Is Infrastructure Destiny?


Today is National Ride Your Bike to Work Day. I have a bike but I chose to drive in my “Share the Road” license-plate embellished car today. Why? The route from home to office, though short, is treacherous. Bike lanes and even sidewalks are a rarity in my city and when I ride, it is alongside fellow cyclists as well as trucks, cars, vans, and the occasional tractor-trailer. I need an infrastructure that supports cycling and walking.

I chose my neighborhood because it was close to the highway that leads to my husband’s workplace and because, despite its lack of sidewalks, it is a walk-able neighborhood. More than 10 years later, my husband has moved to a home office and I’ve joined a gym and taken up cycling to get more rigorous workouts. We are within a few miles of the grocery store, our kids’ schools, and our church but it’s not feasible (to me, at least) to walk or ride to those places.

In the past couple of years since getting a new road bike and having my neighborhood annexed, I have started to think about how geography, municipal services, and even my personal infrastructure (e.g., house, yard, utility services, and transportation) shape much of my daily life and my personal finances.

First, I am thrilled to have recycling pickup and not have to drive 20 minutes to the recycling station; property taxes are up but my garbage pick-up bill has been dropped and my fuel expenses lowered. I could buy a pricey downtown condo and walk to parks, great restaurants, and entertainment venues; or I could stay put in my reasonably priced neighborhood where I need to take the car almost everywhere. So, quality-of-life tradeoffs can be measured in real dollars.

Still I envision living in a tradeoff-less community (that is, one I could afford) with sidewalks, bike paths, restaurants, parks, and more. If you live there now, let me know so I can start planning my next move.

(formatting changed, 6/15/2007)

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Guest's picture

I live in the Greater Seattle area (Everett), and I just purchased my first road bike yesterday, due to the myraid of benefits it includes (exercise, less pollution, cheaper).

With gas prices threatening to reach 4 dollars a gallon, I figured I'd rather stop using the car and instead invest the saved money into the bike.

Seattle is a great city for bikers (despite the hills), as the buses often have bike racks, and park-and-rides have lockers where bikes can be stored. There are also many sidewalks, and countless bike/walking trails.

Not only is it good exercise, it's a great alternative to using a car for transportation. If you lived in the heart of Seattle, you could bike to any destination you desired.

Julie Rains's picture

You're gonna have great times on that road bike!

Guest's picture

I wouldn't put it like that. It's certainly easier to do the Right Thing if the infrastructure supports you in that, but really, what it does is lower the threshold for it, not enabling it. I've moved from Germany to Norway a couple of years ago. From a country that is pancake-flat and has bike paths and mild winters to a country domicated by glacial mountain ranges, harsh winters and bicycling in the road. It hasn't changed my habbits at all. I still don't own a car.

As for gas prices: Even in Europe's oil-richest country, the price for a gallon is now over 7.50 USD. 4 dollars a gallon isn't going to make anyone switch to the bike, because I know from my experience here that 7.50 isn't doing it either. I suspect that the only reason anyone takes a bike here is because it's good for them.

Andrea Karim's picture

When I used to work 30 miles from where I lived, taking a bus or riding a bike simply wasn't an option. I mean, sure, I could take that extra 2 hours to get to work (yes, a bus from my house to my workplace took two hours including three transfers), but I'd rather shell out the dough and be home in 30 minutes versus 2 and a half hours.

I hate to say this, but I suspect that Europeans have the option to ride more because (1) a LOT people ride bike, and there is safetely in numbers, (2) people don't work 50 hour work weeks and (3) the countries are simply smaller. 

Also, and I might be totally off here, but don't most European countries have really good mental health care? I could be reading more into this than necessary, but is it as common in Europe as it is in Seattle to get on a bus and immediately be harrassed by some fecal-smeared mentally unbalanced person? Because that has been my experience 9 times out of 10 on the bus,

Julie Rains's picture

Point taken. After I wrote my post, I started thinking about how I rode my bike to high school and I typically was the only one who did. Most kids rode the bus or took a car. The only infrastructure that I had was the open road. Looking back, I am wondering if drivers looked out for me since I was a regular -- I certainly looked out for (learned to avoid) them!