Monday, May 2, 2011

Why Not Here? Pondering the Ingredients of a Cycling Town

Having just returned from Central Pennsylvania, I am still trying to makes sense of my impressions. I was familiar with Lancaster County and the Poconos, but had never ventured west of these areas until now. While I'd imagined a wholesome and fertile land with dramatic mountain views, the landscape we encountered looked bare and depleted. We saw fairly few farm animals, and minimal vegetation. Many of the farms we passed seemed outright abandoned. Later we were told about the extraction of natural gasses that has become popular in the region, so perhaps this could account for it. It would also explain the enormous, brand-new-looking hotels that stood in sparsely populated areas, towering above the Methodist churches and the dilapidated barns.

In the midst of all of this, we came upon a lively small town - a town with historical buildings, tree-lined streets, an active downtown area, and a picturesque Liberal Arts college with manicured grounds. Surrounded by mountains and farmlands, the town forms a microcosm of "culture" - offering the only sidewalks, storefronts, restaurants and cinemas for miles around. Exploring it with curiosity, it occurred to me that this was the sort of place a friend of mine refers to as "cycling-prone" - his theory being that "cycling culture" tends to develop in places that are structurally prepared for it, and where the population could benefit from it.

Among examples of structural preparedness he includes things like one-way streets with low speed limits. Check: This town is big on one-way streets, with speed limits under 30mph. Frequent street lights and well-designed intersections are also crucial, and this town has them. Large intersections involve dedicated left turn lights, which is helpful for cyclists as well.

There is also the concept of "manageable scale:" The argument is that cycling tends to be popular in small cities or towns with self-contained economies, because most commutes will be fairly short - yet still not quite convenient to make on foot. This town fits the bill perfectly: The population is around 30,000 and a great portion of the residents seem to live, work, and seek entertainment within the town's confines, simply because there is not much beyond it. And being in a valley, the terrain is mostly flat - making even the simplest single speed bicycle sufficient for commuting.

And then, there is the college - a small undergraduate institution with 2,000 full-time students who live on or close to campus year-round. College towns are supposed to be especially prone to embracing cycling, because it makes for a quick and inexpensive means of local transportation. College students also tend to be concerned about the environment, and some are drawn to cycling for those reasons. A quick glance at the college website shows that environmental issues are indeed prominent: Projects to reduce carbon footprints are announced, the benefits of a new recycling program are touted.

In short, all the ingredients are there for this to be a cycling town... and yet, it is not. I saw not a single transportation cyclist on the streets, and not a single bicycle locked up near the college campus or elsewhere in town. To me, this is interesting. Why no cycling here, but yes cycling in places like Hanover, NH and Ithaca, NY - where the towns and the surrounding landscapes are demographically and geographically similar? Sure, Central Pennsylvania can be called "old fashioned," and one could argue that cycling is a contemporary trend that will take a long time to reach here. But the same can be said of Northern NH: You won't see any locals outside of Hanover cycling, but within the town itself it is popular. Also, while I have not been to State College, PA - which is not far away - my understanding is that some students do cycle there for transportation as well.

I suppose my point is not so much to analyse this particular town, as to point out that the popularity of cycling cannot be explained with geography and demographics alone. Even with all the ingredients present, there is no guarantee that they will be utilised and combined into a cycling cocktail, if you will. I can only conclude that, in addition to the ingredients, there needs to be a catalyst to make it happen. To shake things up and get things started. And that catalyst could be anything - from an incoming class of trendy freshmen bringing their fixies to campus, to the college instituting a semester-based bicycle rental program, to the town suddenly deciding to paint bike lanes. I wonder whether that could happen in the coming years in this central Pennsylvania town and others like it.

46 comments:

  1. Ah, just enough clues to guess what town this is...Williamsport.

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  2. Very interesting post. I know from biking in different places through my life, that in Boston/ Cambridge/ Somerville we have a bit of a wonderful bubble where there are bikes everywhere.

