The best way to increase bicycle use is to create a climate where bicyclists are considered by all to be legitimate users of any road and where bicycling is considered to be an activity with benefits far in excess of its risks. In fact, bicyclists are lawful road users and bicycling does have greater benefits than risks, at least for those who follow the rules for drivers of vehicles. It is public perception that needs to change.
The way to bring about this change in attitude is through public awareness programs, non-discriminatory laws, even-handed law enforcement, and good roads for cycling. For those who are inclined to try cycling, the most effective way to reduce fears and build confidence is to complete a course in bicycle driver training.
Most people bicycle either because they enjoy cycling or because other transportation options are much less convenient, considering both time and money. Because motoring is generally inexpensive and fast in North America, most people bicycle because they enjoy it. Where traffic is slow and parking difficult, as in some large urban centers, bicycling is often the fastest way to travel. Other than the fun and fitness benefits, the main reason to bicycle is to save money on parking costs, in those few places where there is a charge for parking.
The US Federal income tax code gives employers an almost irresistible incentive to offer valuable car parking space at no charge to the employee. Rarely do employers offer incentives of equivalent value to cycle to work. Reducing this inequality would almost certainly result in a large percentage increase in the number of people cycling to work in the United States.
We do not believe that striping bike lanes has had or will have a significant effect on increasing bicycle use in North America, contrary to the claims of their proponents. Most places with bike lanes already had many cyclists, prior to the bike lanes, often due to the presence of a university that does not offer free parking to students. Even in those places, most roads have no special bicycle facilities. For those who fear cycling on roads, a painted dividing line is hardly enough protection from the supposed dangers of overtaking traffic.
Constructing bike paths, on the other hand, seems to encourage non-bicyclists to bicycle. But it does so at the expense of reinforcing the belief that it is not safe to ride on ordinary roads. Many of those attracted by bike paths use a car to get to and from the path. Riding on bike paths provides almost no experience in the skills needed to ride in traffic. Therefore bicycle paths do little to foster bicycling as a mode of travel. Because the maximum safe travel speed on paths is so much lower than on roads, paths are a poor choice for fitness cycling as well.
Cycling is an inherently enjoyable activity, when the cyclist has at least a minimum amount of competence. No one need be or ought to be compelled to bicycle. Nor should anyone be dissuaded from bicycling due to prejudice, discrimination, or unfounded fear.