a bike and bus trip can actually get you to your destination faster and less stressed.” 

The organization also advocates for safe bikeways by working on committees and advisory groups at Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, Central Ohio Greenways, the Ohio Department of Transportation and CoGo Bike Share.

Girves says it’s important to help the public sector and business community understand how bike riders enhance the community.

“We work with businesses to help them understand how bikes are actually going to improve the business that happens on their corridor when they're well accommodated,” Girves says. “We work with social service providers to help them understand that bikes can be a solution to people who have transportation barriers. We also work a lot with other sustainable modes of transportation.”

Biking with city engineers & planners
Since Smart Columbus launched, the city has added 15.68 miles of bikeways. Many of those miles are attributed to the Professional Development rides with city engineers, planners and officials with the City of Columbus Division of Public Safety that Girves established through Yay Bikes! in 2015. 

“I could make recommendations, but what I felt would be more valuable was if I went out and rode those corridors with the engineers and helped them understand from the perspective of a user how that design was going to work,” Girves says. “By the end of the ride, they’re taking their plans out and marking them up with a red sharpie and rethinking things, not as much on our advice but on their experience with their deep understanding of the environment.”

Girves says the City of Columbus Department of Public Service has continued the monthly practice of encouraging engineers and planners to bike roadways to get a better understanding of how cyclists and pedestrian traffic are a part of a project, and Yay Bikes! staff or volunteers accompanying them as time permits. In 2016, Yay Bikes! partnered with the Ohio Department of Transportation to expand the program statewide, funding the initiative to encourage city planners, engineers and public officials about community planning and roadway design.

“What we could advise them on was how to travel that corridor safely, given the conditions that existed in that moment so that they weren't white knuckled the whole time,” Gives says. “That way the engineers can actually think and experience what’s happening. They are able to engage their expertise in a way that was different than looking at a computer screen or drafting it and their plans changed as a result of it.”

Biking as the city grows
Looking forward, Girves says that Yay Bikes! will continue to continue to advocate to public officials and businesses to promote biking as the population of the Columbus region is estimated to grow by one million people by 2050. 

“Even for people who are only ever going to drive, these solutions actually are making their lives better,” Girves says. “As more people use sustainable transportation, there’s less fighting for a parking place. Cyclists may be using up a lot more real estate on the road, but it's reducing traffic congestion. The more we can accelerate accommodating sustainable transportation and in particular bikes, the better it's going to be for all of us.”

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