urban biking: a critique

Monday 31 August 2009

So in my previous blog, I shared just how much I love urban biking.  Here, in part two of my writing sample, I share some of the concerns I and others have concerning bikes being on the road.  It’s good now, but how much better it could be!

Urban biking does, however, have its share of detractors who complain about those who choose a bicycle to fit their transportation needs.  It is not surprising, though, that a society both figuratively and literally constructed around the automobile would take issue with those who don’t follow the norm.  Major cities construct roads and direct traffic patterns with respect to the masses of cars driven during rush hour, while those who would take to the streets on a bicycle are lucky to find a bike lane or trail that comes anywhere close to approximating their commuting route home.  However, the urban biker must also take responsibility when at fault for certain complaints.  Because everyone deserves to be heard when it comes to urban biking, I want to address some of the critiques and concerns that surround the issue.

Perhaps the most widely voiced complaint about bikes sharing the road with cars and other vehicles is that bikers regularly fail to observe applicable traffic laws.  I must confess that I have in my life biked through a red light or breezed through a stop sign without stopping, but if bikers are to earn the respect of automobile drivers, they need to begin to obey the rules of the road or face the same consequences to which vehicular drivers are subjected.  By law, bicycles are given equal privileges to motor vehicle traffic on most roadways, and with equal privilege comes equal responsibility.  This means respecting all traffic on the road by obeying the laws required.  Automobile drivers must also recognize that bikes have equal privileges and respect those with whom they are sharing the roadway.  However, it’s understandable that drivers look down on those who continually disobey the law, and for this reason, bikers must be implored to obey the rules of the road and call upon other bikers to do the same.

Another critique of bikers and biking is that bicycles clog up the road for cars and cause traffic to become even more congested that it already is.  However, it must be noted that bikes obeying traffic laws have just as much right to use urban roadways as cars do, and much urban traffic on roads where bikes are present, especially during peak hours, travels at such speeds as to not be affected a bicycle’s presence.  Cars and bikes certainly have different sizes and abilities, but that doesn’t mean bikes need to leave the roadways.  Instead, the use of bikes should be encouraged through the creation of bike and shared lanes that make it safer and easier for all traffic.  Bicycles actually reduce congestion and pollution by removing automobiles from the road, creating a better environment for all involved.

A third critique not widely held but still of concern is that cyclists pay nothing toward the improvement or upkeep of roads in the way automobile drivers do through licenses, car registrations, or taxes on gasoline.  While some might desire the registration of bicycles or cyclists for a small fee, since bicycles have such a small impact on roadways, minimal taxes on the general population should be all that is needed to procure the necessary funds for any roadway upkeep due to bicycle traffic.  This, too, would work as an incentive to get drivers out of their cars and onto a bike, knowing that they are already paying for services of which they are otherwise not taking advantage.

Finally, I have a personal critique, which I know is shared by others, regarding the use, or extreme lack of use, of bike helmets.  I know there is the “cool factor” we all have to worry about, but there is no good reason why one should bike, especially in an urban setting, without a helmet.  Even when all on the road are abiding by the law and attempting to drive safely, accidents can and do happen, and just as someone in a car is required to buckle up, a biker needs to wear a helmet.  If bikers are to be respected on the road, not only will they have to abide by traffic laws, but they must also show others that they take safety seriously by wearing a helmet.

The sharing of the road by automobile drivers and cyclists is a sensitive issue for both constituencies, and all parties need to recognize the concerns of others involved.  Compromises may have to be made by all, but there is no reason why cyclists shouldn’t be able to ride safely side by side with those who drive by choice or necessity.  Indeed, I have no doubt that through organizing and promotion, the streets of and cities around the world can become safer and more efficient for all to enjoy.


i love urban biking!

Saturday 29 August 2009

(Part of a writing sample I wrote for a recent job application.  I decided it could be used here, too — hopefully I caught all the typos, as it’s too late now if I didn’t!)

I must confess: I have an intense passion for urban biking.

I have always enjoyed biking, especially as a form of transportation, but it wasn’t until a recent trip to Philadelphia after a significant break from urban biking that I realized just how much I miss biking in a city and discovered my growing need to return.

I grew up in a small town and then spent some time in suburbia before embarking upon urban living and urban biking. As a child, I used my bike to visit friends, deliver newspapers, and get to the local swimming pool during the summer. Any time I could use my bike to get somewhere, even after I had my license, I would do it. I enjoyed biking during college, both for transportation and leisure, and when I graduated, a new, reliable bike was my requested reward.

Living and working in suburban Chicago for two years, I subscribed to public transportation for work and entertainment opportunities and slowly built up my biking prowess before moving to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where biking would take on a significant role in my life. Living in Milwaukee, my bike was my transportation. I biked 7 miles round trip to work each day, even braving freezing temperatures when snow and ice didn’t make the ride more hazardous than was prudent. In addition to the daily commute, I could be found biking to buy groceries, go curling, see a movie, watch a baseball game, attend church, or explore the city. I even biked to the DMV to renew my driver’s license! In Milwaukee, I discovered how rewarding and invigorating it is to depend on a bicycle to get you where you want to go – no petroleum necessary.

When I subsequently moved to Washington, DC, I knew that biking would be an important part of my time there. I spent my first month, however, without a bike and rediscovered just how many opportunities open up to one with a bicycle. Once I obtained a bike, I was able to see my friends with greater ease and regularity, schedule activities without having to worry about fighting automobile traffic or dealing with public transportation schedules, and explore the city faster than I could on foot and in a more intimate way than when stuck behind the glass of a car or bus. A bicycle allowed me to take true ownership of the city, transforming it from a tourist attraction to a city I called my home.

For the past nine months, I have lived away from urban biking opportunities. I make it a point to bike weekly on local trails, and I even traveled with my bike to Syracuse in June, biking with a friend around the city. However, it wasn’t until I packed up by bike for a recent trip to Philadelphia that I was reminded of all the glories of urban biking and just how much I was itching to return to city biking on a regular basis.

The friends I was visiting were located just outside the city and busy during the day, so I decided to bring along my bike and use it to explore the city. Wednesday morning, I drove my car into the city, found some free parking a mile or more from downtown, and unpacked my bike to begin my day. A few days earlier, I had investigated the city’s bike map online and prepared my route as to make the best use of bike lanes and other bike-friendly routes.

When I biked to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, it was easy (and free) to park my bike and quickly take pictures and ascend its famous front steps, a la Rocky Balboa. Then it was off to a movie theater across town, mainly in bike lanes, where I again found parking only steps from my destination. With my movie viewing complete, I hopped on my bike to cycle amidst the evening rush hour, sharing my lane with buses and traveling just as fast, if not faster, than the cars beside me. On that day in Philadelphia, I was transported back to the times when I would bike every day and the opportunities for exploration and transportation seemed unlimited.

It is now obvious to me just how much urban biking is beckoning for my return, and I can hardly wait for that day to come.


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