The blossoms are opening up as I type. Spring is on the horizon up here in Michigan. I can finally skip the bitter, rushed walks to school, and listen to the birds chirp in the brisk air. It also gives me a chance to speed up the transportation process by riding my bike around Kalamazoo. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that it is not the easiest feat in certain sections of the city, where the elevation skyrockets in a short block, though it’s quite invigorating after the initial runs. The key to a successful ride is taking the roads built for cars because they are smooth and not quite as steep. The sidewalk is just too poorly maintained to ride it safely.
Regardless of the condition, I share a road with cars barreling around curves at 40 mph, nudging the curb as I drive. Some would probably claim this road-biking unsafe, but there are only two options: hold on to the side of the road for dear life, or avoid cracks and bumps on a steep sidewalk with a weighty book bag. Maybe Kalamazoo isn’t the best example to set for bike lanes in the road, but they should certainly make a comeback, especially in college towns.
In accordance with the issue of alternative transportation methods mentioned in my previous posts, I believe people should feel comfortable substituting a quick trip in the car. It’s a matter of facilitating people with their off-campus treks, be it a trip to downtown or a ride home. It is safe to assume that all this bike-talk comes with the rebirth of Spring weather. Once the snow hits and all the roads ice over, there is no way that anyone could ride safely.
While I was visiting Amsterdam in the dead of Winter, culture shock set in when I watched people ride their bikes over the icy brick-paved roads, no salt layer in sight. When did the citizens of Amsterdam build up this intolerance to slick conditions? I witnessed a multitude of near-wipeouts all hours of the day, and had a few myself.
It is the same principle that faces many landlocked Americans: given the circumstances, another choice may not exist. Living in the farmland of Northern Michigan, where a “neighbor” lives four miles away, if one needs to go to the store, they’ll need a car to do it. Amsterdam is a relatively small area, and the Netherlands is known for its flat, marshy planes. Although urban dwellers have the advantage of proximity, the current conditions are not for the weary at heart. Let’s change that by making bike lanes. Step number two: create public transportation for cross-town treks. Three: sit back and enjoy less auto congestion. I just set the plan for you, now put it in action.
As far as the short run goes, there may not be an alternative for cars in rural areas. But if we can prevent mindless, short trips with only a purse to carry, I’m game. I don’t care how cold it is outside—if you don’t have enough time to plug in that iPod and play enough tracks to set the mood, you shouldn’t drive there.
For further reading, here is a short article about urban biking, a retrospective look on the limbo of a red light in the city.