You’ve probably gathered from my writings by now that I think that bike riding is a good thing. Particularly as an alternative to driving, where appropriate. One such place where biking is in principle a perfect alternative is Los Angeles. Mostly flat, wide streets, perfect weather most of the year around. At this point in a conversation about this, people either burst out laughing, or look at me as though I am insane. I sigh. I try to point out that there exists a core (although small… but growing I notice) of people who get on with the business of cycling around this city instead of listening to the (mostly exaggerated and/or coming from total ignorance) stories about how dangerous it is supposed to be (supposedly not just from motorists, but apparently there are very bad men out there trying to do bad things to you). What I say mostly falls on deaf ears. I point out how many alternative routes there are in a city this well connected, so that you do not have to use the main roads if worried about willful or inattentive motorists. I point out how nicely bikes work in conjunction with the (yes, it exists) public transport in the city, since every bus is equipped with bike racks. These do not help either. I point out how much fun I’m having by not having to fight with other motorists every morning, pay an extortionate amount of money for parking, how much gas I save by essentially only driving on the weekends, etc, etc…. I recognise, yes, that it is not a choice that everyone in the city can make, but so very many could, even if it is just a matter of using your bike to nip to the shops for that pint of milk, instead of driving the car… Then I give up, shut up (mostly), and ride my bike. (Descriptions of one of my routes into work here and here.)
Anyway, I keep dreaming that one day that slow trickle of increasing numbers of cyclists I see out there will turn into a torrent, and somehow bikes (and public transport) will not be seen as a situation you must accept as a last resort due to reduced circumstances, but be seen as simply a really good choice to make. Maybe one day it will even become a mainstream hip thing to do (as opposed to the underground hipness it has now…I like to imagine), and increased bike use will be driven by people wanting to jump on that bandwagon. I don’t care how we get there, as long as we do.
To help with the dream, I look fondly at the greater bike use in other countries and cities when I visit them. Here’s a lovely article, by John Tagliabue, that came out today* in the New York Times about the Netherlands. It starts out:
With more than two bicycles per person and a landscape as flat as a pancake, the Netherlands is a cyclistsâ€™ Eden.
with greater affluence, more free time and even greater environmental concerns, the Dutch are turning to bicycles in ever greater numbers. Sales are booming, and there is a proliferation of designs for all sorts of purposes.
And further, there’s a description of a recently opened bicycle dealership that is one of the largest in Europe. The writer goes on a tour with one of the owners:
Leading a visitor through the warehouse, he pointed out touring bicycles, the way the Dutch like them; electric bicycles, from mountainous Switzerland; recumbent bicycles, whose riders look like they are on a two-wheeled gurney; and all sorts of three-wheeled models, for hauling groceries or tools or children. There is even a bicycle that folds up into a suitcase, for carrying on planes.
Oh, that latter reminds me. Yes, the Brompton gets a mention earlier in the article (the Netherlands is well known as the main place outside the UK where you see them quite often).
Furthermore, the dealer’s quoted:
Mr. van Oirschot, 37, a heavyset former software expert, said bicycles were increasingly seen as an expression of a lifestyle. â€œItâ€™s, like, for hanging out, almost as a fashion statement,â€ he said, pointing to Phat Cycles from California, with their laid-back look reminiscent of the movie â€œEasy Rider.â€
(Yes, how ironic.)
And there’s a description of one of my favourite scenes in a city which is enlightened on such matters:
on work days the train stations here and in nearby Haarlem look like buildings afloat in a lake of bicycles.
At traffic lights, explosions of bicycles come forth whenever a light turns green. When day care is out, young mothers pick up as many as four children in comfortable wagons attached to the rear of their bicycles.
Like all Dutch cities, Ijmuiden has bike lanes on the sides of all its roads and bicycle parking places at all public buildings. At any given moment in the downtown area, with its quaint red-brick buildings, there are more bikes than cars on the roads.
Go read some more. It brings tears to my eyes…
(*Thanks, John Branch.)