This week's Hattiesburg American column:
Last week I flipped over on my bike and came to terms with the asphalt pavement.
It was a sudden and stunning development. Out of nowhere, a savage concrete curb - otherwise known as a ”No Entry (or Exit)” sign to cars - appeared beneath me, disconnecting two perfectly good parking lots.
And there I lay, contemplating the possibilities and nuances of bike-friendly street design. OK, that last part might be hyperbole, but the thought did briefly cross my mind.
Now, with a clearer head, the question begs to be considered: Instead of frontier justice for cyclists, what if we integrated a system of bike paths into the fabric of our cities and towns? What would happen?
For starters, more people would ride bikes. When dedicated bike routes are convenient, clearly marked and connected, a ride to work or school becomes a desirable option. And step one of a recreational bike ride does not necessarily involve strapping a bike to the back of an automobile.
As a sustainable practice, biking cuts down on fossil fuel use and does not pollute the environment; riding a bike burns calories, not gas and oil.
And the health benefits of regular cycling are obvious. Americans have become ever more obese as auto-dependency has increased. (Who has time to go to the gym with all that driving around?) Why not exercise daily as part of the normal commute?
Biking is a sensory experience. Being in touch with the elements fosters a greater awareness of the surrounding environment. Biking promotes social interaction; try communicating with someone in a fast-passing car.
But it doesn’t stop there. Real money is at stake.
The economic benefits of a cycle-friendly environment include lower health care costs and higher property values. The requisite number of automobiles needed for living a “normal” existence decreases along with associated car maintenance, gas and insurance costs. A hike in biking results in a reduced number of cars on the street extending the road’s surface life. Traffic congestion is relieved allowing shorter travel times and a more pleasant commute for those who do drive.
Here’s the trade-off. Pay a little more for adding bike lanes when it’s time to resurface existing roadways, and we reap the benefit of a higher and healthier quality of life along with the aforementioned economic plusses.
For generations now, the car has ruled as transportation planners designed roads solely for the ease and convenience of the automobile, sacrificing cyclists and pedestrians in the process. By default, the jacked-up price of full participation in society has become one vehicle per adult.
But there is a concept for addressing a wider menu of transportation options than just automobiles - it’s called “complete streets” and involves accommodating bike and pedestrian traffic with equal vigor. In most cases, this can be accomplished without acquiring additional right-of-ways.
Isn’t it time we recycle the way we think about bicycles?