pedalfree

Move Smarter. Live Better.

Author: pedalfree531291823 (page 1 of 2)

Where The Rails Once Ran

There’s a monument etched into a boulder on the side of the Raccoon River Valley Trail not far from my home in Jefferson.  I must have passed it a hundred times or so before I finally slowed my bike and stopped for a look the other day.  Turns out that it’s a memorial to a fatal train crash that occurred on that site back in November of 1913…a little over 100 years ago.  I knew that trains once rolled where I now ride my bike, but I always figured they were freight trains.  As it turns out, a good number of them carried people.  In fact, at that time Jefferson had two train stations  with dozens of trains arriving and departing each day to places like Des Moines and  Chicago.  What is now the Raccoon River Valley Trail was once the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad.  My rail trail was once a transportation corridor.

Abandoned rail corridors surround Jefferson. The different colors represent when they were abandoned. You can clearly see the Raccoon River Valley Trail between Jeff and Des Moines.

There’s still a scale along what used to be the railroad at Cooper . The railroads walked away from all this  infrastructure when passengers stopped showing up.

Depots like this one in Dawson once served rail passengers. Now they’re a nice place for cyclists to get out of the weather.

There was once a locomotive roundhouse on this piece of land just down the street from our house.

I imagine it probably looked a lot like this Chicago & Northwestern Roundhouse in Chicago, circa 1942.

Today, it’s all about bikes.

 

Rail transportation was popular in the US through the end of World War II, but when peace and prosperity broke out, people bought cars.  As they did, local and interurban rail  passenger traffic died off until the railroads  abandoned the service.   What was an important sector of the American economy  just vanished.   Thousands of miles of line in Iowa alone were abandoned.  Infrastructure like stations and maintenance yards were left to rot or be torn down.  Now it’s pretty much all gone.

Things can change pretty quickly.  When I talk to non-cyclists about using a bike for transportation they often scoff.   Cars are as American as apple pie, they remind me and while that’s true now, it hasn’t always been so.   Yes, they say, but we have too much invested in automobiles and automobile infrastructure now to abandon them.  Really?  I don’t think so.   It’s not like this hasn’t happened before.

I think about this now when I’m out on the trail.  When I pass a depot that has been converted into a rest area for cyclists or a little cafe, I imagine what it must have been like 70 or 80 years ago when seven or eight coal fired passenger trains stopped at that very spot each and every day.  I wonder what those passengers would have said if you told them that someday the trains would be gone and that people would use bicycles to head on down the line.  I think I know what they’d say.   I’d like to introduce them to my all-car, all-the-time friends if only it was possible.

The automobile era is rapidly winding down.  Pundits will eventually realize it was a victim of its own success.  Tomorrow’s transportation vehicles are those that will make the most sense to people in an increasingly crowded and expensive world.  I think bikes will have an over-sized role.   Maybe not.  One thing I am absolutely sure of is that transportation in a few years will look nothing like it has for the past fifty, and the impossible will happen again. It always does.

The $100,000 Bicycle

One way to become wealthy is to make a lot of money and figure out how to keep most of it.  Just about everyone I’ve ever met understands the first part of that statement. Very few have figured out the second part and it doesn’t work unless you do both.  The good news is you don’t have to make a lot of money to become wealthy.  All you really have to do is learn how to keep most of whatever it is you do make.   That’s where your bicycle comes in.

I recently listened to a Ted talk by Anthony Desnick of NiceRideMN.  In it, Mr. Desnick talked about how a lot of people would like to move into town and walk instead of driving everywhere but didn’t feel they could do it because of the high cost of real estate in walkable and bicycle friendly communities.  Then he dropped his bombshell and stated that you know, you could afford $100,000 more mortgage if you ditched your car for a bicycle.

