A cyclist’s lot in New York’s scrag end is not a happy one. Winter is long and harsh, safe parking is hard to come by, and most municipalities regard an occasional “Share the Road” sign as the epitome of cycling infrastructure. Even when a village proves uncharacteristically generous—invariably with somebody else’s money; the notion of spending local taxpayers’ dollars on cyclist safety would only elicit laughter—the result is seldom anything to celebrate. A case in point:
This is a North Country college town’s much-ballyhooed bike lane. It’s a narrow, steeply cambered berm, ice-covered in winter, choked with drifts of sand in spring, and garnished with broken beer bottles in summer and fall. It also boasts deeply recessed storm-drain grates scattered along its short length—ideally placed to sharpen cyclists’ bike-handling skills. Best of all, it ends abruptly, leaving the through-rider with little choice but to joust with speeding cars on a shoulderless, serpentine “rat run” between the university campus and the crossroads hamlet that serves as a sort of upmarket dormitory for the college faculty.
Bad … Continue reading »
If you read the editorial pages of small-town America’s local papers or scan the websites of rural chambers of commerce — an exercise that will appeal to only a tiny minority of masochists, I’d imagine — you’ll encounter a lot of conspicuous lamentation about the decline of Main Street. The villain is usually the latest big-box store to pave over a wetland just outside the town limits. Or else it’s the Internet, that deadly Web spun by corporate spiders for the sole purpose of entrapping innocent citizens in its sticky meshes. If these evil forces didn’t exist, Main Street would be free to flower once again. Or so the boosters’ argument goes.
A mischievous critic might be tempted to ask why the feckless locals abandoned their friendly, accommdating Main Street merchants to rush off to the big-box stores and online retailers in the first place. Lower prices played their part, of course, as did convenience. How many working couples really looked forward to spending half their weekend trudging from shop to shop in search of the necessities of life — … Continue reading »
You don’t often hear the phrase “Renaissance man” these days, but it’s a pretty fair description of Marcos Netto, TNO‘s Southern Hemisphere Correspondent. His is an enviable CV: corporate executive — he’s a director of Itati, a Brazilian mineral water company — linguist, professional photographer, and Rotarian. But Marcos is also an avid cyclist who regularly saddles up to commute to work. In fact, he’s become a sort of evangelist for cycling, never missing a chance to draw attention to the bicycle’s role in reducing urban pollution, easing traffic congestion, and promoting public health.
Here’s an example: Not long ago, Marcos was asked to take part in a television program on cycling. I could try to summarize what he had to say, but it’s Marcos’ story, so why not let him tell it in his own words?
I was invited by TV Unisinos for a live interview on the Conexão Unisinos 12 O’Clock News to discuss the topic “Bicycling for a Less Polluted World.” The other guest was Professor Felipe Brum de Brito Sousa. Both of us are “regular people”
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Imagine a town without parking lots or designated parking spaces. Any motorist hoping to do business in town would then have to park by stealth, on private property. Often his car would be obstructing a sidewalk or alleyway, and he could never be sure that it wouldn’t suffer damage in his absence — or that he’d find it where he’d left it when he returned. The property owner could have had it towed away. Or the police might have confiscated it. The motorist’s car was almost certain to be parked “illegally,” after all. Which means that his complaints, if indeed he had the temerity to voice them, would at best be met with a shrug of an official shoulder. Outlaws are foolish to expect protection.
Unthinkable? Think again. This is the common experience of anyone who uses a bicycle to commute or do business in the States. With a few happy exceptions, cyclists are condemned to park their bikes on private property, in unsanctioned locations, hoping against hope that their two-wheeled transport will still be there … Continue reading »
If you’ve read The Raj Quartet, Paul Scott’s epic tetralogy about the last days of British rule in India, or if you watched The Jewel in the Crown, the miniseries that was made from Scott’s books, you may remember Sister Ludmila, the eccentric woman who gathers up the dead and dying from the wastegrounds and shantytowns around the fictional city of Mayapore. It’s not a role I’d ever covet, I admit, but it’s one I seem to be destined for, nonetheless. Just last week, only two days after celebrating a snapping turtle’s narrow escape from the fate that all too often awaits any creature unlucky enough to have to cross a roadway, I found her lying dead in the grass near the very spot where I’d last seen her. She’d been alive and (very) lively when we last parted company. Now her shattered remains made a meal for a turkey vulture.
She’d been killed not long before I came across her corpse, and the tire tracks in the sandy margin of the road … Continue reading »
The village of Schuylerville, New York, is often eclipsed by Saratoga Springs, its tonier neighbor to the west. Which is too bad, because Schuylerville is a pleasant hamlet, and much of the old-time, small-town atmosphere has survived more or less intact, despite the economic storms which have blighted so much of rural America in the last two decades. Schuylerville has history, too. One of the most important battles in the American War of Independence was fought just a short bike ride to the south of the village, on a height of land overlooking the Hudson River. Yet this famous American victory—often celebrated as the turning point in the Colonies’ struggle for independence—is today known as the Battle of Saratoga. Go figure.
But Schuylerville has shrugged off this and other, lesser slights. Moreover, it seems determined to remain a good place to live and work. A case in point: community bike racks. Schuylerville has ’em. A small thing, you say? Maybe so—if you’re accustomed to European cycling infrastructure. But many cyclists in the States quickly … Continue reading »
If you use a bike for any of the things that most people use a car for—going to work, shopping, keeping appointments in town—and if you don’t have dedicated bike paths linking home to your destination, then you might have concluded that much of the cozy greenwash on the subject of transportation cycling is piffle. There’s the fear factor, for one thing: the knowledge that you dice with death on every ride, and that a moment’s inattention on the part of any one of the hundreds of motorists who pass you on every trip can leave your broken body stretched out on the highway. There’s not much about that in the transportation cycling hymnbook. Understandably, perhaps.
But fear can be mastered. What can’t be easily overcome is the parking problem. It’s all well and good to arrive alive at your destination. But what are you going to do with your bike when you get there? Aye, that’s the rub. And here’s where the glib chat of so-called “bicycle advocates” can reach delusional depths in all but … Continue reading »