High On Bike

A Bellinghamster On Wheels


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I’ll Take My Penguins To Go

stay-cool-and-ride-your-bikeOne of the major hurdles to getting more people commuting by bike is their fear of riding in traffic. Just the other day, I had a conversation with a young woman who was working the express lane at my grocery store. I rode down to pick up something for dinner, wearing my awesome and current favorite Fred shirt, the one with big, goofy penguins. She commented on my shirt (she loved it) and she asked me if I rode a lot. When I exuberantly told her I rode almost every day, she wistfully said she would love to ride her bike more but was terrified of traffic and getting hit. I understood her fear but took the opportunity to be a good bicycling ambassador and explained that with trails, bike lanes, and Bellingham being a fairly bike friendly city, getting around by bike in many areas of town was pretty safe. The key, I told her, was to be seen, be aware, and follow the rules of the road.

We are a society that has been conditioned to think that we are safest traveling in our cars. The truth is, more people die or are injured traveling by car or truck than by just about any other form of transportation including airplanes — and bicycles. And that’s per capita. We get in our cars and head out jabbering on our cell phones, texting, eating our lunch, putting on mascara, or zoning out to the radio without giving it a second thought. However, we’re much more concerned with getting on a bicycle (or in an airplane). Sure, accidents involving bicycles and planes are more dramatic and newsworthy, but people die everyday in their cars and we hardly bat an eye.

 

Fred Shirt

Fred Shirt

I didn’t get into all of this with the checker as the guy behind me was already getting his tighty-whities in a wad because our conversation continued for about two seconds after she handed me my receipt. I also think he had an aversion to both penguins and bikes and I didn’t want him to spot me out on the road and take me out in a fit of grocery store checkout lane rage.  But I hope I was sufficiently supportive and encouraging of her desire to ride more because from my perspective, the awesomeness of being on a bike far outweighs the risk.

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Imagine All The Bikes

…but we’re still talking about 1 to 2 percent of transportation funding.

                                        Tim Blumenthal, president of Bikes Belong.

 If you read my post on Citi Bike, you’ll recall that Dorothy Rabinowitz, in a fit of pique over New York City’s new bike share program, complained of an all-powerful bike lobby that had government in its clutches. That she could say something like that and expect any rational-thinking person to believe it was simply astounding. It’s like saying that the automobile lobby has just a teensy weensy bit of clout. Seriously, don’t you think that if the bike lobby were as omnipotent as she claims, our cities, streets, and culture would be very different than they are currently?

With a bike lobby on the scale of Rabinowitz’s fantastical claim, the first thing that you’d notice is that transportation by bike would simply be a part of every day life instead of the relative oddity that it is today because cycling would be both safer and encouraged. Protected bike lanes like the new Linden Avenue North Cycle Track in Seattle (that successfully separates cyclists from motor vehicle traffic) would be the norm instead of something to celebrate. In the few places where these lanes didn’t exist, motorists would be more aware of the presence of cyclists and laws like the Vulnerable User Law would either actually be enforced or be completely unnecessary. To encourage even more people to use bicycles, you might see tax breaks for those whose primary mode of transportation was cycling or for those who eschewed owning a motor vehicle all together. And Linden Bike Lane in Seattleyes, most cities would have a bike-sharing program. And then there would the secondary effects: healthier people, less traffic, cleaner air, less reliance on oil. It may be Dottie’s worst nightmare but to me it sounds awesome. Maybe…just maybe…I could retire my orange safety vest.

But I’m not hanging it up anytime soon. Even though the bicycle lobby has a seat at the transportation table, cycling still only sees about 1%-2% of all funding and there are a lot of Dorothy Rabinowitzs out there who think of cycling as transportation as a scourge upon this car-clogged planet. Yet the dream (or nightmare, depending on your take) lives. Cycling is becoming an ever more popular way of city travel. So while the all-powerful bike lobby is still only a figment of a nutty old lady’s imagination, if it can be imagined, it can be done.