Does Bicycle Heaven Exist?
This is a theological question and therefore could not be answered in this brief blog entry, but nevertheless it’s one for an old lady on a bike to consider. The simple one word answer is “yes.” Earth is bicycle heaven. It has a good many warm sunny days and a few decent roads with shoulders. That’s about all it takes to qualify as bicycle heaven. End of story.
That was a short blog entry.
But, come to think of it, some parts of the planet are a lot more bicycle heavenly than others. The Netherlands is a prime example of a bicycle paradise. It was designed and built with bicycles in mind. We once biked all the way across Holland without ever needing to get off a protected bicycle path. And those paths were all signed clearly with route numbers, better than motor vehicle highways in most countries.
Cities like Amsterdam and The Hague have separate bicycle paths along nearly all their major thoroughfares. Many thousands of bicycles are parked at train stations in suburban towns on any given day. That’s because the most common method of commuting to work from the suburbs is to bike from home to the train station and take the train the rest of the way into the city.
No, they don’t commute in cars on the freeway.
So to really qualify as a bicycle heaven, a place needs to be designed for bikes. How can you have a heaven that wasn’t designed for you? This reminds me of an awakening I once had in my former career as a vocational rehabilitation counselor working with people who lacked vision. These people were extremely capable. The problem was not that they were blind. The problem was that the world was designed for sight dependent people. Heaven, for a blind person, would have audible traffic signals, variably embossed paving materials, tactile signage, and the like. It would have to be designed for the other four senses. And, of course, as with bicycle heaven, blind heaven wouldn’t have a lot of automobile drivers charging around acting like they owned the place. Cars would be few and their drivers would be mindful of other travelers and treat them with respect.
If you happen to be a U.S. bicyclist reading this, you may be thinking of studying Dutch and expatriating to Holland. Maybe you feel cheated like the gentleman who emailed me after my blog on how to load your bike on the bus. He complained that buses where he lives have no bike racks and the roads have no shoulders. If you live in a bicycle purgatory like that, instead of moving to the Netherlands, another option would be to become a bicycle heaven advocate in your community. You could work toward the goal of qualifying your city for a League of American Cyclists “platinum award.” That’s a sort of bicycle heaven prize.
Currently only a couple of U.S. cities have achieved platinum status, Portland, Oregon and Davis, California. I have had the pleasure of bicycling briefly in both of those towns, and, believe me it felt like true heaven. Portland has bike lanes and bike paths that go everywhere. To get from the train station to my nephew’s house in the Hawthorne district, we had a pleasant ride on the bike path across the Hawthorne Bridge and up a gentle incline all the way. In fact four of the bridges crossing the Willamette River in Portland have bike paths.
In Davis we rode from one end of town to the other on a bike path through a park-like green belt. When we got out onto the city streets, there were bike lanes wide enough for three or four bikes abreast. Whole families casually biked together through the down town area. Motorists didn’t growl and honk at bicycles the way they do in Seattle. They just smiled and waited politely for us to pass, just as they would have done if we had been driving a BMW.
I hope we can get Seattle a platinum award like Portland and Davis one of these days, maybe your town too. Let’s make the whole of planet earth into a true bicycle heaven, one street, one city, one country at a time.