While the family and I are on vacation, I thought it would be interesting to pose a few questions about biking in the Old Pueblo and allow Tucson Velo readers to voice you opinions about the topics. Please keep the discussion civil because I’d really prefer not to have to moderate comments on vacation.

Today’s question relates to bike commuting. Here’s the question:

Why don’t more people commute by bicycle in Tucson?

40 thoughts on “Community Question: Why don’t more people commute by bike in Tucson?”
  1. I think the primary reason is that people are afraid of riding near cars.  Fear plain and simple.  There are lots of nice paths, but they don’t necessarily take people right to their place of work.

  2. I struggled with the car/bike commute question this morning, eventually deciding to car commute primarily because of logistics. It being the first day of the work week, I need to carry my laptop, briefcase, and workbook from home as well as my packed lunch, a change of clothes, and some gear for the gym after. I don’t have enough space in my backpack to carry all of this, so I opted for the car. I could’ve mitigated this by bringing some of it to the office late last week, but honestly wasn’t thinking about it before the holiday weekend. I don’t have a cargo bike/panniers because of the cost and the fact that I work far enough away that I prefer a lighter road bike frame to get there in a reasonable amount of time.
    My current MO is to car commute Monday with extra food and clothing, and then bike commute mid-week, using up my stash, and then car commute at the end of the week. This minimizes my load each day on the bike but makes shorter work-weeks hard and precludes the possibility of bike commuting everyday of the week.

  3. For me it is two main things, with sub-reasons:
    1) No separate bicycle infrastructure. It is the same reason I never ride on any major streets at all. I am afraid of cars. I have almost been killed by a car while riding my bike. I do not trust drivers. At. All. Too many Tucson drivers engage in speeding, distracted, and/or intoxicated behavior behind the wheel and to top it all, the bike lanes here are barely wide enough for a road bike, much less a trike or cargo bike. That is just too much for me, at my age and skill level.
     2) No shade. The same reason I avoid using a bus as an alternate option  from mid-morning to dusk during the summertime. For bus travel that means stops with no cover, or sometimes even seating ( a good friend who rides Sun Tran exclusively has given me the full scoop of bus-related hardship that riders contend with). For bike travel…well, we are not a sidewalk-lined-with -trees type of town, which is crazy, given our summertime temperatures. Trees (or some other method of shade cover) along at least the major thoroughfares could go a long way towards making this a more bike and pedestrian friendly environment.
    But, really, for me its mostly number 1.

  4. Infrastructure. Required facilities to assist riders currently don’t exist. Unisex bathrooms,clean water(for consumption), and access to use would be great ways to increase usage. The investment would amortize in short order with education. Teach the public WHY it is in every residents best interest, to do so…

  5. Steve Wilson Exactly. I posted my personal summary of reasons above, but that is really the distillation of it for me. I am afraid of cars, and I want more than just a strip of paint to separate me from them. Drivers here are just too much of a menace.

  6. “Why don’t more people commute by bicycle in Tucson?”
    1) Sprawl
    2) Gasoline tax so low it doesn’t come even come close to covering the direct and indirect costs of car culture.
    3) Failure on the part of the various municipal and county governments, regional planning/integrative (PAG) and administrative (RTA) bodies to integrate bikes with Sun Tran in any way other than gtm token measures. In other words, no significant multi-modal transpo.

    4) A local mainstream newstainment industry that reinforces car culture with vapid stories about “pain at the pump” and “Dear Roadrunner, why can’t I make a left at the intersection of this and that?”

    This not unique to the Old Pueblo/Pima County.

  7. I think a significant reason why more people don’t commute by bike is because it seems like the average person would rather drive, regardless of the benefits of cycling.
    I think it really comes down to convenience, habit and comfort. It’s more convenient to hop in a car and get somewhere quickly. And since it’s more convenient, it becomes more habitual, and thus people feel more comfortable doing it. Change is a hard thing to adopt unfortunately.

