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Go! Vermont and VBike are introducing Vermont residents to the possibilities of transportation cycling with cargo bikes and e-bikes.
Until recently, cycling in Vermont was widely considered to be a strictly recreational activity. The cold winters and mountainous terrain don’t readily lend themselves to the appeal of cycling for transportation. However, with any obstacle to social change, there are almost always passionate individuals or groups determined to overcome it. Dave Cohen is one such individual, and through his organization VBike he is pushing for a future in which cycling for transportation is an accepted part of the daily routine in Vermont.
Cohen, a long-time bike advocate who commutes by cargo bike year-round in Vermont, approached the state’s department of transportation to discuss ways the state could improve their track record with bike commuting. He was put in touch with a representative of Go! Vermont, the state’s alternative transportation agency, who agreed to a meeting. “I didn’t think anything was really going to come out of it,” Cohen recalled. “But they were looking at all the stuff I sent and he said, ‘Well, how many hours per week do you think you can do this?’ and I was like, ‘What?’ So it turned out that they wanted to pay me to create a program around this.”
Nearly overnight, Cohen was tasked with the responsibility of overhauling the agency’s approach to cycling. He began with their website. “Go! Vermont does everything from carpooling to bus information, information about rideshare, ferries, everything like that,” Cohen explained. “But their biking page was basically just, ‘You can ride a bike, you can do this, you can do that, good luck.'”
Recognizing the characteristics of Vermont that make bike commuting difficult – steep hills, winters, a family-oriented population – Cohen chose to narrow his focus to the promotion of cargo bikes and electric bikes. “A lot of the time you’re climbing up over mountains,” Cohen explained. “So that’s why I’m working with the electric assist option as something that could really shift bike culture in Vermont. Without it, we’re just not going to go anywhere.”
Along with a complete redesign of Go! Vermont’s biking page to introduce residents to cargo bikes, utility bikes, and e-bikes, Cohen is conducting consultations with individuals, families, and businesses to discuss transportation cycling options and help people understand the feasibility of bike commuting in Vermont.
VBike has also put in an order with Yuba for four cargo bikes to use as a demonstration fleet in outreach projects. “I can talk as much as I want, I can do all these presentations,” explained Cohen. “But there’s this thing, I call it car brain. The car itself has so profoundly limited what we think we can do with our bodies, with the landscape, our connection to the landscape, or to our infrastructure … The only way to really re-inhabit people and get them to see that this is an option is to get them on a bike … get them on a bike for a day in a demonstration ride, and that kind of washes away a little bit of the car brain effect.”
Beyond the enthusiastic reception from the state, the idea is slowly but surely beginning to take off with residents as well. A small number of people throughout the state have been in touch to express interest in learning more or helping out, and Cohen is confident the program will really take off once they get the demonstration fleet.
In order to reduce as many barriers as possible to getting Vermont residents on bikes, VBike approached the Vermont State Employees Credit Union (which serves all residents), and asked them to extend their green loan program to cargo bikes. VSECU agreed, and now offers low-interest loans for cargo bikes and e-bikes. VBike is pursuing the idea of getting tax credits and other subsidies extended to bicycling as well.
The news that the state has enthusiastically adopted the idea is encouraging, and bodes well for a near future in which residents will do so as well. “It’s not even about biking,” Cohen elaborated. “To me it’s about getting people outside, out of their cars, out of the confinement of the automobile, not being incarcerated. People really treasure the ecological heritage of this place, the soundscapes and the water quality. And all of that is being severely impacted by just the numbers of automobiles on the landscape. And it’s not just about climate change, it’s about our own survivability as a human species.”