Thursday, May 15, 2014

Will Miss #53 - getting around by bike (reflection)

America is well-known as a country in which car use is the norm. A lot of people criticize this as wasteful, indulgent, and selfish. However, it's important to know how geography and history dictate how people get from place to place. In New York City, for example, many people don't have or use cars because there is adequate public transportation and high population density. The rest of America doesn't have cars because they want them so much as they live in circumstances which offer them little reasonable option. That is, they either have no or terrible public transport and/or things are too spread out. Americans didn't plan things this way. It has to do with how our history unfolded.

In my current situation, I'm in between the "must have a car" and "can live without a car" life. There is some public transport, though it is expensive, inconvenient, not particularly reliable, and painfully infrequent. It is, surprisingly, pretty good about trying to accommodate cyclists. Many roads have lanes for cyclists and motorists are supposed to share lanes with them. For a suburb, it's probably more cyclist friendly than other areas.

Unfortunately, all of this really isn't "enough". This is mainly due to geography. Everything is still pretty far apart and riding even in bicycle lanes is not easy. There have been many cases where cyclists have had to move with the flow of traffic in a way that makes me nervous as a passenger in a car and I couldn't imagine feeling comfortable with as a cyclist. The irony is that, in CA, it's illegal to ride on sidewalks, but there are very few pedestrians and wider areas in which to negotiate a bike. There is every reason to allow cycles on sidewalks, yet you have to be in the street.

In Japan, I felt a lot more comfortable with the prospect of cycling and I still miss having that particular atmosphere and those riding conditions despite the drawbacks of limited parking and sometimes crowded sidewalks.


  1. We live in the Bay Area of Calif and find that bicyclists sometimes do stupid, even dangerous, things because of the bike lanes. Their perceived right to be out there in traffic with cars, etc. can lead them to some pretty aggravating and, at times,worrisome moments. Every week or so one hears of an incident where a bicyclist and a car collide. You KNOW which one gets the worst of it!

    We have friends who live in Tokyo. Their Mom used to ride a three wheel bike to do her shopping and other errands up until she was in her mid-80's. And this was in Kanda...right in the 'heart of Tokyo' where there were small, narrow streets. Ie, she felt safe enough to ride around there at will!

    Our friends have never owned a car living in Tokyo because the hassle of congestion and parking make it more trouble than it would be worth. Public transportation works quite well there. Their young adult 'kids' have a car so as to be able to go out into the countryside on weekends, etc. But they don't use it in the city. A very different life, indeed, compared to that here in 'car country' California.

    1. I haven't seen cyclists do anything stupid, but I've felt like they absolutely could at any moment. There's a fair bit of swerving and sometimes violating traffic laws in small ways (rushing to cross at the last minute or swerving in front of traffic just as a light changes). This is part of what makes me nervous.

      I do understand that most American areas are just not suited to cycling, but I really hate driving and even being a passenger. People are so rude, aggressive, and impatient. It was much more relaxing in Tokyo - even considering the crowds - because the worst that could happen was generally that someone would block you (and, boy, did they do that) or you'd have to slam on your brakes. Here, someone could get killed.

    2. For what it is worth drivers in the Bay Area are more aggressive, less courteous, etc than those in So Calif, where we used to live. When we'd come here to visit family in the past,we were shocked at how people drove here. Now that we live here we just try to cope with it as best as we can by driving defensively/being more cautious.

      Over the last 40 years traffic in Tokyo has gotten considerably more congested, to be sure. But the drivers there are better trained than here. And their culture generally encourages more cooperation, consideration for the rights of others..certainly not always but more so than here in Calif.

    3. I've found that cars in general here are scarily aggressive, but pedestrians are amazingly entitled in their actions. They don't look both ways, cross where there is no crosswalk and generally expect to be yielded to at all times. Nine times out of ten, cars are pretty good about dealing with pedestrians even when they are in the wrong in their actions. Occasionally, I've seen them honk or try to cut off a pedestrian with the walk light on at crosswalks, but I've experience far more stupidity on the part of pedestrians than aggression on the part of cars. Since the cars in general drive so aggressively though, I wouldn't want to be on the road with them on a bike!

  2. I live in a fairly large U.S. city that has some bike paths, but not nearly enough to make cycling a viable option for day-to-day tasks. Riding on sidewalks is also illegal here, but I do it anyway. It seems like there's a new bike/car collision every day. It's not worth risking my life just to follow a nonsensical law.

    1. I'm afraid that I'll be cited and have to pay a fine if I travel on sidewalks here. So far, no bike. I'm just not secure enough!


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