While admiring the cultural revival and unanimous societal push to reduce our carbon footprint, and while more and more individuals embrace an active and healthy lifestyle, bicycles have become all the rage in modern, urban living.
In fact, more and more college towns, beach towns and populated cities in and around America and other parts of the world are crawling and sprawling with bicycles, and with it, an emerging bicycle culture, which is rapidly evolving.
Like other forms of societal progression, the bicycling culture too has its share of pros and cons. But, how do we discover the real purpose of bicycles with regards to everyday traffic, and subsequent enaction of effective public policy to contribute to a safer, faster, and more reliable transportation system benefiting commuters and local residents.
And, why should we even want to address this issue?
Well, as of late the cons of a thriving bike culture seem to outweigh the benefits in certain crucial areas of concern, such as rider safety, traffic congestion, rising confusion in urban streets, and a growing percentage of bicyclists who do not practice safety and common sense measures.
For the record, it’s rare to meet a person who out-rightly detests the act of riding a bicycle, and personally, I have lived my greatest childhood moments alongside my brother and cousin, causing a ruckus, navigating and exploring the busy streets and dusty alleyways in Kathmandu.
However, in the case of International cities like San Francisco, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Portland, and others, where there is concrete evidence of a thriving bicycle culture, how do local communities adapt and respond to such changes in their neighborhoods?
Speaking bluntly, most automobile drivers agree that bicycles can be a nuisance in major city streets and intersections, and ever so often, we can witness bicyclists with complete disregard for traffic signs and laws, deliberately riding outside their designated lanes, holding up traffic, and being unconscientious about their personal actions.
More importantly, I make the above argument for the primary sake of bicyclists who do adhere to traffic laws and regulations, and practice all the safety and courtesy measures expected on the streets, and yet fall prey to the thousands of bike related casualties, either severely handicapping riders or claiming their lives.
Furthermore, considering Public Transportation as well, bicyclists are never in perfect harmony with BART Train riders or AC Transit Bus Patrons or the SF Muni commuters (using the SF Bay Area as an example). More often than not, bicycles impede and inconvenience other patrons on public transportation – occupying more space than required, resulting in congestion, delays, accidents, and lesser passenger capacity.
Also, the forthcoming argument which stems from pure observation, analysis and opinion instead of concrete research, highlights an increasing number of bicyclists who seem lackadaisical, quick tempered and rash, while sharing the streets with buses, taxis, personal automobiles and motorcycles.
And what is amusing, is that after all is said and done, bicyclists are the most vulnerable in traffic.
Therefore, I believe they need to help themselves figure common sense and safe approaches in commuting in busy city streets and in urban areas where speed limits are over 25 mph.
In the end, the decision of riding a bicycle to school, work or wherever is a smart and socially acceptable one, given you elect to reap the benefits of a cleaner and greener environment, and owing to personal health reasons, and economic reasons like saving on gasoline, car payments, insurance and parking.
If it is so, then our society whole heartedly commends you.
However, when bicyclists start challenging conventional traffic and transportation wisdom, and take matters and public safety policies into their own hands, that’s when everyone is faced with a problem.
To all you Bicyclists, “Have fun and be safe out there.”