I already knew he was right, but I crunched the numbers anyway, just to be sure.  According to AAA, the annual cost of car ownership is somewhere around $9,000 per vehicle per year.   So what’s the annual cost of $100,000 of mortgage debt?   Quite a bit less than $9,000 as it turns out:

So you’re bike is worth $100K.  Who knew?   Maybe you can afford to live in that trendy bicycle friendly urban village after all.  It gets better.   Who says that housing in that new place needs to cost $100,000 more than it does in the old place?   What if it costs about the same…or less?  That’s what happened to us when we moved from the endless sprawl of suburban Indianapolis to Jefferson Iowa.  It may be conventional wisdom that bike friendly costs more, but it doesn’t have to.  We looked and kept looking until we found what we were after.

Back to the cost of cars.  Maybe $9,000 doesn’t seem like a lot of money but when you consider that it’s per car per year for every year you own a car, it becomes significant in a hurry.  If you buy your first car when you’re 20 and finally give up the habit when you’re 80, that’s 60 years at $9.000 a year.  That’s $540,000 on cars.  If you had two cars for most of those years, you blew a million dollars.  You could have been wealthy.  Now you know.  It’s all about choices.

This is a big part of the reason I choose to ride a bicycle. The cost of owning automobiles is ugly.  It keeps people down.  It kept me down for a long time but not any more.   If you want to become wealthy, the easiest way is to stop spending money you don’t absolutely need to spend.  If you don’t want to become wealthy but just want to live better without worrying about money all the time, well, the only realistic way to do that is to eliminate the biggest expenses…like cars.  Yeah, it requires a bit of an adjustment but it’s easier than you’ve been led to believe.   I know.  My bike is money in the bank.

Why I’m Through With Clipless Pedals

I left home for my lunch hour ride earlier today with the idea that I’d pay some bills before getting in a quick 15 miles.   Usually, I take my  mountain bike when cycling around town, but today I was on my road bike since I was planning on getting in those extra miles.  Technically, it’s more of a cross bike than a true road bike but it has drop bars and I usually ride it on pavement so I call it a road bike.  Anyhow, I had just dropped off the last payment at city hall and hopped back onto the saddle when it happened.  I was a little wobbly and went to pull my foot off the pedal not realizing I had already clipped in. When I pulled up, the pain that shot through my right calf was excruciating.  I  almost went down.   Now I can barely walk.  It’s  just a nasty pull, but still…

The “go fast” bike, complete with clipless pedals.

This isn’t the first time this sort of thing has happened to me.   It seems like whenever I hurt myself on the bike it’s because of those ridiculous pedals and the cleated shoes that go along with them.  When I got home, I went online and did a little research and it confirmed what I suspected.  There’s absolutely no reason for a guy like me to have clipless pedals and cleats.   I’m getting rid of them.  Here’s why.

They’re expensive.  Clipless pedals aren’t cheap.  I figure I have $200 into mine and they’re far from top of the line. I can buy a lot of other important stuff (like cowbells) with $200.

They’re superfluous.  Once upon a time I  bought into that whole “you get more power” from clipless pedals argument.  Turns out it’s urban legend.  Scientific studies have disproven it  completely and without a shadow of a doubt.    You don’t get power from pulling up on the pedal.  You get power on the downstroke.  Clipless pedals add nothing on the downstroke,

They make me look silly.  I’m going to ride 10,000 miles this year.  A lot of those miles are going to be at 20 mph or faster.  I’m fairly serious about cycling and I’m a fairly strong cyclist.  I’m also pretty comfortable with who I am.  I don’t need to dress up like a domestique on Team Astana  every time I head out. When I walk into the local hardware store, I don’t want to look like a visitor from another planet.   That’s what happens when I try walking in cleats.

They’re dangerous.  Clipless pedals have done me wrong.  They’ve hurt me.   Meanwhile, the BMX platform pedals on my Surly Instigator have been my best friends.   Matt at Skyline Cycle in Ogden recommended them and he did me right.  I miss Matt.  My foot never slips off of them, even when doing some gnarly riding in the mountains above Ogden or the B road gravel of rural Iowa.

