Biking ramps up in region

2014-05-30T19:15:00Z 2014-05-31T22:32:06Z Biking ramps up in regionVanessa Renderman vanessa.renderman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3244 nwitimes.com

HIGHLAND | Jeff Herak pulled a zippered bag off a back wall display rack and demonstrated how it slides on the back of a bicycle.

"We can't keep these on the shelves," he said.

Commuter-friendly accessories, including bags and baskets, are growing in popularity as an increasing number of people turn to pedal-powered transportation.

Herak, owner of Ridge Cyclery, 3731 Ridge Road, said the shop in December saw its busiest Christmas in 10 years. The 40-and-older age range is seeing the most growth, he said.

Most bike for wellness and recreation. Commuting via bike in Northwest Indiana is still far from the norm, even though distance is not always an issue. 

"Over half the population in America are 5 miles from their workplace," Herak said.

He sells bikes to BP, which issues them to workers as a means to get around the plant. It saves on fuel emissions and promotes employee health, Herak said.

"More companies are buying bikes for their workers," he said.

May is National Bike Month, and May 16 was National Bike to Work Day.

From 2000 to 2011, the number of bicycle commuters in the U.S. grew by more than 47 percent, according to the League of American Bicyclists. Indiana ranked 21st in the nation in bike commuter rate for 2012; between 2005 and 2012, the state saw a 35.3 percent increase in bike commuters, according to the organization.

Bikes are more economical than automobiles, even though the up-front cost can reach thousands of dollars, Herak said. 

Trails can stimulate a local economy and provide relief for people stung by high gas prices, said Mitch Barloga, of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission. 

"In 2008, we saw gasoline nearly hit $5 a gallon," he said. 

That sticker shock made bicycles a more intriguing transportation option. 

"Bicycle sales are very robust," he said. "As gasoline prices rise, mode shift will happen. They'll find alternate ways of getting around." 

One-quarter of trips is less than 1 mile, and one-half is less than 3 miles, Barloga said. 

"Three miles is doable on a bicycle," he said. 

A challenge lies in a lack of infrastructure to support bicycle and walking traffic. 

NIRPC has an, "If you build it, they will come," philosophy, with research showing most people would use a trail if it were close by and handy, Barloga said.

Working with municipalities to develop trails is key. Many are on board.

NIRPC has $7 million to award through its Transportation Alternatives Program but has $30 million in trail requests, Barloga said.

"It just demonstrates how much interest there is," he said. "That's over 35 miles of new trails being proposed."

Home buyers are attracted to trails, he said, citing data that a home within a quarter of a mile from a trail can experience a 15 percent home value boost.

An increasing amount of people want to break away from the grid and go places without being hampered by an automobile, Barloga said.

The region is primed for continued trail growth.

"Northwest Indiana enjoys probably more abandoned railroads per capita in the country," he said. "We have 300 miles of abandoned railroads, and roughly 100 of them are converted into trails. There's still a lot more to do."

Interest is not waning.

"It just continues to snowball, and I love riding the snowball," Barloga said.

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