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Monday, July 30, 2007

Pedaling Forward

I'm back from another week at the beach. Constant sand in my shoes, (and diaper bag) are some of the perks of living in South Jersey. I've never gone through so much sunscreen as I have this month.
Bike travel is popular in Ocean City, although renting a bike for a morning jaunt on the boards is as overpriced as anything else in town. I often think how nice it would be to have the option to bike everywhere. Stores, family visits, church; only a pedal away. In our town they have bike paths on the sides of some roads and through out the state I see signs to "Share the Road."
Ideally, bikes would be a viable option for the average Joe. We cut down on emissions and gas consumption, get exercise and avoid the hassles of car ownership. However, realistically, today's world is very bike unfriendly. Suburbia was not designed with the two wheeling commuter in mind. On our way to church, our van approached a family on bike. They filled the lane, disobeyed traffic signals and otherwise annoyed motorists who tried to squeeze around them without hitting oncoming traffic in the small town we were passing through (already congested with construction cones.) Our roads are designed for cars and although I try to be charitable, these streets are not made for sharing. Which is a shame for all the above mentioned benefits. Those few who do try to take advantage of pedal power are at great risk for injury (or death.) Nothing will change because more of us can't switch to using bikes as our primary form of transportation because our lifestyle won't allow it. How many live within biking distance to our jobs? How many of us want to bike in the rain to an appointment in our designer clothes with a helmet smashed on our coif? Where will our $300 in weekly groceries fit? That tiny basket in front? And most of us just couldn't stand the blow to our egos if we had to part with our luxury vehicles for a Huffy. So, we'll pump money into the roadways via taxes, which fuels the construction that clogs the commuter arteries, which feeds the anger and frustration of road rage which leads to accidents and violence...and so on. Who is willing to go simpler and smaller and live closer?
If you visit an old small town, everything is in walking or biking distance and most properties (save for a few downtown locals) have enough of a yard for a garden or a game of catch. People didn't need cars to go to the store or visit with friends so roadways were less jammed and safer for kids on their bikes heading to the park. Maybe you even had the neighborhood trolley or bus. The communities I'm talking about are too small for subways or major public transportation. Now these communities are surrounded by sprawl and their roadways are packed to capacity during normal daylight hours. Most stores have moved out to strip malls and have been replaced with specialty boutiques, pizza shops, bars, etc. if the town is lucky. How many small towns so you know are struggling to "revitalize?"
So it's a kind of a catch-22; cars and an expansive road system allow us to spread out and see the world, however, cars and an expansive road system spread out the *community* to encompass a larger area and so many aspects of the community and the principles of subsidiarity are pollution, gas prices, yada, yada.
How we can move from a sprawled, cookie cutter development, copycat strip mall society to smaller, localized neighborhoods I don't know. But secretly, I hope rising gas prices will force us to stay closer to home. What will we decide; work from home, bike down the street or work two jobs to pay for gas for our daily commute? Only time will tell.