 

My Odyssey twisted pedals are made of hard plastic and virtually indestructible.  They’re also incredibly comfortable, even in Keen sandals.

 

 

 

There’s actually one more reason to skip the clip.  Have you ever dropped a clipped in cyclist in full kit while riding a bike with platform pedals?  If you haven’t, I’m not going to wreck it for you.  All I’m going to say is that it is an experience everyone should have….and soon!

If you love your clipless pedals, keep on keeping on.   This post is not an attempt to dissuade you from clipping in.  If, on the other hand, you’re relatively new to cycling and think you need to spend money here, maybe you don’t.  You might be better served putting that  $200 into a better bike or a professional fitting or something that will bring you more enjoyment and a little less pain, all things being equal.  Like cowbells.

Mobility Hubs Expand Bikeshare Reach

One of the biggest complaints I have with bikeshare is that most existing systems have limited reach.  They’re typically placed in the downtown district and seem to be designed more with tourists than residents in mind.   I’ve ridden bikeshare across the country and the  only exceptions I can think of are in New York, Washington, Chicago and maybe Minneapolis.   Those are all huge systems with thousands of bicycles.  Most cities don’t have the bandwidth to do what they’ve done.  That’s why I think that the mobility hub concept recently introduced in Des Moines is worthy of consideration everywhere.

In Des Moines, bikeshare is now more than just a downtown thing.

By combining docking stations like this with transit stops, officials can increase the reach of both bikeshare and transit…a true win win!

So what’s a Mobility Hub?  The concept is really simple.  Bikeshare and transit officials work together to identify transit stations outside the core where there’s enough critical mass to justify a bikeshare station.   The station is placed adjacent to the transit stop so that people can easily hop off the bus and on to a bike to get to their destination.  This solves part of a long standing problem that discourages transit use and dramatically extends the reach and visibility of bikeshare.  It also repositions bikes in the mind of residents.  Instead of just a way to have some fun tooling around downtown, bikes become transportation vehicles.

In Des Moines, the first four transit hubs are located northwest of downtown on the campus of Drake University. This is good. College students are inclined to hop on bikes anyway, and Drake’s location between downtown and the vibrant Beaverdale neighborhood makes this placement  a natural bridge.  Students can buy an annual B-cycle pass and have bicycle access to just about everything they need in Des Moines.  Visitors can combine bus and bike and not have to worry about where to park…a constant challenge on most college campuses.

This is a fundamental shift that requires people to think about the trips they take.   Instead of mindlessly reaching for the keys as we’ve done in the past, challenges like increased costs, lack of parking, congestion and climate change are going to require  us to plan more and choose differently.  Many trips will consist of more than one vehicle, and when they do, bikes and transit are natural partners.  Kudos to central Iowa officials for collaborating and pushing bikeshare in this direction.  This is as it should be.

Kids Come First

The following infographic was posted this past weekend on Twitter  by Brent Todarian, an urban planner and supporter of active transportation based  in Vancouver BC.   It’s from a grass roots movement to promote cycling in Scotland, and it does a great job of reflecting the societal disconnect between what we say and what we really believe.

 

 

If you read what I write here with any regularity, you already know this.  The problem is that other people don’t know it and there are a lot more of them than there are of us.  What’s worse, most of them don’t view cycling and walking as transportation solutions at all.  This is because they’ve constructed their lives in a manner that favors the use of a car.  They could construct their lives differently, but they don’t see any need to do so.   Preaching to these folks about the benefits of cycling is pretty much a lost cause.

Yet that’s what most cycling advocates do.  It feels to me like more of a money grab than anything real.  Hire a consultant, draft a bicycle master plan, build 2 blocks of protected bike lanes, throw down some green paint and then promote your city or town as bicycle friendly in an effort to attract tech workers.   Maybe your mayor cycles to work once or twice a year, too.  It has become a cliche, and not surprisingly, it changes nothing.

