Wednesday, July 2, 2008

your ride and how it changes your trip - part 1

In Chicago, I try to drive as little as possible. The car can be more of a trap than a source of freedom in densely populated areas. Endless hours are wasted in traffic jams, creating a greater sense of urgency about reaching a destination and enough frustration to motivate risky behavior. I've seen otherwise reasonable drivers become raging maniacs on our clogged streets. The current price of gas increases the rage. The pleasure of our journeys has been mostly replaced by grimly creeping in traffic towards the destination. However, my experiences on a bike are a different story.

The bike is a means of transportation that is affordable to all income levels. It promotes interaction with the environmental and is not threatening. In contrast, a car is a bubble around its occupants, more likely to create social isolation, with potential to injure or kill others.

Traveling in neighborhoods where I am a minority, I've been the target of hostility when I am driving. BTW, it's a 20-year-old Honda Civic, not some fancy car. I've been yelled at, spit at, cut off in traffic, and been on the receiving end of nasty racial slurs, all while driving reasonably, without hostility. If I ride my bike in those same areas, at the same times of day, the response is more friendly - a smile, a wave, a little kid riding alongside smiling and just being a kid. If I'm waiting for a bus, the response is usually neutral or friendly. I am not isolated by the car. We are on equal footing.

A car junkie's perception is often focused on how much time is spent sitting in traffic and how much hassle it is to find parking. There may be beautiful gardens, interesting shops, interesting architecture and other small-scale pleasures along the way. A pedestrian or cyclist could easily see them and be able to stop and check them out. Either might have conversations with others while waiting at lights. A driver might miss them entirely, preoccupied with getting through the next light before it turns red, or angry at being cut off by another driver or simply traveling too fast to notice them.

Riding a bike in Chicago has given me a much deeper appreciation for the cultural richness and green spaces of the city than I could ever have in a car. Being able to stop and smell the roses can be a reality, not just some old cliche. And I'm not paying $$$ to any oil company for the privilege.


Art said...

Ridge 99 is right on the money on a few points. Recently, I was on a bike ride in a neighborhood where I was in the minority and it was friendly waves.

The car is useful for large grocery trips, but for the small grocery list, the bike is so much better. Parking: right in front of the store at the bike rack. Cost to travel: zero Exercise value: wonderful

I'm happy to say that I have more miles on my bikes than I have put on my car this year.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more with Ridge99 and Art. However, I've had several occasions lately to ride to the burbs and drivers there were decidedly hostile to me on my bike. Additionally, no planning was made on the streets for cyclists, not to mention pedestrians.

Anonymous said...

Well said, I'm glad you're enjoying your bike!

Vadim said...

hey there,

If you're interested in making Chicago even more friendly for bicyclists, I'm trying to lobby the Department of Transportation for a shared bike lane north of Diversey.

If you still live in Chicago you should check it out and join:

All you need to do is send a letter if we reach 100 people. Tell your friends!