tisdag 15 oktober 2013

Biking for life


I don't remember when I learned to ride a bike but I remember how. My father ran behind me on the lawn holding the carrier on a red bike that once belonged to my older sister. Suddenly, I heard his voice far away and looked behind me. He was no longer holding the carrier, he was far behind. I got angry at him for letting go and screamed; "Why aren´t you holding the bike?!" The next moment I was overjoyed and realized why and continued; “I´m riding a bike!” and I have done so even since. I think that most people have had similar experiences. We feel that learning how to bike is a given thing. But a while ago I read about a housing estate in the UK where a three-year old girl was told by the police that it was forbidden to ride bicycles in the area, that had a “no bikes no ball games policy" because they were afraid that real estates and cars can be damaged. I think it sad with such a development when things should go the other way. Sad when people believe that a little girl on a bicycle really can cause potentially greater damage than a big truck or car. Here is the full story about the residential area if you want to read more about it; 

I have biked over 3000 miles this year and you feel really vulnerable. I'm probably not alone in having been passed by large trucks on small roads, they don´t only drive at high speed pass you, they are honking at the same time. You start to wobble and you come closer to an accident than you should, had they only slowed down and ignored the signal horn. Most bike paths are quite narrow and often shared with pedestrians, and some roads that are labeled bicycle paths, are actually smaller trafficked roads.

It feels wrong because even if a cyclist is a kind of vehicle, it is very vulnerable to collisions with motor vehicles, especially if they are passing by with a speed faster than 18 mph. Safety on cycle paths feels like a constant concern. It is said that Denmark and the Netherlands are well ahead of many other countries in terms of urban planning, based on cyclists and pedestrian’s perspective. City planners often talk about having "a living Centre" with thriving shops in the city center. But why not do both?

Some cities are doing it already; they build their biggest shopping malls outside the city centers. A must, however is good cycling routes, dense and cheap public transportation to the shopping malls, so they are an alternative to taking the car. I hope the next step is to make town centers free of motor vehicles, with the exception of emergency vehicles and in some limited time a day transports vehicles. More green areas in the city centers, parks and why not embrace a Chinese concept with ping-pong, chess tables and other physical and mental activities.

Outdoor gyms should be standard in parks and Green City Centers. At the outdoor gyms you can go to different stations and use your body weight in the workout. Gentle exercise for children and the elderly and of course everyone in between. Bike paths allow people to take the easy and smooth path in and through the Center. The café and restaurant sector would increase when as city centers becomes green oases with cleaner air and slower pace where people come to eat, socialize and train as well as to shop. I don't think the commerce would suffer, but we need to develop and update the trade into the twenty-first century. There is nothing to prevent, stores like electronics in the center that does not stock products but only holds the display copy where they can demonstrate how products work. The products can be ordered and then collected from the warehouse in the city's outskirts or better still be transported home to the customers. We should in much lesser extent run cars to the market and physically carry heavy goods.

Imagine a car park that can accommodate 1000 cars. Think about how much asphalt it requires, it´s cracking up of all heavy vehicles and needs repair time after time, the parking lot surface is covering up such a large area, with no place for anything else. There is not a tree as far as the eye can reach. How does it feel to inhale the stinking sulfur pollutant air?