 

 

SRTS doesn’t have to be fancy. It just has to make it easier to get around on bike or foot.

So we need to rethink how we’re spending our human capital.  We need a new story to tell.   Mine starts with children.   Most parents want to talk about their children.  They love them and they want what’s best for them and there’s no doubt that bicycling is better than riding a bus or being dropped off at school in a car.   They intuitively understand this and like it.  Many of them may have ridden bicycles to school as children themselves.

So I have been thinking about this a lot.  Maybe Safe Routes to School is a way to leverage all that we know about cycling that is good.   I’ve known of SRTS for a long time but I didn’t know where it came from.  I assumed it was just some USDOT  government program.  I was wrong.  It turns out that the Safe Routes to School movement started in Denmark in the 1970s, about the same time Stop de Kindermoord was changing Dutch culture.  That’s interesting.  Two of the best cycling countries on the planet got there by focusing on the safety of children and later, after adults saw what could be done, they started cycling too.

I recently sat down with a couple of economic development people here in Iowa and Safe Routes to School came up.  I don’t think these folks really view bicycles as an economic driver, but they intuitively understand just how much sense it makes for children to cycle to school.    We talked about side paths and budgets, for sure, but we  also talked about ways we could make the streets safer for everyone and what benefits we’d gain as a community if we could.   We discussed the need for lower speed limits and a culture that supports multiple forms of transportation.  We discussed education and enforcement of existing laws, again, in the context of children.  These are things that cost pennies and return huge dividends.  They understood in a way I don’t think they would have if we were talking about  adults on bikes.

The ultimate goal of  cycling advocacy is to create cyclists.  We have to get better at it.  When we  swing the numbers our way it will be easy to flip the pyramid and get the money we need to build out infrastructure.   It’s going to take time.   Safe Routes to School is an established program that provides an opportunity to engage non-cyclists with a  compelling story and generate support.    It’s an opportunity to promote education and enforcement so that motorists don’t speed and get sloppy around crosswalks.  When this happens, everyone wins…even the motorists.

If you’re in one of the states on the map below and  interested in talking about this with an eye towards focusing local officials on bicycle friendliness, let me know.  We can start online, you can come to Iowa, or I can come to you.

Pedalfree’s service area.

 

The Future Belongs to Those Who Bike

“Bikes have a tremendous disruptive advantage over cars. Bikes will eat cars.” – Horace Dediu

There’s a lot going on in transportation and human mobility these days.  We’re  sitting at a strategic inflection point.  Think Internet, circa 2000.   Just like then, very few people understand how dramatic the changes that lie ahead will be.  Just like then, they will happen far more quickly than most of us can imagine.  The wheels have been set in motion.  There is no going back.

One of the unsung benefits of bicycling for transportation is reclaiming space lost to the automobile.

This is good for those of us who love bicycles.  I say this with absolute  confidence.  Moving around the country  has given me a certain perspective I wouldn’t otherwise have.  The world is getting more crowded.   It’s so obvious.  I saw it along Colorado’s Front Range in the 1980s and again in  the endless sprawl of Minnesota’s Twin Cities ten years later.  More recently, I lived it along the crowded IH35 corridor between Austin and San Antonio and again along Utah’s Wasatch Front as both of these metroplexes exploded with people.  In hindsight, our move to rural Iowa was as much about finding the last uncrowded place as it was anything else.

Open space is rapidly disappearing and as it does, more and more of us are beginning to question just how much of what’s left should be allocated to people as opposed to personal automobiles.    For the last 75 years or so, cars have ruled.  That’s starting to change.  We’re beginning to understand just how much we’ve had to give up to accommodate our cars.  The vitriol directed at things like self driving cars and bicycles suggests to me that many people understand that the ground is about to shift under their feet.  Change always freaks us out and this time is no different in that regard.  That said, change is inevitable.   Change is the only constant.

