Why the Bike Lane is the Golf Course of the 21st Century

Hello Dear Readers,

The Sightline Daily, a blog affiliated with a Northwest policy think tank, published an article I wrote about my Stevens Fellowship experience.

You can read the article here!

A funny story about how the opportunity with Sightline came about. I was waiting at a stoplight near Mercer Street in Seattle in late November and this guy pulled up to me (on his bicycle) and commented on how bad the bicycle infrastructure was at that particular intersection.

He noticed that I had no “biking clothes” on and asked me if I’d ever heard of Copenhagen Cycle Chic.  “Copenhagen Cycle Chic is my favorite blog!” I told him. Then we started talking bike politics and eventually I realized he was Alan Durning, the founder of the Sightline Institute. I’ve been reading the Sightline blog and using their research in my work for years.

I really like that this Sightline article came about because of a conversation that started on the bike lane (or..errr…lack of bike lane).  Who needs the golf course when you cycle!

Cycling is such a social form of transport. Sean and I were biking in to work a few days before Christmas and bumped into our friend Jed who I hadn’t seen in almost a year.  (Jed and his wife recently had a baby!) We rode together along the cold, but sunny, shores of Westlake for about ten minutes and caught up.  It was a great way to start the day and I was happy to know that Jed was doing well. Then, the next morning, Sean and I bumped into Jed again–in almost the same place as the day before–and we shared another pleasant commute together while joking about how we were becoming a bike commuter gang.

The morning before I left for Copenhagen I biked downtown alone after saying goodbye to Sean. I was feeling the weight of the goodbye and also some anxiety about professional challenges ahead.  I pedaled slowly along Dexter, my pace matching my mood, until I saw some very hairy legs ahead. I knew those legs–it was my older brother–so I picked up the pace, caught up to him, and teased him about how I could spot his urban lumberjack legs a mile away. He slowed down a little bit and we cycled the rest of the way to 1st Ave together. I was so happy to have an unexpected extra ten minutes with him before I left for Copenhagen and it was another reminder for me about how getting out of your car can help you feel like you’re part of a real community. These chance encounters feel so good; humans crave these interactions.   However, there is evidence that a rising number of Americans feel isolated and lonely, in part because the communities we live in lack urban spaces that allow for these informal, low-pressure social interactions to come about.

I’m reading Jan Gehl’s book Cities for People and here is what he has to say about how quality urban design creates social interaction:

If city life is reinforced, it creates the preconditions for strengthening all forms of social activity in city space.  Social activities include all types of communication between people in city space and require the presence of other people. If there is life and activity in city space, there are also many social exchanges. If city space is desolate and empty, nothing happens.

 

Social activities include a wide spectrum of diverse activities.  There are many passive see and hear contacts: watching people and what is happening. This modest, unpretentious form of contact is the most widespread social city activity anywhere.

 

There are more active contacts. People exchange greetings and talk to acquaintances they meet.  There are chance meetings and small talk at market booths, on benches and wherever people wait.  People ask for directions and exchange brief remarks about the weather. More extensive contact can sometimes grow from these short greetings.  New topics and common interests can be discussed.  Acquaintanceships can sprout.

We don’t often think or talk about how our transportation choices feel or impact us socially, but maybe we should.

Commuting to work in Copenhagen.

Gabe with shaved legs!

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One thought on “Why the Bike Lane is the Golf Course of the 21st Century

  1. I agree.

    I am a big fan of Rickshaw messenger bag because it is made locally in SF. There was this middle-aged man with the coolest red retro-bike I have ever seen in the States. He said I had a nice bike (not making any comment about my messenger bag) and we started chatting about his bike marathon from SF to LA. And surprisingly, he’s the founder of Rickshaw.

    That was one of my best encounters on a bike.

    You really feel the community sense when riding. I love riding in the city.

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