Now imagine a bike parking with the capacity of 1000 cycles. Do you think this parking even take half the space as the car park? Let´s fit in a few boule courts, some chess tables and ping pong tables. A park with trees and benches where people can sit and read and chat, and maybe a small pond with ducks too. Which would you prefer?
From an environmental aspect I don´t think that we should continue to produce cars that run on gasoline or diesel. Fossil fuels will run out and by walking around in polluted cities our health and nature will deteriorate. I don´t believe it´s wrong with congestion charges but then it should be done while a big expansion and nationalization of transport. When the public transport is well developed and the cost to travel that way is dropped really low then the congestion charges should be so high that people are choosing to travel collectively because it is significantly cheaper. If we manufacture motor vehicles they must be operate in a manner that does not contaminate the environment like electric, ethanol or biofuel in sunnier countries even solar energy.
Smaller countries should and I believe that they easily could nationalize the public transport system and expand it so that people more easily can get around by train, bus, tram, subway and similar. It is also important that taking the bicycle on a train is easy and preferably free of charge, which in some countries is already a fact but I believe that most trains don´t really have that possible. I remember once when I had to sit at the back in a small booth and hold the bicycle, and in addition to the ticket price to pay extra for bringing the bike in cash because they alleged that it was not possible to pay by other means, no one would even consider taking something extra for a baby carriage or a wheelchair that would actually take up more space than a bicycle. The expansion of the public transport should be financed by tax money and be close to free at least for all taxpayers in the country. Public transport could really be an alternative to taking the car which it barely is today. Then I think less people would choose to take the car or even get a car at all. That would mean less wear and tear on the roads and perhaps lesser repairs and over all a reduced costs. And heavy transports have to take place primarily on freight trains and cargo ships instead of being in trucks on the roads. I develop the idea a bit more in my post on trucks

A bit of a utopia of course but I hope that it is a cleaner world that could be realistic if a development can

begin to move in that direction, at least for our grandchildren.Cycling is the cheapest option after walking. The wear and tear on the roads would be reduced and we could have green routes (truck free) where only electric, ethanol and biofuel vehicles are allowed to drive, and close by a wide bike path that doesn’t get narrow and no motor vehicles are allowed to drive at all. Wide Green bike roads should go from the biggest cities in a country and then each municipality, state or province in between have a responsibility that their piece of the cycle path will be built, they should receive earmarked tax money to be used to bike paths completely free of motor vehicles, think it requires that there is an organization within each municipality who is an expert on cycling issues so that this is taken into account from a bicycles perspective. These Green bike road should be tied together with the smaller bike paths from neighboring municipalities and then slowly build up a bicycle infrastructure with a network of bike paths. This would also increase bike tourism, especially in Europe, I think there is a great interest to bicycle through countries, a new and cheaper form of backpacking. That would create a greater need for hostels and Bed and breakfast establishments, especially in rural areas and along the Green network. Some might think it sound unrealistic but I believe we must work towards such an objective in the long term.
There are so many benefits to riding a bike instead of taking the car, I want to mention a few. You get better physical fitness and get in better shape of riding a bike than to drive a car. If we bike to a greater extent than today, there may be a noticeable improvement in public health. If we become healthier, we can avoid small injuries better, the problems with obesity would decline, we would be healthier and less stressed which would give a most needed relief for both hospital care and psychiatric health. Lesser vehicles would limit the exhaust fumes, that makes a cleaner environment with clean air that is easier to breathe.
It was some of my reflections on cycling and things I think we can think of in terms of a long-term and more lasting change in the infrastructure. Cycling has always been something of a people movement, and we can ride bikes in different ways, it's just a very small part of us that are road bicyclists’ racers. It´s also cycling as a social meeting point, for example, events such as the Tweed run/Tweed rides, where you ride around in cities on old bikes dressed in tweed costumes, eating scones and drinking tea. This movement began in London 2009 and then spread from UK to other places and countries all over the world. England, Scotland, The United States, Canada, Greece, Germany, Mexico, Australia, Japan, Denmark, The Netherlands, Sweden and Finland are just a few of the countries that have Tweed runs.
Here are some links if you want to read more about Tweed runs;

Another social people movement in bicycling, is the one that documentary film maker Frederik Gerrten started; he made the acclaimed film Bananas about how a multinational company are using pesticides within the banana industry. His new documentary film is about how vulnerable cyclists' is worldwide, how they must fight against politicians that refuse to build safe bike paths and even claims that cyclists who dies in the roads is entirely to blame themselves.
If you want to read more about this important fight for cyclists all over the world, about how the cycling climate looks in the world today. Take a look at this site;

Did I forget to include something about the important aspects of bicycling? Then post a comment and let me know, so it can be added. Thank you for taking your time to read. 

Ride your bike safely!

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