    I think it unlikely that the town will spontaneously paint bike lanes, given typical budget issues in small towns, and I worry about town-gown conflicts if it comes from "trendy freshmen". This is actually where I think the profusion of "citizen cyclist" blogs might have a real impact.

    Someone who lives and works in the city, and somehow ends up reading LGRAB, thinks "hey" that looks like something I can do, and rides to work. They find it fun and convenient and find it has a pleasant impact on their pant size. Their office mates, or the people at the coffeeshop see them and think, "hey, that doesn't look so hard" and so it goes.

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  3. Anon - Yes, you got it : ) Are you local to the area?

    cycler - I actually think there is a good chance the town might paint bike lanes soon. They have recently installed these brick crosswalk thingies (is there a name for this?) just as Somerville has done over the past year. I can tell it was recently, because they look brand new. Also, motorists do not seem to have a problem stopping for pedestrians, even if I crossed the street in a spot I wasn't supposed to. I think it could happen there.

    But I also like the scenario of dozens of local women reading LGRAB : )

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  4. Funny that you mentioned Ithaca b/c it was one of the least friendly bicycling towns in which i've lived. Actually gave up trying to get to work via bicycle because of the poor infrastructure and hostile drivers.

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  5. You might have been there a bit early -- we've had a cold spring. That might also explain the abandoned-looking farms. I don't think the natural gas extraction is interfering with farming directly (unless a well or waterway gets poisoned, as happens occasionally.)
    There does seem to be something of a cycling culture there (assuming you're talking about Williamsport). Ex., http://www.susvalleyvelo.com/.

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  6. Ha. I have been to Ithaca, but haven't cycled there myself. But I have friends who cycle in Ithaca, telling me it's popular among students at Cornell and Ithaca College. And I did see bikes around town. When did you live there?

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  7. Jon - I considered the early Spring, but there were literally abandoned farms with windows knocked out/ boarded up and the structure of the buildings looking damaged. Unless they renovate them every spring, I don't see how these can be active. Also, the farms that were active did have weeding/planting activity happening, and the animals were out and about. There just weren't many of these in comparison to the empty ones.

    There may very well be a roadcycling culture in the area, though this is entirely separate from transportation.

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  8. Yes, but I would guess that transportation cycling might wait for warmer weather.
    Since I live in Pittsburgh I'm pretty familiar with the area -- there are lots and lots of old farm buildings out in the country. That doesn't mean the farm is abandoned, just that there's been a shift in use not requiring a building built a long time ago, and no one has gotten around to knocking it down.
    If you didn't see overgrown fields, that means farming is still going on.

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  9. Lived there for sixteen years from '90 to '06. Perhaps it's because I moved from Oregon where cycling was part of the culture that my experience there was so shocking. It's a progressive town but not bike wise for the general public. The hills are a killer and never any good bike shops so it's only the hardcore folks who thrive there. Lot's of mountain biking..... And students parked bikes on campus but rarely rode them....at least that was my experience working at both campuses.

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  10. Our small city of Burlington, VT with population 45,000 is cycling-rich too. We have three colleges so many students pedal only 2-3 miles. There weren't many commuters until Local Motion, a non-profit that seeks to get people outdoors and move their bodies, worked on the local trails, sidewalks, promoting infrastructure, etc. Now there are gobs of people out commuting and many right through the winter. You are right though, it does take the right mix of ingredients, economics, cycle chic, etc.

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  11. Jon - I did see overgrown fields. My understanding is that some of the locals are selling their land for drilling - land that has hitherto been used for farming.

    Also, I thought that the Pittsburg region is quite different from Central PA?

    Bottom line is that I am not local, and any impression based on a 3-day visit plus some conversations with locals, is bound to be crude, which is why I did not identify the town in the post. Would be great to get a more nuanced POV from Central PA locals.