 Horace Dediu “gets” this.  He’s a technologist, so his realm is in leveraging tools to create solutions.  We ascribe a sort of magic to technology, but that’s misleading. Technology is  just about leveraging tools.  When it comes to moving humans with the smallest possible footprint and consumption of power, there is no tool quite like a bicycle.  Throw on a tiny electric motor and you eliminate virtually all of the objections to cycling as transportation.   You won’t labor.  You won’t sweat.   Going uphill is a breeze.  Yes, I know, sometimes it rains.   That’s what GoreTex is for.

And so I’m absolutely convinced that Horade Dediu is right.  He views bikes as similar to other transformational technologies, like Amazon, for example.  Amazon ate Borders for an appetizer.  Now it’s eating everything else in the retail space.

Bicycles are going to eat cars…not because I like bikes, but rather because bicycles are a sustainable solution in a world that is pushing up against unmovable limits. Cars aren’t sustainable…not even tiny electric ones.  Our world badly needs more sustainable solutions .   Bicycles solve the space problem.   They help mitigate the effects of climate change and reduce road building budgets.  Bicycles help us live closer and better.   They help make us healthier.   Folks can embrace the future or they can resist it, but either way that rumbling  sound you hear isn’t going away.  It’s the change  tsunami and it will engulf us whether we want it to or not.   I believe life is better on the front side of the wave.  I know for absolute certain that life is better on a bike.  That’s why I do this.  You, too, I hope.

Find your bike.  Saddle up.  Ride.

A Deep Yearning For Something Simple

It’s RAGBRAI week in Iowa and even though we’re only two days in, I’ve come to the unmistakable conclusion that RAGBRAI is worthy of all the praise that is heaped on it from points both near and far.  For the uninitiated, RAGBRAI is the (Des Moines) Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.  It was the brainchild of two reporters who thought it was strictly a one and done kind of thing, but they’ve been doing it for 45 years now and it’s stronger than ever.  It’s the granddaddy of all state bicycle tours, and people come from all over the world to participate.

The idea behind RAGBRAI is pretty simple.  Start somewhere out by the Missouri River and finish on the Mississippi.  In fact, tradition demands that you dip your rear tire into Big Muddy before starting and your front tire in Old Man River to finish.   In between, you spend seven days and a little over 400 miles  on Iowa two lane.   At night you’ll get to sample seven different small towns where you are celebrated and treated like prodigal sons and daughters who have finally found their way home.  The route changes every year and it’s quite an honor to be chosen as an overnight town.  The competition is fierce and local communities like Orange City (this year’s night one town) pull out all the stops.

 

 

One thing that strikes me about RAGBRAI  is that it isn’t over-commercialized like so many similar events.  Take the official jersey.  It’s corporate logo free.  That’s pretty rare in this day and age.   RAGBRAI Is also focused on small towns instead of the big city.   The Tour of France finishes on the Champs Elysee.  This year’s RAGBRAI finishes in Lansing, Iowa, which is about as far from Paris (both geographically and ideologically) as one can possibly be.  Sure, we get the occasional big name.  Lance Armstrong showed up a while back and Counting Crows played one of the towns a few years ago, but it’s not about them…not even a little.

RAGBRAI is more Woodstock than Tour de France. Many participants are not everyday riders as evidenced by equipment like this improvised helmet.

And therein lies the magic.   RAGBRAI isn’t about the big shots.   It isn’t really even about bicycles.  The bike is just an excuse to set off on a week long barnstorming tour of small town middle America.   RAGBRAI is really about those small towns and eating on the lawn and listening to music and camping out with 8,500 of your closest pals between seven day long bike rides.  It’s about renewing old friendships and making new ones.  It’s about reconnecting with something that, deep down, we know we’ve either already lost or are at grave risk of losing.  There’s a hunger for this and it’s broad and deep.  It’s visceral.  It’s palpable.   This is the real thing.

And so people come to Iowa for a week every summer to seek out the simple that they have been denied in the rest of their lives.  They get on a bicycle and in the process they become children again.  They come for the magic without understanding that they are the magic and can make every day magic if they want to.  Some are undoubtedly changed.  So are we.   They make us all better as a result.

