Why I Bother…
WARNING: This is the post where I go off on why it is so important for 1) me personally to adopt biking and promote this cause and 2) society to fully integrate biking into its infrastructure.
As a two-time grad student and someone who is just starting her professional career, I have never been nor am currently able to
really, honestly afford a car (by this, I mean that I have car payments and cannot own it outright, like most people). And, yet, I have always had one, for good and not-so-good reasons. I, like most people, need to get around this maddening sprawl of a place. A lot of my trips can be achieved with the bike; some cannot. Because of that latter category and because it is just so damn accepted, I keep a car. But I have never been able to come to comfortable terms with this relationship, because a car is simply too much for my needs. I have no children, no regular cargo to lug, and just need to get from home to school/work/grocery store on a regular basis. To purchase/lease/maintain this heaping pile of metal, parts, and electronics otherwise known as an automobile for these purposes (and to make sure it doesn’t get stolen/keep it registered/try not to get parking tickets, blah blah blah) is a lot like buying an iPhone just so I could make some calls occasionally or using a chainsaw to open an envelope. Yet, in Los Angeles and most of the U.S., this is my most obvious choice, because it is the single most well-supported mode of transportation in terms of infrastructure.
So I end up hemorrhaging a large chunk of my income monthly to feed my need to move around. I am not advocating that cars need to be cheap (on the contrary: for how many resources they consume and all the other facets of the environment they impact, they should probably cost more) or that they should be obsolete. I recognize perfectly that families and workers of many professions require them for daily living and that you should have the right to own one if you just feel like it. But I also know that there is a good fraction of society who is just like me in terms of transportation needs. And there should be a suitable and reliable middle-of-the-road option for us, one that we can realistically afford and that does not: rely on foreign fuel, contribute to climate change, kill upon impact, signal economic status, deplete natural resources, cause anger management issues, replace physical exercise, lead us to take on jobs that are much too far from home, make me not want to walk on my street, and this, and that, and another.
This is not a blog about conspiracy theories, but quite honestly I would not be the least bit surprised if I found out that the lack of a truly affordable people-mover-thingy is an intentional decision by ______ (insert names of any person/company/entity that may benefit from said decision). What I really mean to say is: mobility is an inherent component of a free society and I think it’s damn near a social injustice that citizens have to spend/owe SO MUCH to have it. Cities should be designed so that I don’t need to own a large machine to transport me when I need a gallon of milk. Neighborhoods should not have empty sidewalks, void of pedestrians but lined with cars. I take issue with the fact that I HAVE TO look both ways for cars when I go across the street. Freeways are really f*ing ugly. These are not desirable qualities in places where people live; they are the unfortunate aftermath of automobile-based planning. And there really isn’t any particularly good reason for things to remain this way.
Communities should be constructed, first and foremost, based on how the residents want and need to live on a daily basis. That means food, jobs, basic services, recreational opportunities, and, yes, a pleasant scenery should not only surround but infuse neighborhoods. I grew up in Taipei, an almost oppressive urban landscape that sometimes feels as if it does not recognize the words “zoning” and “planning”. I don’t honestly know how well I can live there anymore, but I will say this: its streets are alive, soulful, and meant to fulfill basic human needs without requiring lots of dough. One gets a very clear flavor of each enclave by virtue of its businesses, parks, the laundry hanging on the balconies; there is none of the detached, distinct lack of a sense of place I get running my errands from strip mall to mini-mall to mega-shopping center in the States. Now, before anyone gets offended and tells me to go back where I came from, I will be the first to confess that Taipei has a HUGE traffic and air pollution problem, the drivers have awful manners, and mopeds can be frequently seen zooming down sidewalks. But not owning a car is a very sensible and realistic option for its residents, and the car-less have just as much of a right to the streets as the car owners.
Randomly surfing the cycling-related websites/blogs in cyberspace, it’s easy to get the feeling that we (meaning supporters and practitioners of the two-wheeled variety of transportation) are angry, militant, rebellious. We are always reporting and commenting on bike-automobile collisions, and we are invariably biased towards the former. This unfair impression is part of my reason for starting up my own blog: to provide tools and positive encouragement for those new to the concept of biking to get around. But I myself am enormously incensed by careless and narrow-minded motorists who think they own the road (to be fair, they figure in a minuscule minority of the overall population, but they need to be called out because their ways can kill others). This is my stance: keep your opinions to yourself because I don’t give a rat’s ass about them, but you WILL behave as if I am a rightful member of the mobile society because that’s exactly what I am. Bullying cyclists while sitting in a car is as respectable as an adult fighting over candy with a child. I don’t doubt for a second that some riders are obnoxious and try to get a rise out of you, but I also don’t think it’s very ridiculous for me to suggest that, even if one lay down IN FRONT of your car to specifically block your way, you not run them over. That seems like common sense to me – there is no battle to be fought/won here. And let’s not forget that we are underdogs out there fighting for the basic right of mobility without paying an arm and a leg, so give us a little leeway for that if nothing else.