When Biking is a Way of Life

In hoIMG_0561nor of National Bike Month in the US, I will share my experience in Playa Del Coco in Costa Rica. As a transportation nerd, I spent part of my vacation observing how people move through the main street.  How people move would give most traditional traffic engineers a mild heart attack. There are very few rules of the road, but at the same time it was an organic chaos where everything seems to work. The thing that I found myself observing the most was the bike culture.

In Playa Del Coco, biking is a way of life. All day and night long people bike on the main street. Here are some takeaways and photos from what I observed:

  1. IMG_0631No one wears a helmet. I did not see a single person wear a helmet while biking. I also did not see any crashes. Perhaps given the volume of people biking, motorists know to look out for bicyclists. This would support the findings of a study from University of Colorado Denver that concluded the safety of people biking increases with more bikes on the road.
  2. Woman Power! Anecdotally, most of the people that I saw biking were women and girls. Many of these women and girls biked around with small children. A few had bike seats for the children, however, the majority of children were sitting on a back rack meant for a pannier or the top tube.
  3. IMG_0629Tandems not required. It is not uncommon to see two adults on a bicycle built for one person. As a child, I remember riding around with my cousins on handlebars or seats. However, until my experience on Costa Rica, I had never seen two adults on a bike.
  4. Feet to the left. Whether it was adults or children, most “passengers” sit on the top tube of the bike with their feet to the left. Perhaps since most people have their children sit that way, it is a habit that carries into adulthood.
  5. Take your time. Compared to people biking in the District, people in Costa Rica biking for transportation bike slowly. Most of the bikes were beach cruisers that do not lend themselves to Tour de France-esque biking. In addition, the culture has a slower pace than urban areas in DC, which likely plays into the slower biking culture.
  6. Bike Lock Optional. One thing we can file under, “I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it,” is people in Playa del Coco rarely lock their bikes. They leave their bike on the bike rack or leaning against a building or street post. Some people lock their bikes, but it is rare.

Often time planners in the US look to Europe for examples of bike culture as seen in the growing popularity of protected bike lanes. My experience in Costa Rica has shown me planners should consider lessons from other parts of the world including Latin American.

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Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.

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