It’s no secret that I dislike cars. Cars are a necessity in this age, unfortunately, but I believe the isolation they foster is a major contributor to the loss of community that is present in urban society. Rather than make this post about a negative, I want to view the positive: that the bicycle and “alternative” forms of transportation are the keys to restoring this.
My generation is accustomed to instant-gratification. We want something, we buy it online. We want entertainment, we turn to our instant-queues and on-demand. We want to get somewhere, we hop in our cars and are there in almost no time. It’s no surprise that the concept of riding a bike to our destination, or taking public transit, is not even a consideration. These activities take too long and we are impatient. But what is often considered to be a waste of time, is actually a huge opportunity for personal interaction with our neighbors and community members.
When I ride my bike to work I pass through many neighborhoods. I am mostly riding on side streets and bike paths, so these cut through the hearts of the communities that lie on my way to work. There are few cars, and most of the interactions I have are with people who are out walking or exercising. Many of these people I see at the same time every day, greeting them with a “good morning” after my “on your left”. I see people working in their yards, caring for their houses and proud of their neighborhoods. I see children walking to school, playing and racing each other as they go.
By the time I arrive at work I feel energized! Apart from the satisfaction of arriving at my destination under my own power, there is a sense that I have been somewhere. I have taken part in a very human thing: enjoying the presence of other people. This is why we first gathered in villages, built towns and cities, we crave these interactions and the sense of community. As more and more people jump in their cars, remaining effectively isolated for the entirety of their journies, we lose this aspect of our humanity.
While I believe that there are many ways for us to recapture this, the bicycle is by far the most efficient way of placing ourselves back into our communities. As more people choose to ride, either for commuting or for fun and exercise, more bicycle routes will be planned and built. At first these will link schools and parks, benefitting our children and allowing them to grow up more invested in their neighborhoods. This will rebuild the community that we are losing, not all at once, but one bike ride at a time. My choice is to show my kids that they can get wherever they need to go by riding their bikes, and to not be afraid of saying “hello” to people as they go. My choice is to lead them into what I hope will be a better future by example, by choosing to ride my bike to work and using public transportation.
You can foster this growth as well! Find a bike store, fix a bike yourself, find safe bike routes to the places you visit most often. By increasing your comfort level with this mode of transportation you will be more likely to choose it as an option. Invite your family to join you on your rides, ride to an ice cream store! Ride to work once a month, or even once a week! The great thing about a bicycle is that anyone can ride one. Your journey to a better community starts with a single pedal stroke!