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May Is National Bike Month: How Bikes Have Become a Part of Californian Culture

With the return of longer days comes National Bike Month. Since 1956, the League of American Bicyclists have sponsored National Bike Month to celebrate everything about the country’s love of bikes. Nationally, there are few places with a greater love of bikes than California; the state’s great weather and packed roads make bikes an appealing alternative to cars.

There’s more to bicycles than an easier commute, however. Bikes are also an excellent way to exercise, a convenient way to explore the city, and a growing movement to reduce carbon emissions. Here’s what you need to know to properly celebrate National Bike Month in California.

California’s Growing Bike Culture

Bikes haven’t always been the mainstay of California commuters. For a long time, cars were the way to go. Many cities that were built (or rebuilt, in San Francisco’s case) in the early 20th century were designed around cars. Everything from roads to major infrastructure were built for high speeds and four wheels, so cyclists had a hard time getting anywhere safely.

In 1994, things began to turn around. A group of cyclists from the state formed the California Bicycle Coalition (CalBike) to campaign for more bicycle-friendly communities. The group has gone on to accomplish an incredible amount in just 27 years.

From establishing the first Safe Routes to School program in the US to convincing Caltrans to implement a “complete streets” program that considers pedestrians and cyclists in all road projects, CalBike showed that cyclists should be taken seriously. They have also successfully campaigned for higher pedestrian and bicycle protection budgets and many pieces of legislation that made roads safer.

Since CalBike has started doing its work, bicycles have grown steadily more popular. Technology has helped, too. The rise of electric bikes has made them a more convenient type of transportation for people with longer commutes, while bikeshare programs are making them more accessible in general.

Finally, the pandemic gave bicycles another boost, with sales and rentals skyrocketing. There has never been a more bike-friendly time in California history.

California Cyclist Protection Initiatives

All of this bike excitement has led to several initiatives that are working to keep the movement going. Several programs have been started over the past year that are focused on keeping California bike-friendly.

Oakland’s “Slow Streets” Program

COVID-19 has made many changes to California, but some have been for the better. One of the biggest changes for pedestrians and cyclists is the closure of certain roads to cars. In April of 2020, Oakland instituted the Slow Roads program, closing many residential roads to cars almost entirely. Instead, cyclists and pedestrians could use these roads for exercise and recreation. Similar initiatives have since spread as far as New York.

Car-Free JFK

One place to which the Slow Roads program spread was San Francisco. The city closed JFK in Golden Gate Park, reserving it for pedestrians and bikes 24/7. Currently bike and pedestrian advocate groups are working together to petition for this change to become a permanent one.

Central Valley Bikeways Project

Permanent infrastructure projects are also in the works. The Central Valley Bikeways program looks to connect Bay Area bike trails with cities as far away as Fresno and Bakersfield. The grant includes tens of thousands of dollars for new paths and safety measures throughout the area to help bikers stay safe while staying outside.

The Safest Bay Area Bike Rides

Despite these safety initiatives, there are still roads that are riskier than others. Choosing the right bike route can help you stay safe while riding. These five routes are the safest bike rides in the state, so you can relax and focus on enjoying your time outside.

Hawk Hill Loop

The Hawk Hill Loop is in the heart of the raptor and butterfly migratory sanctuary just outside of San Francisco. It also offers some of the best views of the city and the Golden Gate Bridge possible outside of an airplane. The route offers dedicate bicycle lanes for cyclists who are up to a bit of a climb.

San Francisco’s Embarcadero

This bicycle-friendly path carries you through some of the most historic parts of San Francisco, past the Ferry Building, AT&T Park, and the bay itself. Since the removal of the Embarcadero highway, the Embarcadero trail has become a haven for pedestrians and cyclists who want to stay safe.

Historic Oakland Bike Tour

Oakland has a long history that makes for some interesting stories. The Historic Oakland Bike Tour lets you soak up the city’s history over the course of six miles. More importantly for many cyclists, Oakland is also flatter than San Francisco. That makes this route not just informative, but easier, too.

Port of Oakland Bike Route

If you’re looking for something a little longer, the Port of Oakland route will give you a true experience of the harbor area. This relatively flat trail is 25 miles long, giving you a chance to really stretch your legs without putting yourself at risk.

Mission District Mural Bike Route

The oldest neighborhood in San Francisco is the Mission district. Its age has made it one of the most pedestrian-friendly areas in the city. Even more exciting, the neighborhood has put together a historic mural bike tour so you can enjoy some art while you ride through the city.

Building a Better California Bike System

California advocacy groups are continually working to make the state more cyclist-friendly. There’s still plenty of work that needs to be done. Dangerous roads need to be improved, drivers need to be educated, and regulations need to be put in place to keep people safe.

For the moment, bikes can still be dangerous. If you’ve been hit by a car while biking, you should reach out to a qualified cycling accident attorney. They can help you identify your options and fight to get the compensation you need to get healthy. Otherwise, take time to enjoy the great outdoors this month and stay safe.