When I got back on the bicycle one May evening in 2013 after many years of not cycling, I had no idea how it was going to change my world. I just wanted to lose a few pounds and running wasn’t working for me so I pulled the bike out of the garage, saddled up and headed out. Little did I know what forces I had unleashed.
Bicycling hasn’t so much changed my life as it has simply brought it into clearer focus. I still believe the same things I’ve always believed, but now I know why I believe them. I also know that they’re all connected. So what are these things? Here are the big three…
Scarce resources are valuable and should be treated as such.
Oil and gas are scarce and require a great deal of sacrifice to produce. People die extracting these minerals from the ground and shipping them to consumers. Oil tankers run aground. Pipelines are built across sacred land. The list goes on and on.
Most of these costs are hidden from consumers. This is by design, because if we recognized the true cost of these resources, many of us would opt to use less of them. I do recognize these costs. I think about them every time I stop at the pump or turn the thermostat up. I don’t want to consume mindlessly. I want to use as little as I need. That’s a big part of why I choose to bicycle or take shared transit instead of driving a car whenever possible.
Communities should be built around people instead of transportation machines.
Movement is part of life, but life is greater than just movement. So why is it that our cities have been built around cars instead of people? Whose idea was that?
I’m not a transportation planner, but when you ride a bike as much as I do you begin to see things differently. Here’s something I see. The average strip center devotes twice as much space to parking as it does shopping. That’s insane. Eliminate the need to store all these cars and you can build the same development on 1/3 of the land. This, in turn, would make it easier to bicycle or walk to these stores. It would make development less expensive and result in less runoff and a whole host of other environmental benefits. See, everything really is connected.
Developers are beginning to recognize that this is a problem for a lot of us and that’s why we’re staring to see a proliferation of “faux downtown” developments where the stores open in on each other and the parking is pushed to the periphery. This is progress because it recognizes people, not cars, are the center of activity but it’s not enough. It’s pretending to care while still building around cars. Such developments are typically islands surrounded by a sea of parking. Fortunately, more and more places are recognizing this and encouraging developers to eliminate the car piece. I hope this trend continues.
When we act responsibly, we fix what’s broken.
When I started cycling again, I was broken. Now I’m mostly fixed. It wasn’t anything I did. It just sort of happened. The more I cycled, the better I got.
It’s the same with our places. I am a passionate defender of the natural world and so it makes me sick to think that when I drive and needlessly consume scarce resources, I am asking my elected officials to choose between preserving the environment and destroying it. I know it’s popular these days to blame other people for everything, but the simple fact is that things don’t happen in a vacuum. The reason drilling and mining is profitable is because people have an insatiable thirst for it. Not me. Not any more.
That’s the crux of it for me right there. I’ve been complicit in enough destruction. I don’t want to destroy any more. I’m not playing this game any longer. I either have to take a stand and become part of the solution or I will remain part of the problem. I want to spend whatever time I have left fixing and healing. My bike is the tool that makes that possible for me, and so here I am.
Everything is connected.
I didn’t realize that by getting on a bicycle I was making a statement about building communities around people. I didn’t understand that I was taking one small step to preserve the natural world for those who follow.
Now I know, and it makes me very happy. These things are too important to me, and so I can’t remain silent about them. This is what I believe. I had to slow down to see it. My bike slowed me down and when it did, I saw. Now that I have, I’m doubling down. There’s no going back…only forward towards our shared destiny. We can either live in communities centered on people or we can continue the insanity of building around machines. We can continue to destroy the natural world or we can choose to protect it. These are choices we should make consciously. It’s time for us to collectively wake the hell up. Bikes are a big part of the solution. Bikes matter.