As a young engineer, I remember attending a seminar that had a brief section on complete streets and traffic calming. I remember being annoyed. I remember thinking it was a waste of my time. I design streets for cars. Bikes are recreation and they belong on trails.
While the Chuck Marohn of 2016 vehemently disagrees with the Chuck Marohn of 1996 on that point, I understand why I thought that way. Not only did the engineering profession treat -- and in many ways still treats -- biking as an afterthought, all of the push for biking infrastructure was coming from the recreation boosters in the Baby Boom generation.
Back then, we had our Rails-to-Trails advocates ripping up miles of unused rail lines and converting them to recreational trails. The Department of Natural Resources was building parking lots at key spots along these lines. I had a road bike and hung out with the spandex crowd a little, doing some endurance rides. They were largely wealthy health nuts and young speed enthusiasts. It was a fun way to stay in shape for my regular Army physical training tests.
I'm sure they were out there, but in my world there was nobody advocating for bikes as transportation. The uppity dude lecturing me on traffic calming -- I remember he had a pony tail and the look of a guy who would vacation in Colorado to bike mountains instead of ski them -- didn't have a clue what went into designing a street. Make 'em wide, straight and flat.
By the time I started writing what would eventually grow into Strong Towns, my appreciation for biking as transportation had grown. I was committed to it intellectually, the way most planners are committed to it. I'd support biking infrastructure, bike at events and special days when others were trying to raise awareness and then do a short workout every now and then when I felt the pounds starting to creep up. Other than that, the bike was sitting there. Bike commuting was something other people did, but I supported them doing it.
All of that made it kind of strange when bike advocates started attacking me whenever I would write about biking. Bike advocates are connected, organized and passionate (and, as I would learn, they often don't necessarily agree among themselves). It felt like they would descend on me whenever I dared utter a word. It's cycling not biking -- we're not riding Harleys. Bike lanes are dangerous -- you've obviously never been doored. I AM TRAFFIC, stop treating me like a second class citizen. I thought: What's going on?
My response was to do something I hadn't done regularly since middle school: I started biking for transportation. At first it was infrequently during the summer, when I didn't have responsibilities with the kids. Eventually it expanded. As I traveled, I started biking more and now that we live in town -- a mile from my office and my daughter's school -- I bike everywhere. And it's opened my eyes to a ton of things I hadn't considered before I was a bike first, drive second, kind of commuter.
This week we're going to explore as much of this as we can. We going to explore bike lanes, slowing traffic and other techniques to make biking easier and safer. We're going to hear from people who bike for fun and those who bike because they have no other viable option. And we're going to look at steps some places are taking to embrace a growing demand for biking and walking. This week is going to be fun and you won't even need a helmet.
Head over to our Slack discussion forum (open and free to everyone) to chat about bike lanes, bike racks, and bikeability issues in your town, as well as get ideas and advice from members across the country. Join the #bike channel on Slack to get started.