Step into my (cycling) shoes for a moment: These are just some viewpoints that I have come to believe and a lot of it is based on the foundation that access to transportation is one of the biggest form of equity.
These are the thoughts of Pinaki Ghosh, long time cyclist, Austinite, and father of a elementary school age budding cyclist.
Rights of Cyclists – The rights of bicyclists are same as drivers of automobiles. Separating a 4000-lb. automobile and 30 lb. bicycle in the same street with just a line drawn on the ground is often dangerous and impractical. In many countries bicycle lanes are completely separated by physical medians from automobile lanes. It has been universally accepted that due to the body mass difference between an automobile and bicycle, it is a good idea to separate their lanes with physical barriers when the speed increases (momentum is an incredible thing that we ignore in our design and perceptions). The pictures below will show how streets are marked or separated in the Netherlands and France.
In the Netherlands, we often allow our daughter to ride about 15 km by bicycle a day because it is a safe route. By contrast, in the United States, my daughter does not ride her bicycle to school ever because a single mistake on 12th street or MLK or Manor road will be deadly for her. The right to safe transportation is not something we can overlook. Furthermore, riding bicycles in Austin at night (and in most of America) is dangerous.
This little video will show my daughter, Damini, riding to school in the Netherlands – her confidence has increased many folds and she even visits her friends on bicycle.
When we are in Europe, we live in Spankeren and my daughter’s school is at Brummen. Our grocery is at Dieren. We use bicycles for almost everything rain or shine. So, on any given day, we bicycle for more than 10 to 15 kms. Also, it is important to mention that we cross the rail-lines at-grade about 4 times during a day’s cycling efforts.
Transportation is a great equity builder. Today, the biggest challenges of trade is the high cost of transportation. In Germany, for example, the cost of transportation (using mass transport) is relatively much lower.
If we can build a low-cost transportation system, then it creates equity. If somebody can have the option of not owning an automobile and still be able to get to his or her work and groceries safely using a bicycle, then he or she can save money towards their property tax or rent. This, in turn, allows them to keep their homes. In the current housing crisis situation in East Austin, this is a very strong argument. The younger generation cannot keep their houses for high property taxes or rents.
We must design for the future. Almost all of Europe is moving towards electric bicycles and cycling in general. They design infrastructure around it. One of Netherland’s biggest bike manufacturer, Gazelle, is located very close to our house and their stock is almost entirely electric bikes (the electric motor only assists you to peddle, but does not do the peddling). To me, electric bikes are ideal for Austin because of the many small hills. I have already noticed two Copenhagen wheels in East MLK area. Electric bicycles increase the age range of the people who can use bicycles in work related activities and not just for leisure. This year during my trip to Europe I noticed that France and Switzerland are also heavily adopting electric bicycles. Cannondale, a bicycle manufacturer, is offering e-bike rentals even up in the Alps.
Everyday in Europe most people augment the bicycle trip with another form of mass transit. For example, they take a bike to the train station, park it at the station, and then take the train to their regular destination. Sometimes they take the bicycle with them (some of which are folding type). Almost every station in the Netherlands has a very large bicycle parking lot – sometimes bigger than the car parking lot (in some areas, bicycle parking is covered to protect them from rain and snow). Multi-modal transportation teaches us a new, better and more eco way to get around.
There are health benefits to riding a bicycle. Growing up in India as a kid I noticed the bicycle was often the only mode of transportation and people were forced to use it. It had an immense impact on the health of citizens. There was no obesity. Obesity is a new phenomenon in India since most cycling has been replaced with gas powered 3-wheelers for local transportation.
We are essentially dealing with the future of our children. We are building roads and putting the loan burden on the next generation instead of creating long term equity for them. The riding habit starts at early age – if you look at our schools less than 2% of the kids come to the school by bicycle.
Finally, local businesses thrive with more cyclists. Bicycle riders tend to serve local business within a 3-mile radius instead of large box shops more than10 miles away. It’s also necessary that we provide bicycle rental facilities (in the East MLK area) like we do in downtown. This will dramatically improve the transportation situation in the East MLK area. It has been proposed (and we look forward to) a B-cycle station in Mueller – preferably around the local H-E-B. It should be noted that B-Cycle also has a “B-Cycle For All” program. It would be appropriate for the city to also subsidize cycling education for those with an economic disadvantage. I would add that we need an additional 12 to 15 new bicycle parking spots around East MLK which would dramatically improve the transportation situation in the East MLK area and in Austin.
We have come so far, but there is still so much to work to do. Bike Austin is working diligently as a cycling advocacy and education organization to make these dreams of a better future a reality.