  8. I’ve worked out of my home for the past 15 years, but prior to that I had a job where I would have liked to ride to — especially because a good portion of the commute would have been on the Rillito MUP. But the issue for me was that I would stink. There was no practical way to clean up once I got to the office. So I think that’s one reason. Another big reason, as cited here already, is fear of traffic. Especially if you are commuting during rush hour.
    Of course you either have to like riding a bike, or have no choice, if you’re going to commute but I think some of it can be chalked up to inertia or convenience. You may want to commute, you know it’s a good thing to do, but it’s just easier to sleep in a little later, throw your laptop or whatever in the car and drink your coffee on the way to work. That’s why it’s important for municipalities to invest in other mass transportation options that are convenient if we are going to reduce dependency on personal vehicles.
    By the way, kudos to all of those who make the conscious effort to bike commute!

  9. People don’t have a bike and go to a bike shop and feel like they need to spend $300 just to commute and then another $500 in rando tools and gear and get overwhelmed.  To which they say “F’ that” and continue to drive.

  10. nickhumphries Agree. Many people “default” to the car for many rationales. But, when one gets right down to it, change is really, really hard, perhaps terrifying, for folks in sprawl land and their planners and administrators and politicians. And, with the local print and broadcast newstainment media  effectively owned by Jim Click et al, it’s difficult to see how they could. It is worrying that so many of Jim Click’s little robots are employed downtown in government positions, and elsewhere making missiles and such. All they have to do is get rid of one or two of their cars.

  11. I think a big part of it is the psycho drivers in this town. Red light running is epidemic. All it takes is a moment of inattention for a driver to injure a cyclist. On top of the inattention, there is a small but noisy subset of Tucson drivers who actually believe that cyclists have no rights to the road. The accidental collisions, assaults, and vehicular homicides must have some effect on bike commuting rates.

    On top of our terrible local drivers, there is the question of infrastructure, which many people have mentioned. It’s not just a lack of separated bike infrastructure- the pavement in Tucson is the worst I’ve seen anywhere in the world. Potholes, bizarre curb-like lumps such as found on Treat Ave, tortoise-shell cracks, flooded streets- the terrible infrastructure in general is probably a barrier to bike commuting.
    I do not believe that the weather here is a factor. Anyone who parks a car in Tucson’s summer knows that it will be 300 degrees F when they get inside it. A bike is definitely no worse than that- at least you get a breeze on a bike.

  12. After becoming a bicycle commuter in New York City in 1996 then living in Portland for seven years I find the traffic/conditions here in Tucson (where I’ve lived now for five years) to be a breath of fresh air. I think it depends on what you’ve been through in the past to be on your bike (perspective). The drivers in general here good and pay much more attention to what I was accustomed to for many years. I only avoid one major road during evening rush hour (Swan). I find drivers less distracted in the morning so I ride Swan without many incidents. My commute follows major bike lanes and is only 5.5 miles each way. The morning isn’t a problem for being too stinky but when I get home from my evening commute I head right to the shower. 
    I have a rack and load my sturdy cyclocross bike with panniers. Daily I haul coffee, kindle, lunch, change of clothes, appropriate work shoes. My bike probably weighs 40 pounds each day but I feel sturdy and steady on the road despite these spring windy conditions.

  13. 520cyclinggirl – Maybe we’re in the minority but I agree it’s not so bad out there.  I commuted to work several thousand times and rarely had any problems.  It was 33 miles round trip.
    There’s inattentive drivers in every city in the world.  The infrastructure could always be better, but there’s a lot of good stuff out there right here in Tucson.  A lot of it is what you make of it.

  14. 520cyclinggirl Awesome and strong, your comment! It’s the kind of narrative of trial and tribulation, challenge to cookie-cutter people and benefit, that needs to get out there. And 40 lbs is nothing once it’s rolling.

  15. @Gabrielle “… the bike lanes here are barely wide enough for a road bike…” Bike lanes are a minimum of 5′ wide. Perhaps what you’re referring to isn’t actually a bike lane?

  16. EdBeighe – pretty much everything in town is technically a ‘striped shoulder’ and not a bike lane.  The varying widths can be a challenge for sure.

  17. Steve Wilson EdBeighe right, so that begs the question: does having fake bike lanes help or hurt? (i’m from Phoenix, we have some fake bike lanes here, too)

  18. EdBeighe Steve Wilson I will take them over no markings any day, but I realize there are differing opinions out there.

  19. That’s a valid point, but the effective width of a 5′ bike lane is sometimes significantly narrower. Consider northbound Swan, where an asphalt/concrete seam capable of eating tires in some places runs right down the middle of the lane, and storm drains pepper the curbside. Or River or Sunrise where the bike lanes are chock full of debris, forcing the rider into a 1′ window by the white line or risk a tire blowout.

