Spurred on by skyrocketing gas prices, concerns about global warming and the fact that it was also an official "Spare the Air" day, a record number of cyclists turned out for Bike to Work Day on May 15, 2008, according to event organizers.
Concerned by predictions of high temperatures, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District issued a Spare the Air advisory for May 15, the first of the 2008 smog season. The call to ride public transit and bikes instead of driving no doubt helped to boost participation in Bike to Work Day, despite the sweltering heat.
Volunteers staffing the more than 220 Bike to Work Day Energizer Stations around the region — where participants could refuel with water, coffee and snacks, and pick up giveaways — counted close to 115,000 cyclists who either stopped by or whizzed by during the morning commute period, a significant uptick from prior years, according to Cole Portocarrero, executive director of the Bay Area Bicycle Coalition, which organized the event with major sponsorship by MTC among other public and private entities.
“And if we factor in the untold number of people who pedaled to work on May 15 but didn’t pass by an Energizer Station, we can estimate that participation could have been in the 140,000 to 150,000 range,” said Portocarrero, adding that the numbers are preliminary and that it’s always difficult to get an exact count.
Helping to bolster that estimate are scattered reports from counties, individual Energizer Stations around the region and one critical observation point showing a significant increase in bike traffic on Bike to Work Day 2008 over prior years.
The Energizer Station at Vista Point, at the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge, logged 900 cyclists during the morning commute, more than double last year’s count of 410. Alameda County saw its morning Energizer Station numbers rise by 40 percent compared to prior years. Marin County counted 4,000 riders at its Energizer Stations in the morning, a 33 percent increase over the 3,000 counted in 2007. And Santa Clara County logged 11,000 people in the a.m. at local Energizer Stations , compared to close to 9,000 last year, an increase of about 20 percent.
San Francisco used the traffic along Market Street as a barometer of participation in Bike to Work Day. City counts showed that bicyclists made up 64 percent of the eastbound traffic along Market during the morning commute, while motorists comprised 32 percent — a nearly 31 percent increase in bikes over last year's Bike to Work Day counts (the remainder consisted of transit vehicles and taxis).
“We hope to get the message out there that bicycling is easy, it’s safe, and that it can be done any time to any place,” said Portocarrero. “It doesn’t have to just be a bike ride on the weekend with the kids, it can be done throughout the week to work, to your errands, to school, wherever. That’s the overall message, that bicycling can be used as a means of transportation.”
MTC and the Bay Area Bicycle Coalition will continue to drive that message home through the Team Bike Challenge, which continues through the end of May. Groups of cyclists have teamed up in a friendly competition to be the team to log the most rides in the month of May. — Brenda Kahn