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More people riding bikes to work

With more people riding bikes to work and a renewed focus on cyclists during “Bike to Work Week,” state agencies are trying to do more help.

The recent passage of the Vulnerable Users Bill and new bicycle benefits for AAA Southern New England Insurance members are two initiatives that benefit cyclists.

The number of people riding bikes to work has increased by nearly 60 percent in the past decade, the largest percentage increase of all commuting modes, according to a report released last week by the U.S. Census.

May is National Bike Month and this week is “Bike to Work Week.”

“We’re looking to shift the mode of travel, by having people walk or bike to work instead of hopping in a car,” said Kelly Kennedy, executive director of Bike Walk Connecticut.

Though more people are riding bikes to work, it’s a small percentage of the overall commuter population.

In the U.S., 0.6 percent of the population bikes to work regularly. In Connecticut, about 0.3 percent of the population, or about 4,500 residents bike to work. Comparatively, 88.4 percent of the state, or about 1.5 million people, either drives alone, or carpools to work, according to data provided by Kevin Nursick, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.

Census data shows that the average commute to work is nearly 25 minutes, a possible reason why more people aren’t riding bikes.

Bill Barnes, who works at Bobby Sprocket Bike Shop in Southington, said he thinks some cyclists are worried they won’t be able to get assistance if they get a flat or have other problems on a longer ride.

One way to combat that is a new bicycle roadside assistance program offered to AAA Southern New England Insurance members.

The program works essentially the same way as vehicle roadside assistance — a AAA van can pick up stranded bicyclers with mechanical problems, and transport them to a location within 10 miles. Members get two bicycle calls per year.

Fran Mayko, AAA spokeswoman, said that the program’s gotten one call already from a biker in New Canaan.

The insurance company has 16 vans equipped with bicycle racks available to pick up bicyclists or provide minor repairs such as fixing flat tires or slipped chains.

Gary Nicol, who owns Pedal Power in Middletown, said that the shop sees “a ton” of flat tire repairs or minor tune-ups.

“I think that’s a huge barrier for people,” Nicol said, “we fix so many flat tires, which is a relatively simple repair, but something that people who aren’t real bike geeks really might not know.”

The passage of the Vulnerable Users Bill in the last legislative session means that any motorist who fails to exercise reasonable care and causes serious physical injury or death to a vulnerable user of a roadway — a category that includes cyclists and pedestrians among others — could be fined up to $1,000 in addition to any criminal action.

“It’s important to remember that safety on the roadways involves the cooperation of all parties, and requires the commitment from both motorists and cyclists or pedestrians to follow the rules,” Nursick said.

Nursick said that in “roughly 50 percent of crashes, it’s the bicyclist or pedestrian who caused it.”

He said that the DOT is taking steps to make roadways safer for cyclists, however, including widening shoulders and adding bicycle lanes. (203) 317-2279 Twitter: @MollCal

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