Wednesday, July 02, 2008

your ride and how it changes your trip - part 1

In Chicago, I try to drive as little as possible. The car can be more of a trap than a source of freedom in densely populated areas. Endless hours are wasted in traffic jams, creating a greater sense of urgency about reaching a destination and enough frustration to motivate risky behavior. I've seen otherwise reasonable drivers become raging maniacs on our clogged streets. The current price of gas increases the rage. The pleasure of our journeys has been mostly replaced by grimly creeping in traffic towards the destination. However, my experiences on a bike are a different story.

The bike is a means of transportation that is affordable to all income levels. It promotes interaction with the environmental and is not threatening. In contrast, a car is a bubble around its occupants, more likely to create social isolation, with potential to injure or kill others.

Traveling in neighborhoods where I am a minority, I've been the target of hostility when I am driving. BTW, it's a 20-year-old Honda Civic, not some fancy car. I've been yelled at, spit at, cut off in traffic, and been on the receiving end of nasty racial slurs, all while driving reasonably, without hostility. If I ride my bike in those same areas, at the same times of day, the response is more friendly - a smile, a wave, a little kid riding alongside smiling and just being a kid. If I'm waiting for a bus, the response is usually neutral or friendly. I am not isolated by the car. We are on equal footing.

A car junkie's perception is often focused on how much time is spent sitting in traffic and how much hassle it is to find parking. There may be beautiful gardens, interesting shops, interesting architecture and other small-scale pleasures along the way. A pedestrian or cyclist could easily see them and be able to stop and check them out. Either might have conversations with others while waiting at lights. A driver might miss them entirely, preoccupied with getting through the next light before it turns red, or angry at being cut off by another driver or simply traveling too fast to notice them.

Riding a bike in Chicago has given me a much deeper appreciation for the cultural richness and green spaces of the city than I could ever have in a car. Being able to stop and smell the roses can be a reality, not just some old cliche. And I'm not paying $$$ to any oil company for the privilege.

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