So welcome to RAGBRAI and welcome to Iowa.   We’re glad you’re here and we’re glad you brought your bikes.  Ride on.

A Tale of Two Grocery Stores

There’s something jarring about going back to a place where you used to live and discovering that “your” grocery store has been shuttered and abandoned.  There are a lot of retail stores closing these days, but grocery stores tend to be more personal than most.  We take them for granted until they’re gone and when they go they leave a big hole in the community.

It once was a grocery. Now it’s blight.

Red is dangerous, yellow means caution. The yellow lines would be green if motorists wouldn’t race up these access roads.

I was back in suburban Indianapolis last week and on the way out of town I met my daughter for dinner.  That gave me an opportunity to see “our” old grocery store.  It finally succumbed after years of bad management decisions and an inability or unwillingness to compete based on the new rules of retail.

The first thing that struck me as I drove up was the empty parking lot.  What an epic waste of space.  It’s bigger than the store.  Juxtaposed against the adjacent neighborhood, it looks like you could put 15-20 homes on that land.  I also noticed the lack of sidewalks.   Here in Iowa, sidewalks are everywhere.  No sidewalks and acres of parking make non-motorized access a challenge.  I guess that’s why I never noticed a bike here.

Even so, this is one of the better commercial developments in town.  There’s access from a lightly traveled street on the backside which makes it easier for cyclists and pedestrians, all things being equal.  It also wasn’t out along the highway on the edge of town.  If you think about it, local people are a grocery store’s bread and butter.  There’s absolutely no reason to build on the main road, but that’s where many suburban stores are these days.  That decision alone virtually forces people to come by car.

It is slowly occurring to me that the way commercial sites are developed discourages people from accessing them by any means other than a personal automobile.    I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be parking, but how much and where you put it matters a great deal.  Is it possible for pedestrians and bicyclists to safely access the development?    It wasn’t there.  The three access roads from the rear and right side were virtual racetracks.   Access from the front required one to navigate the parking lot.   None of these scenarios were ideal.

Intelligent design. The low speed limits on surrounding streets combined with entry points that allow cyclists and pedestrians to bypass most of the parking lot make this approach a winner.

That’s why I love the new Hy-Vee store in Jefferson.   At first glance, it appears that there’s almost as much parking here as there is at the Marsh store in Brownsburg but the positioning is completely different.  The speed limit on the surrounding streets is 25 mph.  The store is embedded in the town’s grid, so people are already traveling more slowly.  There are sidewalks on both sides of the store and no long access roads.    It’s just a few feet from the street to the three bike racks.  It’s safe and easy for cyclists and pedestrians.    Last time I was here, I saw an 80ish woman on a 3-wheeler.  That’s something you wouldn’t ever see in the burbs.  It’s also easy for motorists.  This design works for everyone, regardless of their mode of transit.

And so I’m glad that we’re starting to see more and more of this type of development, even in places like suburban Indy where speed and car convenience still rules the day.  Just down the road from the abandoned Marsh store, developers are building the town’s first mixed use, high density development.  Since the end of World War II, our built environment has been focused on the convenience of motorists at the expense of everyone else.   That’s starting to change.  The payoff is safer, more livable communities.  Who doesn’t want that?

 

Cycling When Business Calls

I don’t travel much on business these days, but I had to hit the road this week.  We had a series of meetings at company headquarters in Indianapolis.   It was to be a fast and busy trip.  In on Thursday morning and out on Friday afternoon.    We had a team building event Thursday evening until 9:00 PM.   I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to cycle.  This is kind of a big deal to me since one of my goals for the year is to cycle five miles or more every day.  I don’t think I’m obsessive-compulsive about it, but we’re 194 days in and I haven’t missed yet so I wanted to keep the streak alive.

Good morning Indianapolis. Let’s roll.

