As a full fledged bicycle riding dork, I am pretty vocal about pushing the good word of cycling awareness and bike safety around. I walk the walk, and I talk the talk. My hope to positively influence my 12 years old step son into what makes good riding habits and why cycling is a great way to keep in shape. Both physically and mentally. This too was also preached pretty heavily to my now 19 years old daughter. She rode her bike frequently when she was a young lass and even though she does not embrace the two wheeled freedom machine as I do, I am pretty sure that she will eventually embrace it on her own terms. She is 19. She will figure things out on her own.
For me, the bicycle was and still is a means to freedom. Freedom and speed. Being under age and living in the suburbs of Surrey, BC, your options for flight is pestering your parents, pestering your friends parents, older siblings and of course, good ole public transportation to get the heck out of the lazy lulldrom of the burbs. Trust me, Surrey is that.
When I became a bit older, I became fascinated with the idea that I could ride my bike for a living. I remember watching a show on bike messengers in New York City. Their badassery attitude and quick silver speed was what I wanted. I moved out of the suburbs and eventually ended up a bike messenger in Seattle, WA.
Riding bikes in the city is a complete game changer. You have other things to consider. Cars. Lots of cars. Lots of stupid drivers in cars and traffic lights. And hills. Lots of stupid hills. Combine all this in the mix and you get a quick study on what to do and what not do do as a cyclist. Along the way, I also rode my bike in different cities. I learned what cycling means in San Francisco and Washington, DC. Two very different vibes to traffic. What I did learn is that all cyclists in all 3 places have an amazing cycling advocacy and infrastructure in place.
Now retired from the messenger world but not from cycling, I am still keenly aware of advocacy and the infrastructure in Seattle. As an active cyclist, I am very aware of my surroundings. I practice common sense because I don’t like pain or crashing. That is incentive for me to not ride dangerously. I will however not back down from the stupidity of car drivers when take my space on the road. The main reason why I don’t ride my bike on the sidewalk is because sidewalks are for pedestrians. And I am not about to plow down a walker. Pedestrians when confronted by cyclists are unpredictable. You say “on your left” and they immediately swerve into you. It happens now and then.
Riding with cars on the road is safer. Car drivers know where you are going and you know where they are going. This doesn’t mean that drivers in cars are going to practice common sense. Most of the times, drivers are distracted or say they “didn’t see you”. Shift happens. You can however prevent stupidity from escalating.
A few months ago, I was a witness to a wedding of an acquaintance of mine. I volunteered to witness their wedding because I like doing sporadic and social events and my schedule was free. After the wedding, we all headed to the local sports bar and toasted their marital union. While my friend tried to recruit me to volunteer for her organization, I politely declined and told her that I was already involved in organizing and promoting Critical Mass in Seattle. When I told her and my new friends what that meant, this immediately brought harsh words from my new friends. He immediately attacked cyclists for unruly behavior when riding on the Burke Gilman trail as well as improper riding on roads. His immediate line of attack was that all cycling should be limited to suburbs and sidewalks.
I looked at him and in my calmest voice asked him, if he has ever ridden a bicycle. He looked at me and said “Hell no, why the hell would I do that? I have a car. Cars belong on roads. Bikes do not.”
I smiled at him and said “Well my friend, I’m not here to start a fight with you. You don’t think both bike riders and cars can share the road? You do with motorcycles?”
Now mind you, my new friends were getting steadily drunk and we all know what it’s like trying to talk sense to alcohol fueled arguments.
I continued to say “I’m not here to start a fight with you. This is after all your wedding night. And there is no need to get all off topic. If you want to take this conversation elsewhere, we can do so at another time. Will be happy to share my thoughts with you then.”
At this point, I am trying to contain my inner Korean rage into a tight rubber band ball and hope it doesn’t spark World War 3 in this tiny bar. It’s been known to happen. I may be small but I know how to hold my own.
Niceties were exchanged at the end of the afternoon and he told me that he was sorry for being belligerent and that he was drunk. I shrugged it off and said “no worries, my friend” and congratulated him for getting hitched.
I walked away feeling that he and I will not ever cross path in a social setting. At most, he is someone that I would not party with on a voluntary basis. Our worlds are too different.
Which brings me back to my original though. How do you spread the good word of cycling to the masses and bring cycling awareness to those that don’t bike? I can talk about cycling and the benefits of cycling to my bike friends. I can ride with them and share bike stories with them. It’s not like I want everyone to be my friend. It’s not like I’m trying to win an award or something. I’m just riding my bike and loving the freedom that it provides me. Isn’t that something worthy to share?
All I can say is this. In the the US, cars are the predominant means of transportation. However, this is slowly changing because the increase of population in cities and the amount of traffic that clogs our roads. It’s not that bikes are blocking traffic. There is just too many people. Period. Adding more cars to the road will only add to the congestion. There needs to be a different approach to how we view transportation in urban environments. If we are to help reduce the overcrowding of traffic in urban areas, we need to understand what is working and what is not working.
Let’s look at the reasons why people drive cars as opposed to embracing public transportation and cycling.
I came across this 1995 New Yorker article that articulated the cars vs bikes scenario perfectly.
Cars have been predominately the choice of the privileged. Cars represent mobility and status. It goes beyond just an utilitarian machine. It is a status symbol for many.
This notion has got to change as we shift towards the present and future. There is no more room for cars to take up.
In other cities across the world, this reality has taken root and the idea that cars in cities is outdated. What do we do here in the US, in US cities to adopt similar ideas into our urban infrastructure? How do we ensure that cycling is part of the holistic landscape, not just a pleasure activity for children?
Like my newly married friends, this shift from outwardly hostile about cyclists and cycling to being aware and tolerant has some ways to go.
In the meantime, what do we do? Go out and connect with other cyclists. Get out and ride bikes. Trade the car usage to bike usage.
Find ways to reduce car consumption and cycle instead!