Mar 10 2015
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 as it is, however, this is as good as it gets—in northernmost New York at any rate. Other communities do things differently. Consider Portland, Oregon, for instance. Here is a city that takes cycling—and cyclist safety—seriously. Visit the Bicycling in Portland website to see what I mean. There’s even a handy maintenance and repair guide on offer, free for the downloading. It won’t help you true your wheels or rebuild a balky bar-end shifter, but it will make any beginner’s day a little brighter when she gets her first flat. And the price is certainly right.
Portland also understands that many cyclists use their bikes for more than just raising a sweat and perfecting their form. The Portland Transportation Bureau provides a useful introduction to the nuances of shopping by bike, for instance. Do you need a way to carry the goodies home? No problem. Their website has detailed instructions for DIY bucket panniers. But as important as such things are, they’re just the grace notes in Portland’s transportation medley. By all accounts, the city’s bicycle infrastructure—the place where riders’ rubber meets the road and life hangs in the balance—is truly world-class. Cyclists in Portland aren’t compelled to dodge storm drains while negotiating a sand-clogged gutter.
So it is possible for American municipalities to make cycling safer and easier. But first they have to want to. And that’s where New York’s scrag-end towns and cities fall far short of the mark. They’d rather spend their tax money promoting ATV and snowmobile trails. Cyclists are expendable, after all. Keeping the beer flowing across the bar counters and the gas pumps ringing up ever-higher totals—now that’s what really counts, isn’t it?
- “Asphalt, Asphalt, Every Where, Nor Any Place to Park…”
- “Preventative Bike Maintenance and Flat Repair” A downloadable one-page PDF document.
- “Shop by Bike” Tips from the Portland Bureau of Transportation.
- “Make Your Own Bike Buckets” Recycle kitty litter buckets by making them into panniers. A printable PDF guide.
Questions? Comments? Just click here!