I envy the Portlanders in this BikePortland post for their charming assumptions that bicycles are key to livability and that Portland somehow holds the record for livability. I guess livability is the secret to Brooklyn; even though it’s more expensive than where I live, it’s got the livability rep going.
And I think what charms people about bicycling is the illusion that it is somehow a more sane, more basic, more elemental way to get around than motor vehicle or mass transit. As this Brooklyn Spoke post demonstrates, however, bicycles are caught up in the same politico-cultural milieu as every other form of transportation. It is fairly obvious to me that motor vehicle operation, as the default mode of choice, comes with the privilege (for privileged people) of never having to answer the question, “Why are you driving?” Mass transit, as New York’s people’s mode of transport, comes with the privilege of oblivion—nobody will pay any attention to you while riding the bus or subway.
There are no half measures. We can remake society to place bicycling as the default mode of travel, but why remake society if it is still as unjust and unequal as it is today? More precisely, I commute through the Bronx. I don’t see bicycling improvements being made along my route. Bike Snob, another Bronx commuter, has the right idea, often titling his posts “The indignity of commuting by bicycle.” What I see is that everyone in the Bronx should be indignant about their commute. Yes, bicycles could help, but we won’t get bicycles, because to shift to a bicycle-focused society, the perceived costs of getting the current motoring class around by bicycle will overpower all other considerations. The kind of socially promoted bicycling we would get would be so riddled with exceptions as to make it impossible to actually use a bicycle to get anywhere.
I can’t let the week slither by without highlighting this fantastic blog post about bicycle commuting and exercise in general. Usually Larry writes these storm-and-stress pieces about Generation Greed and the systematic evisceration of state and local budgets by older people in their favor, but on his birthday on Monday he dropped this one, which I really like because he’s not writing to persuade anyone that they should bike to work, as well.
Usually writing about bicycling ends up being overly strident and boring, with a save-the-planet message thrown in: “I am more virtuous than you because I’m on two wheels and you’re not,” kind of thing. Larry sounds almost apologetic that he’s not more of a crackerjack cyclist:
What a great deal riding a bicycle to work has been! Until I actually tried it and found a way to work around the usual objections – work clothing, sweat, weather, traffic—it hadn’t seemed practical to me. Now, good health seems impractical without it. How else would it be possible for an overweight, middle-aged non-athlete, with a sedentary office job, a family and other responsibilities, to get that much exercise, nearly an hour per day?
Plus, he drops mention of one of my favorite things about Brooklyn (and Long Island in general), the ridge that runs down the center where the glaciers stopped on their last advance, the “terminal moraine.”
I typically ride at about 12 to 15 miles per hour on flat ground, but intersections and hills bring the average down to about three times the speed of walking. And taking long walks is about what riding a bicycle that way is like, except for the up hill stretches on the bridges in both directions and up the terminal moraine in the afternoon.
Everyone who hears the version of the James Bond theme by (former
Skatalite) Jackie Mittoo & the Soul Brothers probably has the same
fleeting impression that I did just now on hearing it again: wouldn’t
it be great if the movies had the same kind of grungy, two-tone energy
that the recording has?
Probably not; something has to remain shiny and airbrushed in order
for everyone to have a good comparison to the ordinary run of rusty,
grimy, mildewed, just plain chaotic things. I had some good pictures
of rust out on Staten Island to include with this, but in the search
for them, this one of huitlacoche from El Paisa on Myrtle Ave (right
under the el, oh fond memories of home…) struck my fancy. Buen