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  12. Well, they don't sell the land. They lease it for gas drilling. Fields that have been leased might be no longer farmed, or maybe they will be farmed again after the gas well is set up, I don't know. I don't think the footprint of an active well is really that big.
    I've been trying to get on the site I mentioned earlier to see if there's somebody there who can contribute here...
    Yes, Pittsburgh is pretty different from central PA, but I do get out some, by car and bike.

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  13. Leasing the land, you're right, I mis-spoke (mis-wrote?).

    Do you know whether the farming resumes after the drilling is done? I know there is some concern regarding contamination from the drilling practices, which seemed to be a local point of contention.

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  14. I don't know what school that is and don't know central PA, but wonder how much it has to do with the values the students and professors bring to the town. Is it a school that mostly attracts students from local suburban car-oriented communities -- or does it have a student body and faculty who possibly once lived in places with transit or bicycles? I also wonder about what percentage of the town attends or works at the university vs the town and its industry.

    I admit I don't associate the values that led to the creation of PA's fracking capital (thanks, google) with those that might create cycling infrastructure, but stranger bedfellows do exist. . . I hope for the best for this town.

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  15. I grew up about 20 miles outside Williamsport, and I think it's a very nice place to ride. There is actually an extremely vibrant cycling culture in the outlying areas (made up of Amish / Mennonite Farmers). A few miles upriver is the southern terminus of the Pine Creek Rail Trail (62 miles long).

    You're also right next to a vast area of State Forest lands with hundreds of miles of gravel roads. This is one of the reasons the city hasn't sprawled out too much. Most of the surrounding land is owned by the State.

    The "city" of Williamsport itself doesn't have much in the way of infrastructure. There's a multi-use path along the river for maybe 3 miles, and the Lycoming Creek Bikeway that's maybe another 5 miles.

    I have to agree with Jon, that you were just a tad too early for the scenery. Once the mountains green up, it's really a beautiful area. The natural gas drilling has uglied up some of the mountains to the north, though.

    The whole area has been economically distressed for a long time, and it shows. There was a massive, catastrophic flood in 1972 that basically destroyed the entire region, and most of the industry ever recovered. The state government has been trying to market the area to tourists as the "PA Wilds" (sort of like a smaller version of the Adirondacks) with generally not much success.

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  16. There are people here who have had natural gas wells under their house for a long time. Once the well is drilled and running it doesn't take up that much space and presumably farming can resume. But that's assuming the extraction process didn't poison the well or watershed -- here's hoping.
    We have a governor here I like to call Governor Marcellus since he seems to be more interested in representing the drilling interests (who are also his campaign contributors, of course) than in worrying about little things like whether the environment will be wrecked by pumping all sorts of chemicals into the ground to get the gas out. And he's adamant against any extraction tax -- so we're giving the gas away. Great.

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  17. Bone said...
    "...There is actually an extremely vibrant cycling culture in the outlying areas (made up of Amish / Mennonite Farmers)."


    !!

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  18. I think that whether cycling becomes part of the fabric of a community has much to do with the outlook of its residents. Cycling-rich places, at least in the US, tend to be full of people who have something to look forward to. Such is not the case in place in economically distressed or struggling areas like central Pennsylvania and much of central New York State. (Ithaca is nothing like its surrounding area.) Blue-collar workers who lost jobs that paid relatively well and may not ever have a job again, or farmers who have lost the farm, tend not to have much hope for the future.

    Apropos of this discussion, I find it interesting that within a city or region, there are cycle-friendly and bike-barren areas alongside each other. For example, I lived in Park Slope, which at the time had much the same demographic Williamsburg had about ten years ago, Greenpoint has now and Bushwick is developing. I knew lots of people who cycled to and from work, stores and art galleries. On the other hand, neighboring South Brooklyn and Red Hook were moribund blue-collar enclaves. The infrastructure was roughly the same in each neighborhood, but almost anytime I rode into those neighborhoods, I didn't see anyone else on a bike.

