Recently I was asked why I do this. Why I bike with my kids. I didn’t answer the question very well, so I’m going to try again.
First things first. Biking four little kids (including twins) looks absolutely totally crazy. It is absolutely totally crazy. Taking four little kids (including twins) in a car is just as chaotic, I’m just different and more visible because I’m on a bike. Taking one or two kids on an electric cargo bike is a piece of cake. Seriously, it’s super easy, once you have a routine. Note also that you need a routine to drive, you just already have it.
Next. Every mode of transport has its hassles. On a bus you are limited to the routes and schedules of the bus. If you walk, you are limited by distance, unless you run, in which case you are limited by fitness and the availability of a shower. If you drive you are limited by traffic and parking and actually, you know, owning and maintaining a large expensive inefficient vehicle. The hassles of biking are mostly in hills, weather, and the danger from cars.
We have a decent network of on-street bike lanes, quiet neighborhood streets, and a few trails, so we can mostly avoid the danger from cars. We also avoid going out of our neighborhood when traffic is heaviest. For the hills we have electric assist, and we have rain gear for the weather that just isn’t that bad most of the time.
I prefer the hassles of biking over the hassles of driving. I don’t like sitting in traffic, I don’t like circling the lot looking for a spot, and I find it all very stressful. Because I choose the hassles of biking over the hassles of driving, we don’t contribute to pollution, we don’t contribute to congestion, and we don’t take up a parking space. We also don’t contribute to the demand for a car-centric society.
Demand for parking spreads destinations apart, lengthening commutes, eating up open space, and making the walk harder. Demand for congestion-free travel makes intersections bigger, crossings longer, and puts people in danger. Requiring a car to travel puts a great hardship on those who cannot drive due to age (either too old or too young), physical ability (permanent or temporary (also)), or finances. When we drive we are isolated in metal boxes and the people around us cease to be people but become others: the jerk who cut me off or took my parking spot, the biker in the way, the pedestrian I had to stop for. We are isolated from our communities, traveling through places rather than to places. Demand for driving kills more than 30,000 people per year in the United States alone.
Cars give the illusion of freedom, but it’s all a big lie. We are “stuck in traffic.” We are shackled to the school run because cars make it not safe for kids to walk or bike on their own. We struggle to afford the car that’s necessary to get around – maybe we even need a second job to afford it. The fights over parking are so desperate because we can’t even get out of our cars unless we have a place to put them. Cars make us fat, grumpy, and lonely. This isn’t freedom.
This isn’t meant as a judgement on you, dear reader. Most likely you live where you truly don’t have any other options, because that’s what we’ve built in the last half-century or so because that’s what our government policies encourage. For our family, we live where we live because we really really really wanted to be able to walk to the grocery store. (Also we wanted Mark to have a short commute.) We drove everywhere else in those days. It turns out that this is one of the most bikable locations in the region. But there are only a few dozen houses in our neighborhood for which the store is easily walkable. To do this right, our house would not be a house, but an apartment building. More than one family could live on this lot, and then more families would be able to walk. We live in a house because that’s what’s available across the street from the store.
This may be one of the most bikable areas in the region, but it still requires skill and bravery to bike here, especially if you need to travel when traffic is heavy. Paint-only bike lanes on busy streets are not comfortable for most people, so most people don’t bike. Intersections are particularly exposed: bike lanes disappear, cars turn in front of bikes, people driving don’t yield as required, people are distracted. I don’t blame you if you don’t bike.
Even if you can’t bike, there are things you can do. Advocate for safe infrastructure for walking and biking. Advocate for density in the areas that are walkable and bikeable. Don’t fight against apartment buildings. Don’t ask for more parking, especially free parking. If there’s anywhere you can walk or bike, do it. Be creative. Understand the costs of parking. Understand the costs of road building. Understand induced demand. Hold the line on no new roads. Understand that if your neighborhood doesn’t build more housing, people will drive through it from farther away. Understand the power you wield when driving a car, and take commensurate care.
Most of all, I do what I do in the hopes that others will do it too. I want to live in a place that’s not ruined by cars, so I bike.