Autumn is trying to poke at me so that I know it’s coming, by being gray and cool in the mornings. But at home I am too busy with preparations to notice, and by the time I have ridden my bike to work I am too warm to be affected, so Autumn gets indignant and lets the sky go blue again. It will get really mad soon, and stay. As hard as we try to hang on to the summer, with the days of the verylongsun and the sweating beer bottles, and impatient as we may be for the next new feeling, for the football and the different set of holidays – the REAL holidays – the seasons can always out wait us. And they will come when they want to, no matter what we do. Unless we keep driving SUVs, then we wreck the whole shebang, turn the seasons on their heads, and OMG how’s that Mars colonization coming?
I was held up this morning when the swing bridge opened for a container ship to pass through. The cyclists start piling up when this happens:
If you make it bigger, you get a better idea. By the time the path opened again, there was close to thirty people on bikes waiting to go. There was one guy on a recumbent, whose disappointment must have been great when nobody made special notice of him, despite riding up on his “hey-look-at-me” tool for social posturing.
The cycle-cluster highlights a problem with modeling the future of bicycle infrastructure. All the enlightened social engineers are calling for it, believing that the more people in a city you can get to ride bikes, the closer that city is to the absolution of its sins against humanity. I read an article recently to that effect. The accompanying photo shows about ten people riding bikes. Not a single one of them wearing a helmet, and one of them texting away with her head down. You can smell the legislation barreling down the bike path. Of course the article also does what these articles always do: Points to a country, Denmark, probably no bigger than Maine, and looks to juxtapose its infrastructure onto American cities like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, et al. Fat chance
The other thing the article’s photo highlights is the Mary Poppins style of riding going on. Anyone who commutes by bike here in America knows that there are widely varied levels of fitness, skill, equipment, and intensity on display. When 20 cyclists get bunched up, you can bet that at least 5 of them think they’re the next Lance Armstrong, with the speed and level of urgency dropping off from there, all the way down to pre-tornado Dorothy. It’s ugly when the gates go up on the bridge and the riders all take off. So if you build a highway for bikes, the first thing you’ll have to do is regulate the speed. To slow people down, yes, but also to speed people up. The ugliness awaits.
Ah, well. Cities will continue to do their best to make biking easier and safer, and that’s cool. I hope some intelligent planners are working on the problem, and not a bunch of utopia hunters just trying to parrot a few small European models. Overall, though, the appeal that cycling has for me lies in its mostly solitary nature. You don’t have to mess with a tangle of other people – just put your head down, turn the pedals, and enjoy the breeze. That might not last. So be it.
My daughter has her training wheels off. Maybe by the time she’s riding to school, biketopia will be ours. Go Denmark.