Thursday, November 24, 2011

Invisible Routes (by Mark Canizaro)

My friend Mark Canizaro originally posted this on his double-secret blog on 11/10/11. I talked him into guest posting it here. -- Kent

Invisible Routes

A friend thanked me today for showing him a new cycling route last week. He said it with a significant amount of surprise. He's a very experienced cyclist. We had ridden a pleasant route on a neighborhood street, bypassing a bad arterial with almost constant conflicts. At the time I had to take some shit for not riding on the really bad street we usually ride on. This is not the first time.

I am truly baffled by this.

There is finally some talk on the internet about driver privilege. It's about time! I feel like I've been a lone voice for a long time, and frankly not a very effective voice. I'm glad the discussion is spreading. It's time cyclists stopped blaming themselves.

It worries me how many cyclists both fall victim to this kind of thinking, and by repeating it, propagate it further. I know many cyclists, car-free, bike transportation people, who insist on riding on the most unpleasant roads... "because we can". I am very capable of riding in heavy car traffic, I've done it successfully for over 30 years. I know the law well and I know we have a right to do it. A legal right and a moral right.

I passionately believe, as i have for 40 years, that bikes are transportation not toys. I believe... I know that we are equal to (and often superior) to cars. These ideas are becoming more widespread, as they should.

But why are so many cyclists afraid to admit that bicycling is fun?!? Why do so many cyclists make such a strong effort to make their own ride unpleasant? It's like they think we have to suffer for it to be acceptable... just because people in cars are suffering. Maybe they think if they admit that riding is fun they will somehow lose the right to be part of the transportation system? That's an understandable unconscious fear I think we all struggle with. (There's a future blog post in that idea.)

But that concern is based in the cultural idea that we, as cyclists, are doing something inherently wrong and it seems many of us feel we have to pay for that by suffering as much as possible. What's so wrong with riding down a pleasant street instead of jumping into the middle of an angry polluted mob of death machines?

I'm not saying we shouldn't be on major streets, and I don't want to be misconstrued in any way that makes it seem like I'm trying to move bikes down the hierarchy below cars. Bicycles should be allowed on any street and streets through shopping districts should be made as (truly) bicycle friendly as possible. But really, as cyclists, we need to be a lot better at route finding. Enjoying the commute makes cycling more legitimate, not less.

I'm not talking about doubling the distance or anything. On occasion the more pleasant routes are a tad longer, usually they are the same distance -- and even when they are longer, a quarter of a mile here and there seems well worth it to me. (I like riding my bike!) There are a few cases where the nasty route is considerably shorter, but that's rare. And in many of those cases, considering all the factors, I would still advocate for the pleasant route.

I don't understand why cyclists absolutely freak out when a pleasant route is suggested over a nasty one. The resistance is huge. And it happens almost every time I suggest one. I automatically brace myself for it now. They often shut me down before I finish the sentence, like I'm being vulgar, or more likely, breaking a taboo.

They never come right out and say it, but it's clear that many cyclists think there is some kind of surrender involved in riding a quiet, pleasant route rather than a miserable route full of cars. As if it were a moral lapse, a spiritual sacrifice, an ideological flaw, a personal weakness or a political capitulation to commute by bike and actually enjoy it.

Perhaps they have a unresolved feeling transplanted from other modes that commuting, getting from one place to another, is supposed to be very unpleasant, so if they actually enjoy it, they are cheating, not doing it right; might as well just forget it and drive a car. And that's the experienced riders, most new or prospective cyclists, after they get over their surprise that there ARE other routes, react with concern to a suggestion of a residential route for fear that it might be longer or more hilly. I understand that fear, although I think it is misplaced in a couple of ways: it's often not longer and so what if it is!

Strangely I find that when pushed into the more pleasant route, most people prefer it, but they feel very guilty! Time and distance aside, there is just so much more benefit from riding the backstreets. It's better exercise, great experiences, educational and just fun. It is living well.

Sometimes in our car-head, motorist privileged culture people just forget that there is any landscape, any city scape, any neighborhood, any real estate that is not on major streets. Everything else becomes invisible. This is a serious mistake.

So I'm not suffering. I'm not wishing I was in a car and I'm not wishing I was on that highway fighting with cars. I'm enjoying seeing, experiencing, learning about and enjoying my city, the people, the weather, the landscape and my ride through it. I absolutely love experiencing these streets, being a part of these neighborhoods. Being there. It's why I ride.
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