  20. EdBeighe Steve Wilson If bike lanes are “fake” the cause is behavioral problems on the part of motorists and perhaps lack of enforcement by police for whatever reason. While Arizona Revised Statutes makes the entire roadway available to cyclists ( caveat: don’t exceed double file), it is nice to know that there is a white-striped comfort zone to tuck into when necessary. If nothing else, the white stripes might just maybe help Arizona motorists climb the learning curve as they pick their noses in the SUV, minivan, PU, or whatever overpriced junk and wonder “Huh, what’s up all dem stripes and stuff…” Red Star tends to think lanes help. Awareness.

  21. EdBeighe For me, it is difficult to find bike lanes wide enough for an upright adult tricycle (my grocery-getting version of an SUV). It is not a major problem, because I avoid major thoroughfares like the plague. But on the rare occasions that I’ve had to ride on one, I find that the back wheels go over the line. Also, I am very conscious of the fact that I travel at a slower speed, and if I am taking even more space than what is available in some of these “bike lanes”, how are other cyclists to pass me safely? To me, that is not infrastructure, because it is modeled after the iconic skinny-tire road only, and has no regard for any other form of pedal-powered transport.

  22. EdBeighe  Part of that last sentence  was supposed to read as: “…modeled after the iconic skinny-tire road bike…” oops.

  23. Lots of people live several miles from their job.  Whether they bought the house knowing it was so far and figured they’d always drive, or perhaps they changed jobs and the new one is further, the distance discourages a lot of people.  For those people, infrastructure probably won’t make a difference.

  24. I think the biggest things are
    1) how far away people may live from their jobs 
    2) how expensive it can be to start up (few people know about BICAS or the bike swap)
    3) the heat
    4) time
    As for those wanting separated bike paths to commute on, I don’t think its ever going to happen. Yes there should be some separated paths like the loop but how are you going to get to the loop from your home or work. It isn’t feasible to build separated paths along every road. So if you want to commute you’ll probably have to get out on the road with the cars. Tucson has has more bike lanes than any other place in the country, the infrastructure is there we just need to use it. Improvements can be made and not everywhere is great (I won’t ride on Grant east of Craycoft) but Tucson has a great bicycling infrastructure. 
    The drivers are not as bad as many make them out to be, people are very cognizant of cyclist in this town. Is every driver perfect, no but don’t think you are any safer in your car (you’ll be keeping up with them and around their danger even longer). I’ve ridden 10,000 miles in this town, you just need to get out there get used to the way it works. Finally  realize that it takes 2 to share a road, be as courteous to the drivers as you would like them to be with you. You’re a vehicle on the road, act like one.

  25. @RMMoore there are bathrooms and water at every convenience store and fast food joint. Some of them won’t let you use the bathroom, but most don’t have any problems with it. As long as you have your own bottle they cannot keep you from getting water.

  26. Red Star EdBeighe Steve Wilson Keep in mind it (a separate space, whatever you want to call it) is more of a comfort and convenience thing, and not a safety thing… Being struck from behind is both 1) low frequency, and 2) when serious, as often as not is outside of the normal travel lane, think Allen Johnson, Eugene Featherman and Albert Eugene Brack; to name a few from your general area who were all killed while riding on either a (real) bike lane or “bike route with striped shoulder”.

  27. CodyM48 So, with the preface of — you don’t actually have real bike lanes in Tucson and Pima county (for reasons that i don’t really understand) — Bike lanes under the “old” rules were minimum 5′ and ONLY if the gutter seam was “smooth”; otherwise a MINIMUM 3′ ridable surface must be provided.
    Under the recent (2012) “new” rules: a MINIMUM of 4′ must be provided beyond and gutter seam, drainage , etc. 
    These are the rules/guidelines for roadways with a curb, there are many other little wrinkles, Please see:

  28. EdBeighe CodyM48 Touche. Thanks for the link, Ed. I guess Swan and Sunrise don’t actually have bike lanes then.
    River still does, though, and the bike lane is regularly full of debris.

