By tuli alexander.

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u'Bikes line the Viking Union. Photo by Erik Simkins. '

“Welcome to Bellingham. Now get on your bike!”

This bumper sticker slogan seen around town will be abided by on Friday, May 15, during Bellingham’s 12th annual Bike to Work and School Day. Hosted by Mount Baker Bike Club and Whatcom Smart Trips’ everybodyBIKE program, the event is an attempt to get people out of their cars for a day by walking or riding their bikes to school or work.

According to the League of American Bicyclists, National Bike Month began in 1956 to celebrate cycling. The third Friday of May is always Bike to Work and School Day.
The day will start off at the Hub Community Bicycle Co-op on State Street for a free pancake feed between 6:30 and 10 a.m.

From there, participants can go to one of the nearly 30 “celebration stations” open to the public all around town and in the county, as well as about 20 more set up for the students and staff of Bellingham schools. The celebration stations will have refreshments and maps and will give participants a chance to enter into drawings for cash and other prizes, said Ellen Barton, everybodyBIKE program manager.

Western will host two celebration stations, one near the Wade King Recreation center and one in Red Square, said Carol Berry, program manager for the Sustainable Transportation Office at Western.

The AS Outdoor Center will be hosting their Mobile Bike Clinic in Red Square, where bicyclists can stop by for free advice, repairs and tune-ups, said Ellie Chatman, the AS Outdoor Center Equipment Shop assistant coordinator.

Mallard Ice Cream is having a celebration for families around 5 p.m. and there will be an evening celebration at Boundary Bay Brewery with games and raffle prizes being awarded, said Barton.

For the last two years there were about 7,500 participants in Bike to Work and School Day, roughly 9 percent of Bellingham’s population, Barton said. This year, the expected turnout is at least that, if not more.

Bike riding has become more popular lately, not only as gas prices have gone up, but also as people are trying to reduce their carbon output, Barton said.
Others ride to maintain their health. One of these people is Bellingham resident Robert Ashworth, who’s never driven a car in his life.

“I’m 54 years old and I can still dance,” he said. “A lot of my friends don’t have the energy to dance. I can dance all night because I’m in such good health. People ask me why and I tell them it’s because I’ve never owned a car. It just feels good to feel good.”

Another reason Ashworth doesn’t drive is because he’s able to experience more of his surroundings by bike.

“It makes me more intimate with the geography I’m going through,” he said.

Regardless of the reasons people have for riding bikes, 5 percent of the Bellingham population rides bikes to get places, according to a survey by Whatcom Smart Trips. Although it doesn’t seem like much, Barton said, it’s quite high for the country. The nationwide rate is less than 1 percent.

However, 5 percent is still far off from the interim goal of 12 percent the city is striving for to make roads work more efficiently and to save tax dollars, Barton said.
One of the ways the City of Bellingham plans to get more people riding bikes includes education, Barton said.

“The majority of people have not received any formal education about how to legally operate a bicycle, so they’re hesitant to do it themselves or let their kids ride,” she said.

EverybodyBIKE offers monthly classes that give an overview of road rules and quarterly it offers more intensive parent-child classes.

In addition to trail development through the greenway system and bike lanes, the city also employs enforcement officers who ensure that bicyclists are obeying the rules of the road. Following these rules increases the amount of respect that motorists afford to bicyclists, Barton said.

The bike population on campus is definitely growing, said Berry. There is currently a project to install approximately 82 more covered bike parking spaces on campus at four different stations.

In a study done each fall from 2004 to 2008 the average bike rack use on the academic core of campus increased from less than 30 percent to more than 50 percent, according to a report issued by the Sustainable Transportation Office at Western.

People who are super excited about Bike to Work and School Day don’t have to stop there, said Barton. Team Up for everybodyBike is a way to celebrate National Bike Month all month long by getting together teams who pledge to ride their bikes instead of driving. Each team member needs to ride their bike at least three times during the month and team members are eligible for prizes. Teams can register at www.everybodyBIKE.com and log their trips at www.WhatcomSmartTrips.org, Barton said.