I’m not trying to be controversial, but I ride a bike. I like to ride it where I like (ding ding!) but a little paint, a little pavement and a few directional signs help make it more pleasant. There are hills and weather to be dealt with, but a little planning and the right gear can also make a difference.
And I try to ride safely – despite what you may have heard about scofflaw cyclists running reds and terrorizing drivers and pedestrians alike – even though gaps and disconnections in roads and pathways can force you to get creative. (People always have a way of showing up riiight at the pinch points.)
Cycling is a creative exercise – free movement inspires free thinking and you’re interacting with a constantly changing environment wherever you go – the movement of traffic, changing seasons and weather, wind, colours, animals, gardens, the progress of construction. If you see something interesting, you can change your pace or stop to get a better look. You can stop to talk, pet a dog or cat, ride through a park, take a break on a bridge, whatever.
You also get a bit of exercise. I hate hills, but they keep you honest. Most aren’t even that hard to get up after some practice – it’s mostly my attitude that I have to work on. Sometimes I get off and walk (shame!). Sometimes I take a little water break halfway up, and then it seems easier afterwards. Sometimes I try to avoid looking up the hill I’m pedaling and look to the side instead. Sometimes, like when I’m going up the hill to the store, I think of how fun it will be to whoosh back down. Wheee.
Such a pleasant thing to be on a bike. And what welcome news it is when a new path is built …
Cue the comments section. See the Greatest Hits of the Peanut Gallery:
- “Not everyone can ride a bike (What about the handicapped, seniors and handicapped seniors?)”
- “MY taxes shouldn’t pay for stuff I don’t want”
- “You can have more infrastructure when you learn to behave better”
- “Yes, bike lanes! No, not there!”
- “License and insurance or you shall not pass”
- “Let me show you on the doll where the cyclist (almost) hit me”
- “I know there’s climate change but I need my car”
- “Roads are for grown-ups in cars, not people on playthings (Get out of my way)”
Everyone has opinions, and when it comes to the road, arguments can get pretty heated. Even in local community Facebook groups – where the usual vibe is sharing, giving away free stuff, asking for recommendations – a post about news of a road improvement project or new bike path or bus route (heaven help transit planners if they move a stop for any reason) is like tinder for the flames.
Case in point that half of my town is currently melting down over a bike lane being installed for about two blocks on a main street, which connects an established bike route along a side street with a high school. Collateral damage includes the loss of a handful of street parking spaces in front of some businesses (which have parking spaces in the back), moving a bus stop, and new curbs and crosswalks that have narrowed the car lanes. Same space, but reallocating a little less for cars, a little more for bikes and peds. Guess who doesn’t want to share?
Why are we like this? Is it defensiveness in the turf war (the so-called “War on Cars”)? The fear of change? Entitlement, selfishness, wanting things our own way – whether that’s the way it’s always been or the way it ought to be?
I don’t want to get into an argument here, but no matter which side you’re on, it’s important to remember that words have meaning. Words can go beyond the screen, and that’s kind of what scares me when see these arguments getting heated online. There’s even a special word for the kind of rage that boils up over bike lanes: “bikelash.” People are braver behind the keyboard, but they’re also emboldened when protected by their cars, so sometimes I do worry about running across a rage-y driver with a vehicle and an agenda when I’m a meatstick on two wheels out there. It hasn’t happened yet, and most likely won’t, but I’m vulnerable and I like my internal organs where they are, in any case.
This goes even further for when I’m riding my Vespa (vroom vroom), because then I’m in the thick of the car traffic. I may worry less about rage (except perhaps when my 50 cc has limits when climbing a steepish hill and a truck is on my butt), but I’m still vulnerable out there when trying to claim my little slice of the road. It’s not always easy to share the road with those who don’t want to share it with you, especially when cushioning and horsepower is on their side, and all I’ve got is … visibility, helmets/gear and assertiveness. And a really good don’t-mess-with-me stare.
Honestly, riding a bike is really fun and I wish more people would give it a try for their daily needs. Maybe you’ll discover a whole parallel universe of quiet streets and little paths out there in your city, quite hidden from the main traffic-choked thoroughfares. Maybe you’ll enjoy kitting out your steed with all manner of racks and baskets and bags and holders for water, coffee, booze, cellphones, cameras and pets.
I know it makes me happy. And the more people who do it, the more we’ll get better streets with more space and safety for people outside of cars, whether walking, cycling, scooting, skateboarding or using mobility devices.