For the past couple of years I have been doing a lot of bike commuting. At first I was a little uncomfortable with the idea of biking to work every day, and when I started it was difficult, but it quickly grew on me until I willingly and gladly transitioned from my half hour round trip commute to my summer job into my two hour round trip commute to school. I think that cycling is a great method of transportation. It gives riders great exercise, it is light on the wallet (I hear the economy has not been great lately), it is easy on the environment, and in gridlock is way faster than driving your own car (and is still fairly quick the rest of the time). In my home town, it is also immensely faster and more convenient than public transportation, though I think public transit is also a valuable way to get around. My only issues with it are the exposure to the elements (our winter is many months long with lots of snow and it is VERY cold, plus riding in the rain isn’t as much fun), and if I have a particularly long ride, into the wind, on a very sunny day, I need to bring a spare shirt to change into at my destination plus a stick of deodorant. I think that both of these things are places where public transit can supplement the system relatively well. All in all I think it is a great way to get around and I think that I would like to be able to live car free. I love driving for pleasure, but driving for commuting purposes is just frustrating.
I just stumbled across this video which has a few good points about bike commuting. I might not 100% agree with his definition of NYC as the “greatest city in the world”, but his other points I think are still valid.
One thing that I think is a huge barrier for people to commute by bike is the lack of infrastructure. Many people find it too dangerous to ride on busy streets, yet it is illegal to ride on the sidewalk (at least in my city), which makes sense as it is very dangerous for pedestrians. Drivers get annoyed when cyclists share the road because in order for a cyclist to be reasonably safe, they need to have at least half of a lane which can bottleneck traffic, especially on roads with only one lane. What some places have done is implement a separate bike lane next to the curb lane. While this is sometimes fine, there are problems if water and street crap builds up along the curb, there are dangerous potholes or sewer grates, and cars wanting to enter intersections and don’t/can’t see cyclists approaching from this lane. Worst of all, if this lane is along a parking lane, there is HUGE danger for the cyclist if someone opens their car door. Some city’s have lanes along the median (as demonstrated in the above video). Although I have not tried such lanes yet, I wonder how difficult it would be for cyclists to enter these lanes.
A lot of European cities are extremely well set up for cycling. I recently watched a short documentary that examined why girls from the UK don’t ride bikes and one of their major concerns was infrastructure.
I often listen to KICK FM’s “Great Canadian Talk Show” with Marty Gold and, while I think there is a lot of great commentary coming out of that show, I have been a little disappointed by the bike bashing that goes on. I do agree with some of the comments made regarding some of the ideas for new cycling infrastructure, but one of Marty’s strongest points has been that there is no cycling community to use the infrastructure. I think that this fits in with the classic chicken and the egg problem; there are no cyclists because there is no infrastructure, and there is no infrastructure because there are no cyclists. I think the “if we build it, they will come” attitude is a much better one to have in this situation.
I don’t think it is possible to fully replace cars in our society due to the critical mass they have attained, but I think it is possible to improve the public transit and alternative transportation infrastructures in ways to significantly cut back on private automobile usage and, as a result, live in a much healthier world.