Bikes On My Mind
Urban bicycling has been at the center of several conversations over the past few weeks. As a lover of cycling, but only occasional cyclist, I have participated in each of these conversations with great interest. Part of my fantasy life includes regular biking to work and to do errands. My reality, however, is 35,000 miles added to my odometer each year because of my suburban New Jersey, working mother of 4 existence. Don’t get me wrong. I cherish the time I spend in the car with my kids, listening to their latest iTunes downloads, sharing a laugh over “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” on NPR (my daughter and I have geek-crushes on Peter Sagal and Karl Kassell) or discussing the latest challenge in school. However, I love the wind-in-your-face feeling and the boost of energy I get each time I ride my bike. I also like being independent of my car, gas prices and fossil fuel burning. So, I continue to fantasize.
My most recent conversations were with my daughter, who recently traveled to Holland and my friend Claire, who lives in England. My daughter had spent a week in Holland with a group from school participating in a Model UN conference and living with a host family. She learned quickly that Holland is an anti-car culture. She and her friends rode bikes everywhere, even when they were dressed in business attire for their meetings at the conference. By her account, they rode over 20 miles each day (in pencil skirts, stockings and heels). She wrecked 3 times! While I felt bad that she wasn’t prepared for this challenge with more accommodating attire and certainly was concerned for her injuries, I was intrigued by the possibilities. How can we get more areas of the U.S. to embrace biking as a legitimate means of daily transportation rather than just a weekend leisure activity? True, a country with miles and miles of dikes, massive water management issues and serious land constraints fosters creative transportation thinking, but I don’t think we should shy away from the effort simply because we are blessed with vast amounts of open roadway and a well-developed interstate highway system.
My next biking case study came when my daughters and I were in London over Thanksgiving break. London, like Paris, has implemented a bike rental scheme. Bikes are locked up to small vending machines and Londoners rent bikes, ride them across town and return them to another vending machine. For £45, you can buy an annual pass and then ride for up to ½ hour at a time with no additional charge. I’m going to study a London street map before my next trip and give it a go. Further, the number of regular bike commuters in London is astounding. While taking a taxi from our hotel to the Kings Cross train station (we had a lot of baggage), we sat at a traffic light at Pall Mall behind 20 or so cyclists, dressed in business clothes or carrying knapsacks or panniers with work clothes stuffed inside. I was in awe and very jealous.
While New York has seen a surge in cyclists in the past few years because of bike lane designations on several streets, people who regularly ride on NYC streets are considered a bit loony. The traffic in New York is still terrifying to me, and the potholes could swallow me up in one bite. Even in less congested areas, Americans haven’t completely learned to respect bike lanes.
I often talk about small, simple steps that we each can take to improve health and quality of life. Is the growing interest in urban cycling an important step, a bit of lunacy or a passing fancy? I feel like I’m going to redouble my efforts to integrate cycling into my regular about-town routine, but I haven’t quite figured out the practical aspects. Treehugger.com has a dozen great bike’s for about town riding or commuting. This is my plug for the pink cargo bike. If anyone in my family is reading, it would look great under the Christmas tree! A week’s worth of groceries for 7 doesn’t fit so well in my back pack. Assuming the pink bike doesn’t appear under the tree, I think I’ll just adopt some of the driving tricks of “hypermilers” as explained in a treehugger.com article and drive as if I were on my bike.
What’s the state of the bike culture in your city? Do you think it has a chance of taking hold in the U.S or will we continue to favor cocooning in our SUVs, minivans and sports cars? Is this a small, simple step you can take?
M'lou Arnett www.scerene.com