reflections of an urban cyclista, part 1

I never thought that the act of riding a bicycle was such a powerful political statement until I started riding one every day around Boston.

What is it about cycling — or indeed, the mere sight of someone riding a bike — that makes some people go totally bananas? Why be such a hater? Sure, some cyclists do annoying things, but don’t drivers, too, and in far greater numbers?

The more you drive, the more desensitized you become to what it’s like to walk or ride a bike around tons of cars (it sucks!).

I love riding a bike. It’s liberating, and fun. It’s a great way to get outdoors, to clear your mind, and to sneak in exercise. It’s also often the fastest way to get around town (no waiting in traffic or cruising around endlessly looking for parking).

me, biking home from Boston to Brookline in business attire, March 2012 (photo: Mike Sanders)

I feel much more stressed when I’m in a car than when I’m on a bike. Driving a car is an utterly dehumanizing act, done while sealed off from the world in a speeding metal box. It’s something to be endured, especially on a nice day, especially in traffic on a nice day. Then it’s torture!

Driving pollutes the air and makes you fat. It makes your children fat, too. The percentage of American kids who walk or bike to school fell from 50% to 15% in just one generation, while childhood obesity has tripled. We need to reverse this trend.

Obesity is now the largest cause of preventable death in America. What the hell happened to us? It wasn’t this way when I was growing up. We rode our bikes to the beach, to the store, to our friends’. We walked to school. There were plenty of cars on the road then, too, but we weren’t as scared to ride. In just one generation, riding a bike in the ‘burbs became scary.

Now suburban moms drive their broods everywhere in their Chevy Suburbans, lest they be run over by another mom in a Suburban. These same moms drive their kids to the school bus stop at the end of their driveways, and sit there, engines idling, until their kids are picked up and dropped off. Their feet never touch the ground!

biking in the rain and looking fabulous in Amsterdam

Groups like LivableStreets Alliance work hard to change public policy, so our streets are safer and more accommodating for everyone, not just for those of us riding around in cars. But it is an uphill battle, because for some crazy reason, the car and its space-hogging cousin the parking spot are sacred.

Hopefully people will win out over cars before it’s too late. I’m praying for it. But I have to say at this plodding rate, I’m not feeling it. How sad is that? Still, the Netherlands turned things around before it was too late. London looks to be doing the same. Maybe biking in Boston can get a boost, too. We need a bike-in!

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Wouldn’t it be great if we were just a little more thoughtful about when and where we drove? Wouldn’t it be great if you heard less traffic flying past your home, and saw more pedestrians and cyclists instead?

Before you dash out on your next shopping trip or errand, stop for a second and think: “Maybe I’ll walk/share a ride/bike/take public transit instead of driving…” The GOOD Guide to Biking for the Planet can help you get going.

Almost a third of the trips we make by car are less than a mile. Is there one less trip — hell, two less trips — a week that you can make without your car? I’m not saying: “Abandon your car.” (Although that would be great). I’m suggesting you be a tiny bit more thoughtful about where and when you drive it. For your own health. And for your children’s.

Think about it. Open your mind. And be nice to cyclists and pedestrians when you drive. After all, more cyclists + more pedestrians = less car traffic. A winning equation for everyone, even drivers.

me riding a bike, and loving it, in Nantucket

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