Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Guest post from Liz:

A few weeks ago I journeyed to my southern homeland thousands of miles away. It is a place I call Little Rock, Arkansas.

It is not a terrible place, as Michael has mentioned in the comments, but it is definitely lacking bicycle culture. Little Rock is a town of roughly 200,000 people sprinkled over 116 square miles/302 square kilometers. Everyone drives a car and it is basically impossible to get anywhere without one. The only bicycle friendly part of Little Rock is the two neighborhoods of Hillcrest and the Heights. This area has cottage style houses, narrow streets with bike lanes, and locally owned shopping.

So what does ridership in the southern United States tell us about bike riding here in Brooklyn, Denmark, or elsewhere?

My Little Rock bike friends seem to all own and advocate for mountain or speed bikes with appropriate attire. Some of us here on Drunk and in Charge disagree with such choices but we should definitely investigate why such differences exist. I asked my dress wearing Little Rock girlfriend why she rode her mountain bike. She told me that it was the best choice because she needed something that could easily handle the gigantic paved hills that are in Little Rock as well as the local outdoor, mountain terrain she likes to tackle on the weekends. Here in Brooklyn I certainly do not tackle giant paved hills or actual mountains so I could not argue with her choice.
Although I have little evidence I would argue that many places are less likely to have a city commuter bike culture if the only places to bike are the two extremes of five lane streets or designated "off-road" bicycling paths. There is no short-trip commuting (under 10 miles) or urban public life for most cyclists in suburban Little Rock.

An example of a possible future southern bike environment is a friend of mine who works at Heifer International in downtown Little Rock. She rides her speed bike about 4 miles from Hillcrest everyday.
The path she takes is not bicycle friendly but because Heifer rewards their employees with interior bike parking and other bicycling perks she is motivated to continue. (This Indonesian pedicab is parked on Heifer's third floor, its unfortunately not a bike one of the employees rides.) My friend likes the idea of her bike becoming more reflective of her personality and lifestyle and would like to ride a slower and more comfortable bike once she is used to navigating the car plagued streets.

The quantity or quality of ridership is not all physically determined of course.

Some Little Rockians were open to changing their commuting choices when presented with pictures and tales of my bike adventures on my squeaky, kickstand, Basil-basket ridden ride. They simply hadn't been socially presented with any biking alternatives before.

The moral of this story, in the face of re-evaluating American energy costs, is to keep spreading the news of your bike adventures to anyone you meet in hopes of changing American commuting culture.


Michael said...

I love it - and if anyone is qualified to ponder "a possible future southern bike environment" I know it's you.

Krista said...

I used to live in the Little Rock suburbs (grandparents live there, parents from there, spent waaay more time than is healthy there...) and yes, it is almost completely impossible to get around without a car. Little Rock is surprisingly hilly in parts, and the locals in their pick-um-up trucks wouldn't know what to do with a cyclist, anyway. This post made me smile!

Anonymous said...

not to worry liz - when israel attacks iran before george w asshole leaves office - as they will - and iran blockades the straights of hormuz - and gas hits $7 a gallon - everyone everywhere will be riding bikes in the united states

ehouse said...

Thanks for your insight Krista. When I wrote this I thought no one would even know where Little Rock is :-)

m e l i g r o s a said...

those are some sweet apple bike racks.