Friday, April 30, 2021

Trying to Identify My New "Service Niche"

Yes, it's another bicycle / "now that I'm a GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL" post.

Upon closer examination, I understand now why I didn't notice my appointment to the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board by the Alachua County Commission. I don't think I was appointed by the Alachua County Commission. Rather, I think I was appointed by the Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization for the Gainesville Urbanized Area, which in turn is part of the North Central Regional Planning Council. Pretty byzantine, eh?

The board is composed of 13 members. The city of Gainesville gets five -- four "regular" members, plus one slot specifically reserved for a student. The county gets four. And MTPO gets four. Here's the boilerplate on "mission" from the city's site:

The Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board (BPAB) makes recommendations (serves as advisory) to the City of Gainesville Commission, the Alachua County Commission and the region's transportation authority concerning federally funded projects and resources, the Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization (MTPO), on all matters concerning planning, implementation, and maintenance of policies, programs, and facilities for the safe and efficient integration of bicycle and pedestrian transportation into the Gainesville Metropolitan Area and Alachua County transportation systems. This includes, but is not limited to, the design of roadway bicycle facilities, shared use paths, sidewalks, jogging paths, hiking trails, bicycle parking, and the enforcement of motor vehicle, pedestrian, and bicycle safety regulations. The Board makes recommendations to the Commissions and the Metropolitan MTPO regarding budgetary matters in connection with its duties. The BPAB consists of citizen volunteers who have a special interest and expertise in bicycle and pedestrian issues.

Since I haven't met the other board members yet, I can only speculate as to their personal interests and focuses, but I've got a pretty firm handle on mine, and it looks something like this:

Gainesville and Alachua County are very bike/pedestrian oriented areas, and I divide the biking/walking into three types:

  1. Exercise and/or athletic training: I see lots of people out on the streets, highways, and bike trails who are clearly training, either for competition or just to get in shape. That's a good thing.
  2. Recreation: On any given sunny afternoon, it's not uncommon to see family groups -- e.g. one parent pulling a stroller behind a bike, another parent on a bike, and perhaps a couple of kids who are old enough for their own bikes -- out for a leisure ride to the park or whatever. There are numerous "green space" areas with trails for mountain bikes (and, in some cases, trails that street bikes can handle).
  3. Practical transportation. People walking or biking to the grocery store. People walking or biking to work. People walking or biking to get to the gym or to the club or to class.
The niche I plan to focus on as best I can is a sub-niche of that third one: Practical transportation between the "inner Gainesville" area and the outlying towns and points in between.

The town of Archer is ten miles out of Gainesville, and fortunately has a very nice bike/pedestrian trail covering most of the distance. On any given day, in addition to the exercise/athletic bikers, the joggers, and the "it's a nice day, how about a stroll or ride" crowd, I see plenty of people who are obviously going somewhere because it's where they need to go.

The little old lady on her beach cruiser bike with a basket full of groceries and more grocery bags hanging off the bike, or pushing along a walker with a grocery bag hanging from it.

The guy in jeans and work boots riding his Walmart Huffy into town with his lunch box hanging from the handlebars.

Some of these people may be riding bikes or hoofing it because they want to -- it's exercise or recreation in addition to practical transportation.

But I suspect most of them are in some other categories. They're living paycheck to paycheck, their old beater of a car broke down and they can't afford to fix it, or perhaps to insure it. Or the single family car went with the ex-spouse in a ruinous divorce. Or they blew a 0.2 on the breathalyzer one too many times and lost their drivers' licenses. Whatever the reason, they're making do with shoe leather or a bicycle.

Any way you cut it, if the government's going to be providing roads, trails, and sidewalks (and that's exactly what it's going to continue doing, at least for the moment), I think it's important that those roads, trails, and sidewalks serve these people's needs. Not because I'm a bleeding heart (guilty), but for two practical reasons.

  1. As I point out in a recent post, each pedestrian or cyclist reduces motor traffic congestion (and, for those concerned about pollution, point emissions from exhaust pipes*) on the roads. If accommodating them is cost-effective versus widening roads, building more roads, etc., it just makes sense.
  2. Roads, trails, and sidewalks that are poorly designed vis a vis pedestrian and bicycle traffic lead to dangerous interactions between that traffic and motor traffic. People end up in the hospital, or even dead.
Part of my near-future agenda includes spend some time riding between Gainesville and other outlying communities (Micanopy, Waldo, Alachua, Newberry, High Springs, Hawthorne et al.) to get a good idea of how well the road system accommodates bicycle and pedestrian traffic. I've biked to several of those towns and back before, but not with the issue I'm talking about in mind.

So anyway, that's where my head is on this new mission.

* Whether bicycling and walking really address carbon emissions as they bear on climate change is an interesting question. That really depends on where the calories (or battery power) comes from, doesn't it? When I charge my e-bike battery up instead of driving a car, if the electricity is from a coal-fired plant, all I've done is move the emissions.

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