There are non-invasive ways to create a network of off-street bike trails throughout a city or town, and every effort should be made to do so. The people who are already riding the streets see the light and that’s great, but we need to keep them safe and happy, because they’re doing the right thing.
More than that though, we need to get more people to do it. People shouldn’t be intimidated to ride their bike as a means of recreation or utility, nor should they be put in danger. Discouraging bicyclists through over zealous ticketing campaigns and policy strafings is not a solution. It’s not even a bandaid. It’s an accelerant.
Riding a bike shouldn’t be just like driving a car only hotter (or colder) and more dangerous. People should be encouraged to ride. Plans for bicycle routes should have built-in advantages that driving does not have. Like quiet, leafy paths along a creek’s edge; or dedicated urban trails adjacent vibrant pedestrian malls. The vision of biking in people’s heads shouldn’t be the same vision they have of driving—stuck on a hot, smelly congested road—except in the gutter lane. They should see bikers flowing freely through comfortable, safe trails and wonder to themselves, why am I still sitting in traffic and paying $4 per gallon for it. The trade-off for biking should be made obvious.
The beauty of planning for bicyclists and pedestrians, is that when you start thinking in these terms—how things work without a car—suddenly we’re in a whole new world. The scale is changed because the speed and effort of travel has changed, and because the scale has changed, the composition of the landscape and urban design has change. Actually, let me rephrase that: design can re-enter as an actual element of planning.
Now destinations and structures can be brought in closer; trees, lawns, hills and other landscape that would otherwise be sacrificed for roadways are incorporated into the plan. All those acres and acres that would have been used for parking lots now have amazing new organic possibilities. Now we can think about people’s relationship to buildings—how they can easily access them, how they can view them, how they will live in them and work in them—rather than being consumed with notions of accommodating cars.
Phew! It gives me chills just thinking about it. You too?
No, you say? Still in love with the soul-crushing commute and endless fields of blacktop in front of your stores? Or maybe it’s just that you just really, really don’t like bicyclists. OK, but before you dig in your heels against providing better systems for bikers and walkers, consider this: If you want bikers out of your way, they’re going to need a system where they can get out of your way. And this too: The more bicyclists there are out there, the fewer cars there will be on the roads and just imagine how much nicer it will be to have the road to yourself. So, it’s good for the bikers; it’s good for non-bikers; it’s good for America. What are you, anti-American or something?
OK, I could go on, but I don’t want this to be a blog about bicycling. There’s other important stuff we need to look at next time.