Talking About Bicycle Infrastructure An interview with Mike Basarich, director of Saris Infrastructure

Mike Basarich is the director of Saris Infrastructure. Around contributor James Lynch spoke with him about the importance of bike infrastructure for creating spaces that make cyclists feel comfortable, and helping people rediscover the joy of riding a bike.

Interview by James Lynch | Images Courtesy of Saris

Around: Many people know of Saris from products like bike car racks. Can you tell us what Saris Infrastructure does?

Mike Basarich: It’s been an evolution of our product line that goes all the way back to the beginnings of Saris when we used the same equipment and materials for the bike car racks to make bicycle parking racks. As the bicycle space has evolved, so have we. We have developed and manufactured repair stands and pumps, bicycle stair ramps, bicycle vending machines, bike-lane delineators—really, any product that helps encourage people to bicycle more from an infrastructure perspective.

There is a real boom in people coming back to biking for exercise, commuting and transportation. How much easier does having this kind of infrastructure make it for someone out of the biking world to get back into it?

We, and a lot of leaders in the bike industry, have for decades believed in the bike as a tool and catalyst to solving huge problems both locally and globally, whether its climate change or equity in transportation. There are these huge issues that the bike can solve. It has taken a global pandemic to put a magnifying glass on it, a bullhorn behind it. It’s not just two wheels that can help you recreate on the weekend but it can help you get to work, it can help with climate change, it can help you get to school, it can do all these things we knew it could—but now there is this huge renewed emphasis on it, which is fantastic.

So, we’ve got a new set of challenges now. We have devoted a lot of time and effort into getting people on bikes, and now it’s about: How do we make sure people are safe when they rediscover the magic of the bike? We have been focusing on that from a product standpoint for a few years but now there is certainly a renewed emphasis on it.

How have conversations around cycling changed in the last few months?

I’m certainly more hopeful in this space. We have been talking about equity as it relates to bicycling for several years. What has changed though is that it is being talked about at the level of government where change can actually happen. Coordinators, planners and bike advocates have long spoken about the need to view bike infrastructure through an equitable lens. And communities that can really utilize the infrastructure, are they getting it? If not, why?

What are the structural issues at play that are affecting where infrastructure goes? Not just bike lanes, but sidewalks, vehicle speeds…. There have been a lot of conferences over the years that talk about it, but what changed now is that mayors, city councils—people that can allocate funds and specifically make the changes that are needed—are now talking about it. It’s not just a press release, it’s not just a campaign promise, it’s actually being talked about, discussed and debated in a way that I haven’t seen, and it’s being talked about at federal levels where there’s a lot of funding. I certainly am a lot more hopeful today than I was a year ago that there will be actual positive results from this.

One project you’re doing is a portable temporary bike lane separator, a wave delineator that creates some actual separation. How does having something like that, that you can install quickly, allow the spread of bike infrastructure and give benefits to communities that might not have had them for the last 10 years?

That was the whole genesis and scope of the project. The City of Los Angeles really wanted to have a delineator for their pop-up neighborhood bike lane projects that made the bike lane feel fun and make it an enjoyable space. What they were finding is they would do these neighborhood pop-up bike lanes, where they were going to create neighborhood support for bike infrastructure, and they were using DIY materials and traffic cones that just made the bike lane feel like a construction zone. Their theory was if they could create a delineator that was fun and made the bike lane more inspiring then they could build more community support for the actual capital permanent infrastructure.

That was our mission from the beginning: create something that had the aesthetic, that made the bike lane fun but still created a safe space, and was easily installed and transported. It can be in different neighborhoods each weekend. It was a really fun project to work on and it sort of evolved from something that communities can use for pop-up bike lanes to now creating spaces. In Portland for instance they are using them to help create these on-street dining areas for restaurants. They are being used for pedestrian, socially distancing zones and at sporting events—and we are going to take it to the next level and make it a more permanent design. We have our current one for temporary use and now we are in the process of starting testing that you could use as a permanent delineator for permanent bike lanes.

Almost sounds like you created a product that is capable of doing a bit of advocacy, a proof of concept that can show that bike lanes are for all sorts of people, to show the benefits of what streets can look like….

One of the things that bike planners talked to us about was that when they went in to do a pop-up bike lane in underserved, minority or low-income neighborhoods they would use DIY materials; and the feedback they got was, of course, you use painted tires and traffic cones in our neighborhoods, so you think we are not worth having really nice things. That’s the perception they have had over decades of neglect from city governments. But putting in something really beautiful, a beautification of their neighborhood, even in temporary bike lanes, it sends a really strong signal that the city is interested in making investments in infrastructure that can have significant positive effects for these neighborhoods and their residents.

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