I enjoyed your piece in yesterday's Davis Enterprise. I don't disagree with anything you wrote, but I think there are a number of additional factors that may have contributed to any perceived decline in cycling in Davis. Among them:
The city is less of a "company (UC) town" now than in years past. Fewer residents are employees of UCD (and, in fact, work out of town, esp. in Sacramento), so are less likely to be cycling to work.
The high cost of housing and low vacancy rate has forced many UCD students and, especially, employees to live out of town -they're not likely to be doing much cycling here, either.
Infill in the far east, west, and northern parts of town has resulted in the average distance between residences and UCD to increase -perhaps to the point where many residents feel that it's too far to bike to and from campus.
You mentioned the "free" bus rides for students. Unitrans is also free for city employees and for UCD employees with valid parking permits (show your permit and board for free). These offers didn't exist until a few years ago. How many cyclists this is taking off the streets is difficult to estimate, but it must have some impact. It's clear, by the large numbers of bikes parked near major campus bus terminals (MU and Silo) over the weekends, that many people only use their bikes to get around on campus Mon - Fri.
With Dave Pelz' retirement, the city lacks any upper level administrators who are anywhere near as dedicated as Dave was to creating, maintaining and expanding a proper bicyclist-friendly community.
I could be wrong about this, but it seems as if the relative level of affluence among students is higher than it was in the past (how else to explain the fact that so many kids seem to be driving nicer cars than I'll ever hope to own?!). If you've got a nice BMW, you're less likely to ride a Huffy.
I think we probably have a more transient population now than we did in the sixties and seventies. I don't expect many of the students to stay in Davis after they've graduated, but I believe that non-student residents of the city are probably living in Davis for a shorter time (vagaries of the economy and job market perhaps?) than in the past. As such, there are fewer opportunities to get inculcated into the Davis bike culture.
While we have a reputation of being a liberal, progressive community, I believe there is a lower level "environmental awareness" or sensibility around here (or nationwide) that there was in the past.
What does all this mean? Well, along with you, I lament the decline in cycling here. To me, Davis is still the "City of Bicycles", but that sobriquet is in danger of losing its currency. Apparently there has been a bit of interest by the mayor and others in exploring ways to encourage more cycling in Davis. I'm sure your article will help, too. I think there are things the campus and city could do to encourage cycling, and a joint city/campus campaign to publicize the personal, municipal and societal benefits of cycling might be something to pursue.
In any case, thanks for the thought-provoking essay!
Bicycle Program Coordinator
Transportation & Parking Services
One Shields Avenue
University of California
Davis, CA 95616-8724
Cycling in Davis, California - the most bike-friendly city in the US
Pedaling to Save the City - the Critical Mass bicycling movement
Cycling in Osaka, Japan - the use of bicycles for transportation in Japan
Class and Traffic - the often overlooked costs of auto-dependency
Paul Dorn's Bicycles - reasons, considerations and rationalizations on bike types