  29. Concerns over safety are understandable — PLEASE avail yourselves of a formal bicycle safety education program; they are run often, are FREE, and they even give out free stuff. What more could you want??
    … look for “CONFIDENT and CAPABLE CYCLIST (Traffic Skills 101)”

  30. CodyM48 EdBeighe You can check on your bikeways map. It is (as far as i understand) accurate, and correctly distinguishes between a real bike lane and the other sutff. There is a different legend/color for bike lanes (there are very very few bike lanes) versus “Bike Routes with Striped shoulders”, which are in red — the map veritably bleeds red.

  31. CodyM48 EdBeighe oops; link to maps: http://bikeped.pima.gov/Publications.html

  32. MickeyC But it cost about 8K per year to take fuel and take care of a automobile!  while it would be whole lot less to purchase a bike and take care of it…  way cheaper than car!

  33. EdCantrell MickeyC The problem is most people cannot live car free so it’s not an either or situation. I lived for two years car free in Portland, Oregon and five years in NYC (where it’s EASY). It’s just not terribly easy to live without a car. In a two person household you may be able to get by with one car but there are many valid reasons one car is not adequate.

  34. 520cyclinggirl EdCantrell MickeyC I am car-free for 13 years(since 2000) and bike is my major transportation and I do rely on public transportation and sometime get rides from friends or relatives. Also there’s other mode of transportation:  taxi and shuttle bus.   Soon coming to Tucson, Streetcar. 
    That way, I don’t need to fork $ to car insurances (money fly away…), fuels (it get used up quickly,  no ROI).  wear and tear on car cost tons of $$ than bike or any mode of public transportation.

  35. @Gabrielle EdBeighe I take your point about relative width of your trike. In my view, that’s just another reason not to have these sub-standard bike facilities. p.s. regarding passing: that’s probably a non-issue; no two bicyclists should be trying to pass, even in a full-on bike lane, it’s too narrow. The cyclist wishing to overtake should (safely of course; merge over; use signals, etc) use the full vehicular lane.

  36. Well according to the 2011 American Community Survey those that bike commute in Tucson is 2.8%, which is better than Baltimore, MD (where I am from) at 0.8%. But it is kinda of funny that I would run into more cyclists on the streets of Baltimore while out riding than here (not counting the UA area). I attribute that to both sprawl and the number of routes available. For example I could run across three cyclists in 5 miles in Baltimore while here those same three cyclists would be spread out over 10 miles and while I am on Broadway they might be on 22nd or Speedway.

  37. My fiance and I met in part because we are both 4-wheeled vehicle free. We both have scooters for long hauls or when it is just too hot to ride and now have a tandem with a large cargo trailer for most of our errands. We also spend quite a bit of time pleasure riding around all the great paths, bike ways, bike lanes, etc., here in Tucson. We even have a special dog leash and cart for our tandem so we can take our weimaraner dog with us when pleasure riding or for applicable errands. 
    I spent years riding 25-50 miles per day, commuting (with two jobs worth of stuff in the paniers) as well as solo and club riding in Indianapolis back in the 80’s. I cannot figure out what all the complaints are about here in Tucson. In Indianapolis in the 80’s there was no such thing as bike lanes and often the white line on the side of the road was either right against a tall curb or was on the edge of a ditch or drop-off. We had LOTS of drivers who felt bicyclists did not belong on the road (I even had several throw beer or pop cans at me). You could not have more varied weather – days on end of rain, wind, ice storms, snow, hail, sunshine, humidity and heat, etc. And you want to talk about bad roads . . . sometimes the pot holes were so bad you literally could drop your car’s front-end if you hit them. 
    Needless to say, when I moved to Tucson a year ago, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. As several people have said here . . . I guess it is just what you are used to. But I am thankful each and every day that I now live in an area where living without a car is as easy and carefree as it is here in Tucson!

  38. CheriStieve So, just because Tucson lacks the physical and identifiable aspects that discourage a commitment to cycling, it still simply represents the general population’s aversion to adopt a cycling lifestyle. Those of us who have made that decision recognize what Tucson offers and find it rather unbelievable that more don’t do it
    I interpret that to mean we are at a point of diminishing returns when focusing on physical features intended to increase ridership. ‘Things’ can always be improved, of course, but the effects of cultural persuasion are not as measurable and attractive to governments who set such goals.
    Thanks, CheriStieve, for your ‘bigger-picture’ description. I suspect your scenario isn’t so uncommon.

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