They say that where there’s a will, there’s a way and I believe that.  I was able to get five-plus miles in each day while fulfilling the obligations to my company and co-workers.    Here’s how I did it.

First, I did a little pre-trip research before I left our home in Iowa.  I knew that Indy has B-cycle bike share and so I identified the closest station to my hotel.  It was right across the street.  I also reviewed the hours and discovered that I could rent a bike until midnight.   That meant I could ride late if I had to and I did.

I also downloaded the Zagster app to my phone.  Zagster is a private sector bike share company that works with hotels, universities and even individual companies.  I didn’t realize that they had a presence in Indy but they do.    The app automatically locks in on the closest bikes.   I also discovered that Zagster has bikes in Peoria Illinois and they’re available 7/24.  In a worst case, I could stop in Peoria and get my miles in on the way back home.

Heading into Fountain Square. You’ll get to know your destination better on a bike.

While doing my recon, I also discovered Spinlister.  This is a national service that allows you to rent a bike from a private party.  You can even specify the kind of bike  (mountain, road, fat, cruiser, fixxie, etc.) you’d like to rent and the number of days you need it for.   Spinlister might not be practical for a quick trip, but if you’re going to be in a place for 3 or more days and have the flexibility to store the bike, it is a great option.   I’ll use Spinlister if we fly to Arizona to visit my folks later this year.

Last, but not least, local bike shops are often an option if you need a bike for a day or two.  Be sure to check and see if your destination city has a bike cooperative.  Even if they can’t rent you a bike, they can often tell you where you can find the best deal.

Bottom line, you don’t have to stop riding when you hit the road for business or pleasure.  All it requires is a little planning.  The payoff is that you’ll often discover things about your destination that you never would in a car.  Best of all, you get to keep on rolling.

37,000 People Per Day

This is a short video of the busiest cycle path in the Netherlands.  The street is named Vredenburg.  There’s a marketplace nearby.   It’s in Utrecht, a mid-sized city of 330,000 that dates back to the 8th century.  Vrendenburg averages about 37,000 cyclists per day.  Try to look at the first 35 seconds of the video if not the whole thing.  It shows what the street used to look like before bicycles became the preferred method of moving around Dutch cities.

I often hear from people that this sort of thing would never work here in the United States.

“Of course it would.” I challenge them.

“No, Europe’s different.”  they claim.  “Their cities are older and more compact”

“Hmmm.  Older, yes.  More compact?  Not necessarily.”

The Chicago Loop is as compact as any European city.

Land is scarce in Utah, so cities here tend to be compact as well. But even in mostly compact Ogden, the waste is obvious. It’s almost always driven by a need to accommodate automobiles.

Salt Lake City. I’m on a train on the TRAX Green Line.Parking and gas pumps are not the “highest and best use.”

Downtown Indianapolis. This isn’t inevitable. This is a choice…a bad choice.

Vredenburg, Utrecht.  This is also a choice.  It didn’t just happen.

Some American cities are quite compact.  Others aren’t.  It’s mostly about available space.  That’s why Detroit sprawls while Pittsburgh mostly doesn’t.  Most of Europe doesn’t have the luxury of carving up virgin cornfields, so they look at land use a little differently than we do.   When land is scarce,  allocating it to automobiles make no sense.

That’s the crux of the matter right there.  The reason most of our cities are not as compact as European cities is because we’ve chosen to build them around automobiles and they’ve chosen differently.  The results of this choice are stark.   Their cities are mostly thriving.  Ours are mostly dying.  We could fix this.  Maybe we should.   You already know this.  You wouldn’t have made it this deep into the post if you didn’t mostly agree.  The people we need to reach are not here.   They’re our friends and neighbors who think that biking is a peculiar hobby and nothing more when in fact it is the answer to what ails us.  Please share this with them.  Help them understand that they hold the power to make their very own cities and towns more livable.  We can’t do it alone.  We need their help.  There is no other way.

Thank you.

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