    Likewise, I see many commuting and recreational cyclists in Astoria, where I now live. However, Elmhurst, a neighborhood through which I pass on my way to work, is nearly devoid of cyclists. It's a neighborhood full of middle-aged immigrants who were professionals of one sort or another in their native countries but are now driving taxis, working in restaurants and such. Similar conditions exist in other nearby neighborhoods like Richmond Hill, where it's a wonder that the local bike shop is still in business.

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  19. Yes! There are some of us in State College who commute by bike (1 hour southwest of Williamsport)! Hmmm, this is a very interesting question about why our communities are different... I'm obviously speculating, but most people here tend to bike-commute exclusively within the "downtown area," which also happens to be the associated with the Penn State campus. This means mostly students live where there is infrastructure for cycling. Once you move a mile or two away from campus and downtown, the number of cyclers diminishes dramatically, corresponding with the increasing, non-University-oriented parts of town. I think these parts are similar to Williamsport, in that they have a small-town feel, but are inhabited mostly by non-students. There are some of us who are exceptions to this rule, and we would tell you that bike commuting in these areas is not "self-explanatory." In fact, it took finding and reading blogs like yours to learn how to commute by bike in ways that were practical. So, maybe, one of your initial hypotheses that the area is "old fashioned" has some support; cycling as a way of transportation feels unrealistic and impractical, but only because they don't know any better (like most of my neighbors who think the fact that I bike to work everyday makes me crazy)!

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  20. I've never been to Williamsport, but IME having lived in two college towns as a non-student, the fact that college students are likely to enjoy cycling means that the town itself is far LESS likely to embrace it. Towns don't want to pay for infrastructure that they perceive to be only for the students, and while there are plenty of non-students who ride bikes, it would be mostly for the students, at least at first. Also, outside of the two largest cities, PA is very, very car-dependent. So most of the students would likely have cars already, making a bike possibly seem superfluous. I hope it happens though, that looks like a nice place to ride.

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  21. Locally, farming happens around the drill rigs, but here it is still too early to see much farming action. It will be another month or more before the crops are up enough for you to see them.

    The thing you didn't mention was the LBS. I have found good LBS or lack there of makes a big difference to the level of cycling in a community. Unfortunately, sometimes you get the chicken and egg phenomena where you can't get good quality bikes, so there isn't a cycling culture so no one sets up an LBS so you can't get good quality bikes.

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  22. Just to clarify one point: I am familiar with farmlands and with rural communities. I have lived in rural Northern New Hampshire and rural Maine, which have been economically depressed for decades. Despite the seeming similarity in landscape (mountains, valleys, rivers, 4 seasons) and demographics (poverty, predominantly Caucasian & Protestant population of Germanic origins), I am saying that Central PA looked sparse and abandoned in comparison to these other farming landscapes I know. I can't describe it succinctly enough to make sense, but it just struck me as very different. The Earth is a different colour, as are the mountains and the vegetation - holding time of the year constant. Also, even in the early spring there tends to be some activity on functional farms - clearing of debris, getting things ready, etc. Very rarely have I seen just empty farms with no signs of life in even the most depressed areas of NH and Maine.

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  23. Why do you think one-way streets are better for bicyclists? I personally am more apt to go the wrong way on a one-way street on my bicycle than in my car (although only rarely on the bike and never in the car) because I often don't feel that riding the extra blocks to go the right way is worth it.

    On the other hand, streets that are one-way for cars and bidirectional for bicycles are very appealing. I was happy on those when riding in Amsterdam, and this article claims it is safe:
    http://www.bikexprt.com/research/contraflow/gegengerichtet.htm

    Dan.

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  24. Daniel - It's not me, but (what I think is) a commonly held notion of traffic-calming. Towns that are heavy on one-way streets are said to encourage slower, more careful driving. Sorry, but I don't have a citation. Anyone?

    But re your Amsterdam link, I think the idea is also that when a town does make bike lanes, the 1 way streets + bi-directional lanes will make life easier for cyclists.

    Not sure whether I personally agree with either of the above, but I see these ideas mentioned often.

