Picture yourself riding down the open road bicycle trail listening to your favorite song (my song was “Fever” by Roosevelt). The road is smooth, the cool “autumn” breeze is flowing through you, and you are riding with some really freakin’ cool people. You see a tall hill ahead of you, you shift into a lower gear, and you still have not a worry in the world. You start at an outer ring suburb of Copenhagen (like Macomb, Michigan or Alpharetta, Georgia) and proceed towards the city. As you get closer, you pass more and more train stations (unlike Macomb or Alpharetta), but you continue to ride. You come upon an inner ring suburb with a beautiful main street and pick up a beer to enjoy along the ride and a bag of groceries for the evening with friends and family. At some point, one of your coworker veers off the path for home. At another point, your other coworker veers off for the train station to get home to their family sooner. You continue on because it has just been one of those days, you need some time to clear your mind while feeling a bit of burn in your thighs. Now imagine riding this “Super Cycle Highway” for your commute home from work. You have a flexible work schedule and you need this ride at least a couple of times a week for both your physical AND mental health. Suddenly, the thought of “what job?” goes through your mind and you are ready for freedom, at least for the evening, until you get back on that bike to head back out one of the Copenhagen “fingers” to your job at the regional planning office. Imagine.. It’s the life, I promise.
We were lucky enough to meet with one of the regional bicycle planners and then visit a beautiful castle and garden yesterday. From there, some of us continued cycling towards the city, while others took the train home (options!). Much of the experience I described above actually occurred. It was amazing and all I could think was that others should and deserve to experience something similar, with the safety and ease of traveling by bicycle in this country.
I look back at a time when I was a teenager and I was driving my Dad to the machine shop that he works in. He told me that he was going to start biking the six-mile one-way commute into work and back. I laughed at the thought of that. We were in a suburban area and most of the route would be along four or six lanes of traffic. We needed our car to commute.
I look back at a time not so long ago when I was a young professional and I was working at a public meeting for a proposed project to implement bicycle lanes on one of Atlanta’s premier streets through the heart of Buckhead. A middle-aged woman came up to me and asked what this was all about, what were we doing, and why. I explained to her that the proposed project was to take the six-lanes of traffic to five-lanes. It would become two-lanes of through traffic with a two-way left-turn lane. It would even out the traffic wasting the middle two lanes currently. Oh, and there would be bike lanes on the outside, sometimes buffered with parking for safety, and sometimes accompanied by a median in the middle of the road for pedestrian refuge. After all of this explanation, and the blank stare I received, she started laughing at me. She proceeded to tell me, in a very pretentious, wealthy accent might I add, “Young man (as she looked down at her $200 shoes to find her thoughts).. this is Buckhead.. we do not ride our bikes or walk places.. we drive our cars (their Mercedes and Maseratis) to where we need to go..”
I had zero clue with how to respond to that. She was so sure, and internally, I found it funny and sad at the same time. After a moment of thought, I told her that things were changing in Buckhead with new development and a different demographic. I told her that widening the road for more traffic was not an option at this point and we needed to provide other options to people in an area with no roadway grid, increasing density, continuous decreases in median age, and more Atlantans showing an interest in cycling. She didn’t like that answer, but luckily a pleasant British man arrived to explain how happy with the potential improvements he was, and the woman walked away. Those improvements have yet to happen and Buckhead continues to grow with increasing traffic. Of course, I wish we had done some things differently and sold the project for its other benefits, but it seemed like the natural thing to explain that this was going to help all commuters in a safer way. Quite the different tone from my last post, but it is not the woman’s fault.. She has grown up and lived in a society that has not valued more options for transportation in many years.
It is about providing a safe space for everyone. Getting these safe spaces takes investment and planning, but they show worth. Think about if there was a “super cycle highway” down the six-lane road my Dad takes to work every day. Think if there was a safe way for every single student in my elementary school to get to school. Think if there were continuous improvements in the bicycle infrastructure in Buckhead. Then it would become natural to cycle at a young age and we would have public support for these improvements. I never would have laughed at my Dad. I never would have been laughed at by that random Buckhead woman. We need to begin implementing with a new vision so that future generations have multimodal transportation options engrained in them.
Time to make things happen!
The tradition of high school graduation is very different in Denmark. As I mentioned before in a previous post, the students stand on the back of buses and trucks and get driven around to celebrate graduation. They blast music and ride around the streets of Copenhagen or their nearest city getting absolutely blasted (legal drinking age in Denmark is 16). All of the students, women and men, wear hats that look like a sailor’s cap. When I asked a random couple of students tonight, they said that they had no idea what makes the sailor caps a tradition, but they all wear them each year. You always know who to congratulate for graduating because the students wear these hats everywhere to show off their pride. Our group went out to the bars tonight, after an active day of touring Jan Gehl Architect’s amazing offices, receiving a fantastic presentation on the built environment, going on a walking tour, and closing out the day with a traditional Danish meal at a restaurant that was once the local pub that the King frequented the most in the sixteenth century (more on today later). These students were having a blast and they had me wear the hat and chug some jungle juice. It was a riot and a pleasure to celebrate for a few with these students because seriously, good for them for graduating and having a grand-ole time with it!