Although bicycling-as-transportation is often seen as a big city phenomenon, I’ve long felt that America’s smaller cities and towns are a more fertile environment for our movement. When it’s only a few miles from one end of town to another and traffic is light, it’s usually easier to hop on a bicycle than it is to drive a car. Smaller places are smaller by definition and traffic is almost always lighter than in larger places.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because although I still reside on the fringe of a large metro, I find that here in Ogden (population 84,249) I can pretty much live within five miles of my front door. This is a first for me. I couldn’t do it in Denver, Colorado Springs, Houston, Austin/San Antonio, Minneapolis, Chicago or Indianapolis…the other metros I’ve called home. On the rare occasion when I need to go further afield, I can combine bike and commuter rail to get just about anywhere up and down the Wasatch Front including the airport.
The reason I’m thinking about this again is the release of a report last month by the US Department of Transportation. “Small Town and Rural Multimodal Networks” provides a road map for smaller communities who want to incorporate active transportation elements and allow people to leave their cars parked or, better yet, abandon them once and for all.
Reports like this aren’t commissioned and released in a vacuum. USDOT has data that shows more Americans are seeking alternatives to the automobile and it’s a movement that’s not limited to those big, dense cities favored by young, urban hipsters. When you head over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house, you’re likely to see her and PawPaw riding bicycles. Older Americans are embracing cycling unlike any other age group. Then there’s the driver’s license issue. Much has been written about millennials opting out of the driving game, but now their parents are joining them. Not all of these folks live in big cities served by transit. In fact, most don’t live in such places. They need alternatives, and that’s where bicycles fill a very real need. Kudos to USDOT for figuring this out.
I’ve discovered that I really like living closer to home in a smaller city. Everything costs less here than it did in the big city. My wife and I share one car between us now. It usually sits parked. When we need to go somewhere, we prefer our bikes. We just saddle up and ride. It has become as natural as it used to be to get into the car. The car now feels strange.
If you live in a smaller place or think you might like to someday, check out “Small Town and Rural Multimodal Networks.” Share it with the elected officials in your favorite small city or town. Explain to them how places built around cars eventually become parking lots while places built around people become destinations.