Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Pedaling Revolution

I just finished reading Jeff Mapes’ book Pedaling Revolution. The book is a look at how cities are adapting to accommodate cyclists in urban and street planning by looking at selected cities throughout the United States, as well as a few foreign cities such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen.

Since I’ve started to pay attention to transportation issues, and how cities are accommodating cycling in particular, I’ve been impressed with the strides Portland has made in becoming a cycling city. Mapes takes a hard look at the changes that have been made in Portland, as well as how far the city has yet to go.

His chapter Bringing Kids Back to Bikes was especially poignant. In the chapter he looks at the Safe Routes to Schools program and efforts in Portland schools to gets kids active and riding bikes. He talks of programs to teach kids to ride bikes safely that culminates with a group bike ride in the community surrounding a school. This uplifting section ends back at the school with children being picked up by lines of waiting SUVs.

This chapter hit me because I really believe that to change our transportation systems to embrace more active means of transportation, we need to reach out to and encourage the children. How can we do that when parents look at the bike as a toy and not a “real” means of transportation? I can understand the desire to protect children. After all, that should be a parent’s number one goal. But at what expense? Increasing rates of obesity due to inactivity? Fostering dependence on cars? Undoing the efforts of community minded folks pushing for livable streets?

I grew up in the suburbs with the nearest school I attended (an elementary school) just over a mile away, at the base of a large hill (we lived about 600-700 feet in elevation above the school). Walking and riding my bike to school was not really feasible for me. It wasn’t until I was in the sixth grade that I was allowed to ride my bike to school a couple of times in the spring. It is something that I would have like to have been able to do more frequently. My middle school was farther from my home, along a very busy road, and cycling to school wasn’t an option any longer. By the middle of my sophomore year in high school, I was enamored with driving, and didn’t consider my bike more than a recreational tool. It took me until I was in my 30s to reconsider my view. What will it take to get parents to reconsider their views on bicycles as transportation as opposed to toys?

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