Buffalo throughout the past several decades hasn’t been a cycling mecca. There have always been cyclists and cycling groups here though. Over the 10 years when I was a courier, I would come home on holiday and always bring my bike. Up until the early 2000’s I was still usually the only cyclist on any road I was riding on. I felt like a dirty, lonely unicorn. Once in a blue moon, some poor schlub cranking around on a dilapidated Huffy would look out from under multiple layers of Salvation Army issue clothes and gruffly acknowledge another human was pedaling on the other side of the road. Buffalo drivers weren’t the best, but at least they are used to obstacles. Driving in several feet of snow every year adds to the collective knowledge of car handling.
I never felt unsafe riding in Buffalo through the 80’s and 90’s. Unlike the cities I was riding in: Houston, NYC, DC, San Francisco, I never felt like motorists were actually trying to kill me with their cars. Buffalonians might yell out the window that it was stupid to ride a bicycle, but the tone was oddly, caring.
Fast forward to mid-2000’s. It’s hard to say if Buffalo’s accelerated cyclification was situational, or if it was started by a particularly apt and dexterous advocate. Likely it’s a lot of both. In the 2000’s, after the nation recovered from the economic body blow of 9-11 and it’s recession, people were starting to seriously consider cycling instead of driving. An economic hangover, rising gas prices, gridlock, graduates with huge student loans, Millennials rebelling against the suburbs all colluded to bring more young folks with no money into the nation’s city cores. With few viable transportation options, cycling exploded.
In Buffalo, the movement had a friend in Justin Booth, the Executive Director of Go Bike Buffalo. He is that guy for Buffalo. An avid cyclist, he staked everything on cyclifying Buffalo. Starting in his garage, he created a bike rental program loosely based on the first program in Portland, Oregon. Through the years he learned everything he could about what was done before, what was done well, and how to involve the “Critical” Cycling “Mass” to help him achieve some really lofty goals.
In 2016, Buffalo biking culture is still young. There are very few purists, eschewing cars altogether. A large proportion of large ride participants still show up by car. Purple haired, chained, tattooed folks are still in the vast minority. The panoply of bike businesses is not anywhere near as specialized or wide ranging as a city like San Francisco or London. But we’re getting there. Buffalo has always copied the best of civic ideas. I like to think if we’re capable of copying the Pierre L’Enfant’s brilliant hub and grid street design of Washington, D.C., we’re well on our way to copying D.C.’s equally progressive cyclification.
Compared to the bad old days of cycling, the general feel on a Buffalo street is one of acceptance by motorists. Likely this is due to the fact that, now, so many of Buffalo’s drivers are also moonlighting as cyclists.