I’ve long been a biker. I’m not the biker I once was. Because I was once a lunatic who’d bike at least a hundred miles a week in any weather, including torrential storms and polar vortexes. But I still bike, and am a biker at heart.
By biker, I mean a person who rides a bicycle, not a motorcycle. I suppose cyclists is a more commonly used term, but that’s always sounded kind of pretentious, like it insists on being said with an old-timey accent: “Good day, lads. My, there’s many a cyclist about this morning, eh?”
These days I mostly just bike to work and back. But time was, I’d bike anywhere and everywhere. I know from personal experience that streets are not accommodating to bikers. I’ve been to many parts of this country, and a decent number of parts of the world. With a small handful of exceptions, most places treat bikers with either apathy or disdain. Growing up in Philly, I’ve experienced some of the worst examples of this. Philly is an old city, with narrow streets, crowds, and heavy traffic. It’s hard to bike safely on a one-way street where the sides are lined with parked cars, and fast moving cars and trucks are grumbling beside you and in your way.
I’ve heard many drivers deride bikers as being “in the way.” Bikers are accused of being obstructions, nuisances, and treated like they shouldn’t be there. But Philly is actually a case where a strong argument can be made that it is the cars that don’t belong. Old as it is, many of its streets predate the automobile by decades or centuries. Those narrow Philly streets were never meant for cars. They were made for pedestrians, horses, carriages, and bikes. Bikes are much more in place than cars. There was a time when drivers had to just suck it up and drive slowly when the streets were full. The people in the streets, whether pedestrians, carters, horse-folk, vagabonds, or bikers, had as much right to the road. Cars had to get in where they fit in, and if they didn’t fit, too bad.
Yet American culture is so driven (Ha. Pun.) by the oil industry, that motor vehicles rule the roads. We’ve blighted and destroyed much of the natural landscapes of this country by scarring roads all over its body. But while true that most modern roadways were built for automobiles, there’s no good reason for them not to be shared with bikes.
And putting a “Share the road” sign up is not enough, especially if the road meant to be shared is not large enough to do so safely. It’s like being told to share a slice of pizza. Fuck you, this is my slice. Give us another slice. Oh, what, you don’t have one? Then bake a bigger pie, dumb-dumb.
Problem is, we can’t change the roads as they are. Not in most places. So, dear reader, I suggest that we add new roads, specifically for bikes. They have these in some places. In parts of Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden, those chaotic socialist dystopias, they have bike lanes. And by that I don’t mean that they have narrow strips along the side of the regular automobile road demarcated only by a line of paint. No, they have actual separate, second roads just for bikes, divided by curbs, often in between the car road and the sidewalk. I cannot express how good and right it felt to bike in that middle lane, not worrying about vehicles hitting me, or me hitting pedestrians.
Granted, it would be a huge logistical nightmare, making new bike roads. Impossible in some places. So, if you’ll allow me to blow your mind, I present to you, dear reader: bike bridges.
Yes, rather than futz around with roads as they are, we erect a series of elevated bike paths. Ten or twenty feet over the roads and sidewalks, the sides fenced for safety, and with entry/exit ramps at every corner. Imagine the ease and comparative safety we’ll enjoy with this innovation. Bikers will be hit less frequently. Drivers will bitch slightly less. The sidewalks will still be lawless no man’s lands, but likely less so.