Tel Aviv's beachfront promenade (photo courtesy of Daniel Cherrin).
I used to hate commuting. For two years, I studied in another city. Twice a week, I would hop on a bus, transfer to a train, and then catch another bus. The entire trip took two hours, and the round trip consumed a four hour(!) chunk of my day. I wish I could say I took advantage of the time in transit to do something productive, but the truth is that I was too worn out from a long day of studying to do anything useful on those trips. It never occurred to me then that another kind of commute existed, one that was actually enjoyable. Six months ago, I moved out of the city center. A huge fan of city living, I had lived there for several years, happy to avail myself of everything that the urban lifestyle had to offer. At some point, however, downtown rents began an inexorable climb. I found myself, along with many of my friends, looking south to the city's cheaper, but less central, neighborhoods.
So I moved to Jaffa. Although technically one city (Tel Aviv-Jaffa), Tel Aviv and Jaffa are more like twin cities, with Jaffa being the less favored sibling. People here like to call it Tel Aviv's backyard, while people in Tel Aviv view it as a distant frontier, worth a visit every now and then but somehow outside of the Tel Aviv "bubble."
That was most daunting for me - the thought of living "outside the city." With no real public transit, and a less-than-convenient bus system, it was clear to me that I would be spending a lot of time on my bike (I don't own a car, and anyway finding a parking spot in Tel Aviv is near impossible). Six months later, I savor my time in transit.
Lucky for me, a new bike lane connects Jaffa and Tel Aviv along the seaside boardwalk. While biking in the rest of the city can feel like an extreme sport, the new bike path has made my daily bike ride to Tel Aviv feel like a walk in the park. Riding along the coastline, the sea breeze blowing past me and into the city, I have some of my best ideas. The 20-minute ride is great for relieving stress, and great for people-watching.
While cities like Portland have proven the economic benefits of bike-friendly urban design, I wonder if anyone has yet researched the more intangible benefits of getting people out of motor vehicles and onto cycles. I, for one, am convinced that there are plenty of these.
Now if only the police could stop the wave of bike thefts here, and it wasn't so damned hot and sweaty outside...