30DaysOfBiking: Five years later

Five years ago a small group of cyclists in Minneapolis got together a great idea: Ride a bike every day for the month of April. They called it 30 Days of Biking. I was in Korea at the time, riding my bike around the city of Ilsan, sometimes going as far as Paju near the Third Tunnel of Agression. Back then we had the luxury of not having to work until after noon so going for a long ride every morning was pretty easy and didn’t require waking up early.

I’ve been thinking a lot about bike infrastructure lately. It’s a subject where I’m increasingly of the mind that we should be building cities that allow safe and convenient travel for anybody, no matter how they’re traveling, but what often happens is that city planning ends up sort of shimming bikes into the grid in the way that’s least intrusive on people driving cars.

Bike lanes are a great example of this. Bike lanes are perfect for going straight or only turning right onto other bike lanes. Turning left? Good luck crossing out of the bike lane and however many lanes are between it and the left turn lane. Hit a stop light? There’s probably a car (let’s be honest, they’re mostly from Maryland) taking up most of its lane and the bike lane attempting to turn right. Even going straight can be difficult when cars slide over and use the bike lane as an idling lane. I can’t count how many near misses I’ve had with taxis swooping in to rescue a stranded commuter on 17th street. And when it happens, the biker now has to merge with the traffic of dozens of drivers white-knuckled on their steering wheel, silently (or often loudly) screaming “Just Use the Fucking Bike Lane!”

Especially in the dense, downtown corridors of cities, there’s no need to drive unless you’re entering or leaving. I know of nobody who drives to get their lunch, for example, in DC. That would be insane; you walk to get lunch or bring it from home. This is also why we have the Metro and giant “Kiss and Ride” lots in the suburbs for folks who commute from The Faraway Places with names like “Loudon” and “Fauquier.” Even the nearby places like Takoma Park have these lots.

Instead of getting a city optimized for the people who use its pathways most efficiently, we have cities optimized for nothing, and dangerous for everyone not in a car. Cars are really good at getting in and out of cities, bikes and feet are really good at getting around them.