Damn. I'm Part of the Problem.
Last week someone sent me some pictures of Dutch commuters, mums and dads towing kids in various contraptions on their daily errands. Loved it. And like many sat pondering how wonderful it would be for us to adopt a European cycling culture. Then, like many, jumped in the car to do my next errand.
I have no excuses. I live 1.5km from the main street of Albury, a house full of bikes, and a climate more suited to cycling than the bulk of Europe. There is even a bike lane that winds from my door along the Murray River all the way in to town, as well as every public facility, such as schools and universities. Damn. I knew this was coming, I’m part of the problem.
Culture is a living thing, if not fed it will die.
I remember as a kid getting my first bike, a two wheeled freedom machine. Independence with a seat and pedals, headed straight out the door. At my college if you left your run late to get to school there was no room to park your bike. Before and after school it was a swarm of kids heading in all directions on bikes. In the weekend every kid in my sports team would ride to the game, and then get told off for doing skids on the playing field.
Now the only stream of traffic to schools is 4-wheel drives. The park that is tough to get is in the drop off zone. What happened? Where did we lose the plot? Are we guilty of killing commuting right there? And it’s not traffic, Europe has traffic, and it’s not that we never had the culture, because we did, I lived it.
What would cycling be like if the 4-wheel drive drop off was replaced by kids on bikes? What would driver awareness and attitudes to cycling be if every day they needed to navigate a sea of kids on bikes? I cannot remember any aggression, just the odd shake of the head when I did a slightly dumb manoeuvre, but drivers expected it, gave us room and patience. It was part of their commute.
You can't be in a culture from the outside. So hand on heart, how many of us have genuinely walked past the car keys and grabbed the bike to do an errand? I’m guilty. I need to change my own attitude towards commuting.
In Europe parking your bike outside the shops as a middle aged man won't bat an eye lid. In Australia we are more likely to think he couldn't afford a car, lost his license or come from a tree saving protest. It’s up to us to be the commuting culture from the inside, not sitting back and waiting for someone else. And if you really want this, you and I need to be part of it. We have to get out of our cars.
We really don’t have anyone else to blame, we can affect change, but not by sitting in our cars waiting for someone else to do it. So I'm making a commitment to get out the bike lock and make some trips to town, head held high. No I didn't lose my license, I do own a car, but saving the trees is another subject.
It’s time to make bike clips cool, and get out on the roads in the civilian gear to support the growing number of commuters. Show our support for the work of many who have built us bike paths by using them, and show ourselves to be a growing movement worth supporting, then vote for the politicians and local government that do. And let’s get kids on bikes, they need to be part of the solution.