In Promoting Bike-Friendly Development, Visibility Matters

CC BY 2.0. Sami Grover

It's important for cyclists to be seen. And no, I am not talking about flashing lights or fluorescent jackets.

Despite being the home of the ELF, Durham, NC, isn't really the ideal biking town. At least, it never used to be. The bike lanes are inconsistent, and certainly not physically separated. There's not (yet) the kind of "Goldilocks" density that makes biking a no-brainer. And, perhaps most importantly, there just haven't been enough cyclists on the road to promote a culture of safety.

Nevertheless, there are plus-sides too: a relatively flat topography, quiet side roads, a few dedicated bike trails, and a growing interest in more sustainable transportation.

So while I've been biking around town myself from time-to-time, I finally took the plunge over the weekend and biked the kids to the farmers' market. We all made it home safely and, just as importantly, we had an absolute blast doing so. (Despite appearances, I don't think my eldest is elbowing her sister in the photo above.) The biggest lesson for me, however, was how biking creates bicyclists. Not only did I notice more bikes, bike trailers, cargo bikes and ELFs than I do when I am in my car, but I had several people comment on and/or ask about our bike trailer and where they could get one.

I was reminded of the gay rights movements' strategic focus on visibility. The success of that movement owes as much to the simple act of standing up and identifying oneself as it does effective argument or debate. The sheer numbers of people coming out as gay, or as an ally of gay rights, built a momentum that's resulted in rapid, previously unimaginable change.

We environmentalists can, from time to time, be a humorless crowd. And while there's a place for rhetoric and political argument, we'd do well to remember that there's also a place for simply living the life we want to live. In a car-centric culture like North America, where Rob Ford-style demonization of cyclists is common place, the simple act of getting on your bike is an important vote for cultural change.

Amsterdam wasn't always a bike-friendly city. It became so because people chose to bike, and then to assert their rights as cyclists. There's an opportunity for citizens everywhere to do the same.

So, as Queen once said, get on your bikes and ride!