Bikes making a comeback in cities

Peak Oil / Religion

The Atlantic has a piece about the ways that more and more people are discovering the bicycle as the perfect urban transport.

“New York City isn’t known as a biker’s paradise, with its overcrowded subways, pedestrian-packed sidewalks, yellow taxis snarled in traffic, and noisy buses. Yet even New York City is heading in the direction of places like Portland, Paris, and Copenhagen, which have embraced and promoted bike culture and bike sharing in the urban environment. Over the past four years, the Bloomberg administration has rolled out more than 250 miles of bike lanes. And this summer NYC will introduce its own bike-share program with 10,000 bikes and 600 docking stations around the city.

While New Yorkers pride themselves on always being first, the city is just catching up when it comes to bikes. In fact, the bicycle is the most commonly used mode of transportation around the world. Think of a bike as a tool, a toy, a connector and a mode of expression with a low barrier to entry. It’s probably the most hackable (and hacked) simple machine on the planet. Bikes not only get us from place to place, they are the focus of a number of conversations about how we organize communities and define and share social boundaries, and how we can harness human power to recycle energy back to the grid. Most importantly though, bicycles are an intrinsic part of how we imagine and design the city of the future. They will play a significant role in shaping identity and communities and influencing social dynamics in urban areas, because they are the next great technology platform.”

More here.

When I first arrived at the Cathedral in Phoenix six, almost seven years ago, nobody talked about riding their bike to church on Sunday. This city wasn’t set up at the time for biking. The streets were narrow, drivers were hurtling around in huge SUV’s and the places people wanted to go (Shopping Centers mostly) were too spread out to make bicycling practical.

But that’s changed. A few years after I arrived the city finished the construction of the light rail system. And each light rail train has at least one if not multiple places to put your bike while you’re riding. There’s been a renaissance in the local restaurant industry downtown with a whole host of small places springing up within an easy ride of the light rail stations. The only real estate that’s being developed at the moment is located along the light rail.

We weren’t a bike friendly city, but we are becoming one that is increasingly so. I can personally imagine getting by with a bike and a membership in zip car. I live about a mile from a light rail station – an easy bike ride. The Episcopal Cathedral where my office is now is right next to the busiest station on the light rail. In the fall through the spring it’s not even all that hot – so I don’t have to worry about cleaning up when I arrive at work.

And I’m not alone. Most of the staff, and a surprising number of Cathedral members are starting to talk about riding to church.

We have a lovely parking garage right next to the Cathedral. (Bless my predecessor for doing that!) There’s plenty of places, shaded even!, to put your car when you come to church. But there’s no place for bikes. At least not many bikes.

We do have two bike stands on Cathedral property. But only one is shaded, and neither is very secure. Because of that people who live close enough to the Cathedral or to the light rail to ride to church are not really interested in doing so at the moment. Even the staff people who do ride to work complain that there’s no space in the building to park after they arrive. Our offices aren’t big enough and we use pretty much all of the space in the building on a given day.

We’re going to solve this problem. It’s becoming enough of an issue that we just have figure what to do.

It wasn’t a problem I ever expected. I’ve always been concerned about parking for cars. There’s only been one parish that I’ve served that was built with sufficient parking from the get-go. All the others, primarily historic buildings, have had postage stamp sized lots that could handle maybe two dozen cars. But now bikes are important.

The reason this is worth mentioning is that it’s the first direct consequence of the massive demographic shift underway as young and old adults are returning the city center again. Salon has a piece on how even places like Cleveland and Pittsburg are starting to burst with new young residents around the city centers again. (H/T to bls). High fuel prices, dense urban living and a desire to something differently are all contributing. And now churches are going to have to respond.

What a great problem to have! As the neighborhoods around our historic buildings are being revitalized, we have got to think of ways to make our buildings more accessible for the people in our neighborhoods. (Which is why most of them were built in the first place after all.)

Heh. Everything old is becoming new again. Peter Allen was right.

Maybe it’s time to start blessing the bikes annually in downtown Phoenix.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...