Thursday, August 27, 2009

American Bicycling - It's a Wilderness Out There

When roads are designed with an automobile-only mentality, the health of the citizenry suffers.

I live in what - geographically - would be an ideal walkable and bikeable neighborhood. My wife Vickie and I both teach at the university two blocks away. There are a dozen restaurants, a grocery store, the city zoo, three coffee shops, a variety of retail offerings, churches and several liquor stores within easy walking and biking distance from our house.

Problem is there are very few sidewalks and no designated bike lanes.
So people drive their cars. Everywhere.

I, however, refuse to bow to "autonationalism" - a term coined by architect/futurist Doug Michels to describe the romantic American ethos of automobile-only travel - and drive two blocks to the university like all of my neighbors do. So I walk or ride my bike on unfriendly terrain, including the there-and-back dash across a busy 4-lane state highway. Though it does get the blood pumping, I feel a bit like Lewis and Clark traveling without the benefit of "trail." Most of the time, I come out unscathed.

(Read a past newspaper column about the time I didn't.)

John Paul Frerer (18) from Tupelo, Mississippi wasn't so lucky. He was recently hit by a truck and killed while riding his bike on a public road in preparation for an upcoming triathlon.

The trouble with autonationalist roads - aside from the health disadvantages - is that they breed a mentality of complacency in drivers. The underlying assumption is that no one travels without a car, so why look out for them.

And then it's over.


rodney said...

Sad, but true. I have personally seen people literally drive 150 yards to another store in a strip mall. These folks could have definitely used the extra steps for the health benefits. What a waste of resources.

I have to remind myself, for some of these people, there may be physical reasons that do not allow them to take advantage of being self sufficient.

Christopher Parker said...

perception and reality are different.

Why don't you ride your bicycle? You could but you feel out of place and unsafe.

But these feelings are not accurate to the situation.

Regular bicyclists are actually safer than drivers. Yes, it's true.

That's because the overwhelming number of bike accidents happen to drunks, children, and people riding at night without lights.

You are actually more likely to hit a car (perhaps its door) than be hit. You are more likely to be injured by a dog than a car.

But this is not how we feel. We feel exposed. And the occasional death reinforces this. But cars are predictable, and as long as we are too, we are pretty safe.

In a car, we feel surrounded and protected, but that's an illusion. Both vehicles are moving faster, so the risk goes up.

Bike lanes and sidewalks do not increase safety and can actually make riding more dangerous, sometimes considerably so. But they give the feeling of having space and being legitimate.

But education also gives that sense. If you understand your place in traffic flow, you make your own feeling of legitimacy and safety.

400,000 people in America die every year from diet and health related problems. It's the biggest threat to our collective national security we have, overwhelming terrorism and the 44,000 automobile drivers who die every year. Even if riding was more dangerous from accidents, it would be safer from better health.

W. K. Lis said...

Roads were initially dirt roads in city. They were paved because of the bicycle. When the automobile came on the scene, they invaded the ready made paved roads, taking them away from the bicycle.