Yvette Tendick is a member of Strong Towns and a resident of Guelph, ON. Today, she shares her thoughts on the growing popularity of biking, and her personal experience with the freedom that biking offers.
Make sure to check out Yvette's previous essay on Strong Towns, "Biking, a gateway drug to social awareness."
It is something we all have to do, myself included. Somedays, I’d rather just hang out on the couch in my pajamas...
But like it or not, we all have to get from A to B somehow.
One person may have to go to work or school. Another may want to visit an aging relative on the other end of town, or the trip may be something more mundane, like picking up toothpaste at the drugstore.
Until recently, unless the destination was within walking distance, the default option for most people was driving. If you didn’t have access to a car, maybe you would have considered a half hour wait for a long bus ride, or gotten a lift from someone else..
Recently, however, there is has been a realization among more citizens that maybe lugging around a 4,000 pound machine for every outing doesn’t make a lot of sense. Maybe there is something more practical than a car that needs to be parked, spews toxins into the air, and costs about $700 a month to own.
Luckily, there’s a new kid on the transportation block. This new mobility sensation has actually been around, in one form or another, since the 1800’s. As I’m sure you have already guessed, it’s the humble bicycle, and it’s been experiencing a renaissance in the past 5-10 years.
The reasons vary as to why we’re suddenly enamored with bikes. It could be the cost savings, as mentioned above, to the individual, the town and the environment. Maybe it’s because the internet has shown us what is possible (...those darn Dutch and Danes, why do they have to be so attractive, whilst moving effortlessly on bikes through their city?) Or maybe we have come to realize that we can’t just sit at a computer all day at work or at school, and expect that our physical and mental health won’t be compromised.
I was drawn to riding a bike long before the Internet, and even before becoming health-conscious. I discovered the independence of cycling as a teen, when living on an isolated farm, too young to drive a car. At fourteen years old, I hit the road on my bike. No water bottle, no helmet. Half the time I wasn’t even wearing shoes. I’ve become more sensible (and hydrated) since, but the feeling of freedom on a bike persists.
Something much greater though, is happening, to contribute to this bicycle resurgence. Lately, our municipal governments are working to get people out on bikes. They see the writing on the wall: Cities are getting more crowded and the road space more congested with cars. Pollution continues to increase,while citizens are becoming less fit and more stressed. Those without means to pay for a car often can’t easily participate in city life. So cities are beginning to change too. They are seeing bike lanes as an inexpensive way to give people the option to move about the city without having to always default to a space hogging car.
Some cities have surprised even themselves with the impacts of installing protected bike lanes, Cities like Vancouver, Montreal, and now Toronto (and even Calgary!) can’t build protected bike lanes fast enough to meet the demand. People are beginning to realize that they have another transportation tool in their mobility box. So, one day, they might opt to drive to their evening class, another day they may bike to work. Some households even drop to one car, if one or more of the family members decides to bike to their daily destinations.
It’s called giving people more choice.
And municipalities that offer more transportation choices attract millennials and others who want to spend less time and money driving to work. Maybe some people would rather use what they spend on a car payment to pay the mortgage, go on a vacation, or enjoy some local craft beer. The possibilities are endless.
We do have a long way to go, though. For decades, we’ve built our cities in a way that accommodates the car as the principal form of transportation, and as a result, many of us have to drive several kilometers from our affordable home to our place of employment. There is an enormous amount of work to be done to build more mixed-use live/work/play communities so that more people can have the freedom to walk or bike if they choose. Cities also need to provide connected and protected bicycle infrastructure so that more people feel comfortable riding, or allowing their children to get around on a bike.
But for those of us who can, there is nothing like getting to where you need to go using your own muscle power. For me, riding gives me a feeling of exhilaration and happiness; it is sometimes the best part of my day. You may want to give it a try, even if it’s just to pick up some salsa or to get your hair cut. No special equipment needed, except your bike, and maybe a helmet. Your fresh air-filled brain and lungs will appreciate it.
About the Author
Yvette Tendick is president of Guelph Coalition for Active Transportation, (http://gcat.ca/) whose mission is to increase the quantity, quality and safety of active transportation in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. She is also a school teacher with a Bachelor of Environmental Studies. Over the years, her interest in environmental issues has morphed from the protection of wilderness regions to the sustainability and resilience of cities. Yvette is also a member of StrongTowns.