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  25. In my city, officials are proposing to eliminate some one-way streets in order to slow traffic. Drivers tend to mash on the gas pedal when they see a straight road with four lanes of traffic going the same way. Other ways they calm traffic downtown is by converting to diagonal parking and by designing small bump-outs at corners as an aid to pedestrians. It has really slowed things down.

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  26. Re one-way streets as in Amsterdam: Dutch one-way streets are usually one-way simply because they are considered too narrow for two-way traffic nowadays. Too narrow, in fact, to also accommodate bike lanes so in most cases cyclists have the use of the road in both directions whereas drivers have only one choice. For those familiar with central Amsterdam canals: one side up, one side down for cars, both sides open in both directions for bicycles. Works well enough once you're used to it. And it helps that cyclists are in the majority.

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  27. MT cyclist - Oh, right, not talking about those streets! I meant more like what Frits describes. With a 25mph speed limit and only 1 (max 2) lanes of traffic, it is difficult to mash on the gas.

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  28. Yes, as you and Frits describe it, one-way would make sense on narrow streets.
    Any mention of Amsterdam or Copenhagen makes me chuckle about last year's gubernatorial election in Colorado, my home state. The Republican candidate, Dan Maes, decried Denver's new bike share program as evidence of "converting Denver into a United Nations community.
    "This is bigger than it looks like on the surface, and it could threaten our personal freedoms," Maes said.
    His opponent, former Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, is an avid cyclist. Hick cleaned his clock in November.

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  29. I just read that Somerville (which I just can't think of as an independent "city" from Metro Boston) is a "bronze" recipient of the League of American Bicyclists' 2011 rankings of Bike Friendly cities.

    Now, Somerville's layout is much *less* bike-friendly than Williamsport, IMO; Williamsport could be a cycling paradise in comparison given how nice their streets are and how comparatively courteous the drivers.

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  30. I think it's very difficult to get serious urban bike infrastructure and culture going in bucolic America even when there is a little college plopped down in the middle of it. I hazard that the niceness of the town's streets has to do with relatively little motor traffic and the courteousness has to do with rural ways. If it works for them, why worry it? Can the "it" be transplanted to urban USA? Nope.

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  31. "Why worry it" - good point. Couple of things off the top of my head:

    Because the people living in that area are not well off and complain about that frequently. Commuting by bicycle locally might give them more disposable income to do fun things with. I am not suggesting that the farmers should transport stuff via cargobike over the mountains or anything like that. I am talking about within this town, where the residents currently drive 12 blocks to go to work and to the store.

    Because the college kids might enjoy it as an extra activity in a place where there isn't a whole lot to do, whilst also saving money.

    Having said that, I am not trying to impose my values on a town where I don't belong, and I am not saying that they "should" develop a cycling culture. I just merely wonder whether they eventually will, given that I think the town is well designed for it and the residents could find it useful.

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  32. re: LAB. I wouldn't put too much stock into their ratings. These are the guys who sent you that wonderful Bike Month brochure.

    Looking at their application for Bicycle Friendly Community the awards are given based upon paper-based criteria and local feedback. How they get this feedback is beyond me. Since there isn't anyone from the League "at ground level" in those communities confirming this local knowledge these awards strike me as a marketing opportunity for cities and the League itself. Last year an area of San Francisco, a former army base, was deemed a Gold-level community. It's a National Park sparsely inhabited - of course it's nice. This year I don't see it on the list. I guess because the reality didn't match the application. Stanford Uni was deemed a gold community as well, only it isn't and dropped off. The LAB have created a new category this year for unis of course. I understand for their next project retirement communities will be rated for their miles of segregated bike paths. Old people in golf carts can be hellions.

    Say a community is deemed gold, like SF. "Well, we've reached the pinnacle so let's not devote any more $ to infrastructure." The award can do more harm than good in this case. How does Portland slip when seemingly adding infrastructure on a daily basis and has a two year waiting list for bike corrals due to overwhelming business demands?

