Below is an opinion piece on bicycle commuting that I wrote for today’s Lansing State Journal. It was one of four stories by area bicycle riders and included a positive editorial on cycling by the paper.
Rick Brown: I’m a bike commuter in heart of car country
“As an avid bicycle commuter, I sometimes wonder what possesses me to routinely ride to and from work in the heart of car country. Yes, right here in Mid-Michigan — the home of several General Motors Co. assembly plants, a myriad of automotive suppliers and distributors, REO Town, the R.E. Olds Transportation Museum, as well as the birthplace of Oldsmobile and the R.E.O Motor Car (and Truck) Co. If there ever was a place that could be potentially thought of as the nemesis of the bicycle culture, Greater Lansing would be high on the list.
But, I can proudly pronounce that I am not the lone bicyclist, nor lone bike commuter pedaling a transportation revolution from behind enemy lines. There is a definitive and growing bicycle culture here in Greater Lansing and I am honored to be a part of it.
Do I ride every workday? No, but I do bicycle commute in every month of the year and in most weather conditions, sans ice, heavy snow, and extreme cold (below zero). Otherwise, I drive my car like other people do. Meanwhile, I also try to reduce my number of car trips by riding my bicycle for many shorter distance tasks and errands.
Each day I bicycle commute to and from work, I feel I am making a very personal statement about the importance of non-motorized transportation as a way of:
• Improving our environment;
• Reducing our carbon footprint and dependence on oil;
• Improving our community’s overall health and fitness;
• Reducing traffic congestion;
• Reducing wear and tear on our roads (which we pay for too); and
• Demonstrating that one does not have to be married to a car for every trip or errand.
Considering 40 percent of all trips are less than 2 miles in length, the bicycle is the perfect vehicle to accomplish most of those. Furthermore, as a bicycle commuter, I get to enjoy fresh air, feel the breeze, see the sunrise and spring flowers, hear the birds sing, talk with people along the way and arrive at work or home fully refreshed and largely relaxed. It is a great feeling, most of the time.
Is everything perfect? Of course not. Too many drivers view bicyclists as annoying gnats who impede them traveling from point A to point B at the speed of an IndyCar. Motorists can and should be dismayed by bad bicyclists, but given the poor driving examples seen on a daily basis, they should also avoid throwing metaphorical stones from behind their glass windshields. Everyone must remember that those 2,000 pound missiles on the roadways have very little compassion for fragile pedestrians or bicyclists.
That being said, there are many encouraging signs the bicycle culture is growing in Greater Lansing. These include:
• New and extended non-motorized trails such as the southern extension of the Lansing River Trail, the Northern Tier Trail, the Interurban Trail, the Ionia-Clinton-Shiawassee Trail; and Portland’s Riverwalk;
• Adoption of “Complete Streets” resolutions and/or ordinances by several area communities;
• Designation of Lansing as a ‘Bicycle Friendly City’ and MSU as a ‘Bicycle Friendly Campus;’
• Painted bike lanes appearing on more public streets;
• Bicycle parking racks being added at area businesses, stores, parks, churches, and schools;
• Accommodation for bicycles being provided on CATA buses and Amtrak trains;
• A bicycle-sharing program being established; and
• Increased advocacy efforts from my fellow bicycle riders and supporters.
Would I like to see more? Of course. With its large student population and a little effort, Greater Lansing could easily be a showcase for demonstrating how to safely blend motorized and non-motorized transportation options into a comprehensive multi-modal network. Wouldn’t that be grand? An automotive production capital of the United States becoming a preeminent center of the bicycle culture. If it could happen here, it could happen anywhere.”