It starts with us

Commuting by bike takes a level of commitment that many aren’t willing to give. In this article from the Chicago Tribune the author relates trying it out, the obstacles she encountered and then eventually going back to her car.

The interesting thing is she ran into only a few of the challenges many of us regularly meet and it was enough to put her back on four wheels. My initial reaction was one of disgust, but I also realize that the state of roads in our American cities are much to dangerous for the average person to undertake. That’s what sets us apart.

The future of the American commute includes a lot less cars and a lot more bikes, however it takes a lot of work and resolve to make that happen and it has to start somewhere. So it starts with you and me. The ones willing to brave the dangerous conditions knowing every pedal stroke is making our lives and those of our children that much better.

Keep your resolve. Write your politicians. Get involved in your community. Encourage other people to get on their bikes. And most of all, keep riding. The outcome will be well worth it.

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0 thoughts on “It starts with us”

  1. Nicole says:

    I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a bit spoiled by living in a highly bike-friendly city and won’t claim to know what it’s like to bike in a not-so-friendly city, but the author’s description of her commute doesn’t sound that bad. Who hasn’t been yelled/honked at or felt the warmth of big diesel truck a little too close to the left elbow? There will always be bike commuting obstacles because nature and people can’t be planned for.

    However, the author’s notes about other cyclists’ behaviors are well-taken. I can’t say I haven’t rolled through an empty 4-way or skipped through a red light after growing impatient. It’s a good reminder that whenever I’m riding I’m an ambassador of sorts for the larger biking community.

  2. Josh says:

    I have a hard time believing that the reasons the author listed are her real motivation for giving up on the bike. I think that she does not want to admit to herself that she is stuck in the motor vehicle paradigm and just can’t get over doing something out of the ordinary. Most people want to fit in, and have a hard time with people treating us like some kind of fanatic. It’s the classic chicken-and-egg where to be more accepted, there need to be more of us cycling, but for there to be more cyclists, it needs to be better accepted. This principal also applies to the safety excuses that the author cites (drivers accepting cyclists and driving properly).
    I agree that it is a good reminder to follow the rules and be predictable. The question posed a while ago about the bike/car/bus race in a big city where the bike wins has something to do with this. If the bike beat the car, then the bike must have broken some rules (unless there was a bike path that offered a more direct route). If I don’t pass on the right, and don’t run any stop signs or lights, then I will always be at least as slow as a car, and that’s fine with me.
    If the author had stuck with it for a few weeks, she would have found the benefits to outweigh the perceived risks, and the drivers along her route would learn to share the road with her. I think she just wanted to be able to say that she tried it so that she could feel good about her concern for the planet without actually having to live any differently. Now she can say that, and her excuse is that without some big government program to build dedicated bicycle routes, it’s impossible to actually do (which is obviously wrong).

  3. Fritz says:

    Chicago is not bike unfriendly, with a silver-level Bicycle Friendly Community designation and a bike-riding mayor. Naperville ‘burb and a bit more iffy with high-speed arterials and too many commuters in a hurry to get to the next light, but it’s not horrible.

    Also, Tim, STREET BICYCLING IS NOT DANGEROUS. There’s a perception among many people that cycling is dangerous, but perception doesn’t match reality and propagating the myth of “dangerous streets” does nothing to change that perception. It takes some commitment and willingness to avoid a little discomfort is all.

    I’m not denying that injuries and deaths happen, but the relative risk between traveling by car and bike is about the same. I’ve been hit twice by cars while on bike. I’ve had a couple of serious accidents in my car, also.

    Finally, while I believe cyclists should follow the rules of the road, motorist opinion of cyclists are not generally colored by the behavior of cyclists on the road. I’ll just point you to Paul Dorn’s excellent essay on “Vehicular crime and perceptions. Does this video of scofflaw motorists change your general perception of car drivers? Did it change the minds of much of the motoring public on their behavior?

  4. Shanyn says:

    Honestly, how long can it take to bike 3.5 miles? I am a slow, middle aged female cyclist who does a pretty hilly 5.5 mile commute in about 30 minutes. I am continually amazed at how little discomfort some people are willing to endure. No, wonder we are a nation of fatties. That was mean of me. But culturally we are so conditioned to put our needs and comfort ahead of the greater good that I truly worry about future generations.

  5. Dan says:

    I hope she tries it again someday. I’d recommend starting with recreational rides to get used to the road. Most of the threats are only perceived, not actual. The irate motorist may yell or honk, but he isn’t going to run you down. Let him get mad and see that it doesn’t bother you. Follow traffic laws to set a good example. Oh, and STAY OFF THE SIDEWALK!

    Things will get better.

  6. Warren T says:

    Shanyn — My ride home is 3.5 miles and if I’m hammering away ~ 15 MPH it takes about 14 minutes. 13 MPH days it takes me 15 and a half minutes. Slow it down a bit to 10 to 11 MPH in bad weather and it takes 18 minutes. I apologize if the question was rhetorical, but I saw a chance to use data from my spreadsheet and I took it, by golly!

    On another note, I was driving at the speed limit in my big, 12 passenger, 9 MPG van this morning and someone honked at me. Scared me so much I was glad to get back on my bike…

  7. Smudgemo says:

    These kinds of stories are somewhat worthless because bike commuting isn’t usually something someone can jump in with both feet and not question their decision. Were someone to be on the fence, but interested, I’d suggest once or twice a week to start, and only in good weather. Shanyn is correct. Most people seem to value comfort way too much that at $4.00 per gallon, not much will change.

  8. Abe says:

    So glad to find you guys. I ride to work every day and love every minute. It took a few months to get used to it, but now I wouldn’t have it any other way. I encourage everyone to at least try it one day a week. The health benefits alone are worth it. I’m 41 and in the best shape of my life. I realize my sanity is questionable, but the most fun I’ve had in a long time was riding home at night during a snowstorm last winter. My hats off to anyone who rides for whatever reason.

  9. Miss Moppet says:

    Wow….This little tidbit of writing got me much more riled up than I thought it would. On the one hand, I felt some empathy, knowing what it’s like to find yourself on a “familiar” road that suddenly ISN’T, because you’re on a bicycle and not in a car. It’s always a bit disconcerting to be forced to see something from a totally new perspective.

    However, this is how we learn to handle new things! I think one of the previous posters had a great point about the expectation of comfort…People forget there are things that might feel better than sitting in an air-conditioned space watching a glowing box. Comfort is fine and well, but where is the sense of adventure in the everyday? On my daily rides I actually feel alive: I sweat (it is HOT here in Georgia), I go fast and breathe hard. Sometimes I don’t make the best decisions in traffic, sometimes I get honked at, sometimes I get waved at by children, sometimes I get chased by dogs, sometimes I have a guy in an old Camaro offer to “race” me, sometimes a big truck full of drunk teenagers pulls up too close and I get a different kind of offer, sometimes I end up on the ground because of a failed curb hop.

    Life is dangerous, but the more I ride, the better I get at it. I’ve only been in one serious accident, and i learned from that as well. Hell, I cut up the bloodied shirt I was wearing and incorporated the unstained pieces into a quilt !

    I really, really hope this woman gets back on her bicycle. And I am so grateful for this site, where people understand how much riding can enhance life.

  10. JiMCi says:

    Most people first encounter with a new activity starts with lessons. You want to play tennis or golf, to drive a car? Get some training. It’s not because you rode a bike around the neighborhood when you were a kid or drove your car on the streets for years that you know how to ride a bike in traffic. The author should enroll in Cycling 101!

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