    Seems to me the best biking communities combine good infrastructure with benevolent driving attitudes and a critical mass of cyclists. The LAB positions itself as some kind of advocacy catalyst and maybe they do some good but when their brand of self-promotion has large elements of falsity in it, its credibility goes to the dogs.

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  33. Ground Round Jim said...
    "re: LAB. I wouldn't put too much stock into their ratings."


    Oh, I know. Biking in Heels has an interesting post about that.

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  34. I think that, in a given area, there needs to be enough cyclists to create a viable local cycling "culture". This is a terribly ambiguous and overused term, but as it relates to this blog post, I'm saying that there needs to be enough cyclists visibly having fun on their way to a decent job or some sort of activity, so the residents of Pennsyltucky can feel like cycling is "OK". In many areas, the DUI/illegal immigrant stigma is still firmly in place; many ppl don't want to cycle for fear of looking like a "loser". (Sadly, even the poor folk in depressed areas sometimes display this snobbery.)

    -rob

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  35. I know that some take issue with the term "cycling culture," but I think that's making things unnecessarily complicated. When I use that term, I don't mean to identify cyclists as a distinct social group, but to say that cycling is common. When we say that a city has a "rich theater culture" it just means that it's got lots of theaters and the people living there like to go to them and watch plays. Same with cycling. Cycling culture vs no cycling culture is just a way of saying that "people ride bikes there" or "people don't really ride bikes there."

    Pennsyltucky : )) Yes, I've heard that one. As well as something to do with Alabama.

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  36. I kind of agree with ground round and also it wouldn't hurt if we had to pay for gasoline like the Europeans do. Lets face it we are a car culture and will remain so until gas and car congestion make it impossible to use cars in the way we do now. We also need more rail transportation but there are governors that have turned down the funding for it because they want it for more highway construction

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  37. V- I wasn't trying to criticize your use of the term in your blog or elsewhere; i was just trying to apologize for my use of the term. this is largely b/c, in the circles I run in, the "cycling culture" phrase is used exclusively for heckling others.

    I agree that cycling culture is a valid concept for the open-minded. I just think that, with anything like this, there's a "snowball effect". Local theatre won't take off in a given town until the local scene grows enough for decent productions. Similarly, a town won't see a lot of bikers until there's enough cyclists to make it seem safe, fun, and acceptable for non-"losers".

    -rob

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  38. rob - Not at all, it's just that I've noticed some have a problem with this term, but I can't think of another way to describe "the phenomenon whereby it is common for people to cycle."

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  39. Peppy (the philosopher cattarati)May 2, 2011 at 9:31 PM

    I don't expect cycling to be popular there or in other similar places. Think about it, large, open spaces. Country roads infrequently patrolled by police. Lots of aggressive young and otherwise men driving pickup trucks in which they feel invulnerable. The perceived vulnerability of a lone cyclist whom they approach from the rear makes some people act aggressively and others question the sanity and social status of the lone cyclist. I don't expect that to change because there is anthropological basis for this behaviour. In fact, the reason motorcyclists in such areas travel in groups, behave obnoxiously, run loud exhaust, act aggressively and wear threatening clothing is precisely to overcome their own perceived vulnerability--and that's not changing any time soon in this country.

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  40. Received this link via twitter re the Cycling Amish...

    Peppy - I am talking strictly about the town, not the surrounding countryside. The mountains alone are enough to kill the desire to bicycle commute in 90% of the population, I daresay. And while I understand what you're saying about the local culture, didn't you find that the motorists in town were courteous?

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  41. Very interesting post, thanks. I live in a central NY town about like the PA town you describe, but a little smaller and without a university. I'm an odd duck as I originate from Boston, but am not at all alone in cycling around town and surrounding hills. There are lots of interesting characters. There's even a good amount of road racing culture which is great, although I've moved away from that mode. Lots of road racers come from PA, maybe some were there but not apparent during your vist. Maybe they were turkey hunting.

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  42. Peppy, I've lived in rural Alabama, north Florida, and now rural NY, and the places you describe as being too hostile to ride I have ridden for years without notable incident. Honestly, I've found city and suburban drivers to be spookier, and primarily the suburban type to be worst of all. I have had very few problems riding in the "redneck" hinterlands.

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  43. Peps - you live on the wrong coast.

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  44. I've never been to Williamsport and know nothing about Lycoming College, but I know a thing or two about college towns and small liberal-arts colleges in general. I've spent a little time in PA and quite a lot in NY state. I'm not at all surprised by what you saw.

    People really only start biking for transportation when two conditions are true: 1) they've got distances to cover that are between 1/2 mile and 5 miles, and 2) it's expensive and time-consuming to park a car at the destination.

    At a small residential college, it's rare for students to have very far to walk. Traditional campuses were designed to put a student's whole life in easy walking distance. So, faculty and staff might bike, but students probably won't. That was true of Amherst College when I was there -- while lots of students from neighboring UMass rode bikes (big campus, lots of students living off-campus), at AC there really wasn't a need for it.

    I'd also guess that it's neither expensive nor difficult to park a car there. That pretty much ensures that faculty and staff will drive to work. As you mentioned, much of PA is (unfortunately) in a population decline -- parking spaces are not at a premium. When I worked at another SLAC in a similarly depressed area of upstate NY, it was the same deal -- the parking permit was very cheap. I think I discovered that five faculty members, including myself, biked regularly (and all of us were exactly the kind of bike nerd you'd expect). And I'm pretty sure that would be the same of the other destinations in a town like that: easy, cheap (or free) car parking means no incentive to ride a bike.

    Ithaca and Hanover are different because Cornell (20,939 students, per Wikipedia) and Dartmouth (5,987) are much bigger schools, in both physical size and enrollment. I've lived in cities like that, too (Amherst, and also Charlottesville, VA), and it's a rather different experience.

    In all likelihood, biking will never catch on in the place you're describing. Even if the economy should miraculously turn around and people start moving there in large numbers, the surrounding flat, empty farmland makes it almost certain that the development pattern will be car-oriented sprawl. It takes a really rare combination of population and politics to institute an urban growth boundary, particularly in a place that hasn't had much urban growth in a long, long time. Honestly, the best hope for biking in a place like that: really high gas prices.

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  45. Responding to BG's point about small colleges and scale, which makes a lot of sense. But Dartmouth is different, I think, not so much because of size (it's still pretty small and the buildings on campus are close together) as for other reasons: there's very little space for cars in Hanover, and students are actively discouraged from using them (first years aren't permitted at all, I seem to remember). And there's a very strong outdoors/active "culture"; people (not me, alas, when I was there!) tend to be very energetic about biking up hills and staying fit in the winter using machines (and skis/snowshoes etc). So it's part of the ethos there in very particular ways.

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  46. Christopher FotosMay 4, 2011 at 11:03 PM

    I'm so sorry I missed this conversation since I lived in State College for six years as a Penn State student starting in 1974. In my day I recall a fair amount of bikes and some of them were even ridden! Some of the quads had bike lockers, one of which I used for my yellow no-name 10-speed with Shimano gearing that took me on my then-longest one day ride, a 28-mile jaunt that included Port Matilda, verrry in the middle of nowhere back then and kind of now too. (I didn't exceed that one-day distance at any time in my life until two years ago when I started biking again).

    Biking seems more common there now (I'm in State College fairly often), including a bike shop that just took up new quarters in the heart of a major town-gown intersection on S. Allen St. near College Avenue. There's also a bit of a recumbent biking culture in the area. But I'm not looped into the community enough to know how deeply entrenched this is--and with the hills of this area, it definitely takes a harder-core commitment to ride much outside the State College/University Park environment. Penn State and State College, of course, are massive compared to little isolated Williamsport.

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