I ride a bike. I didn’t used to think of myself as a “cyclist” any more than I ever thought of myself as a “motorist.” But the more I ride, the more I see the way people on bikes are sometimes treated by people in cars. I’ve also started to do more research to make sure that I know and understand the Colorado traffic law, especially as it pertains to bikes. I’ve joined Facebook groups and read blogs and started to identify more and more as a cyclist.
Bicycling is not the only form of transportation I use. I suppose you could say that I’m tri-modal: I drive a car. I ride a bike. And I walk. (On occasion, I ride a push scooter.) I believe that being multi-modal has made me a better motorist. And when I bicycle, there are a few things that I wish motorists understood. I could list the Colorado laws around cars and bikes, or I could explain how it’s safer, sometimes, for a bicyclist to ride in the middle of the traffic lane. These are definitely things I wish motorists knew.
But instead, I’ve decided to get even more basic than that. It seems to me that before those other things will even matter to a person driving a car, they first need to understand these three things.
I have the means to travel pretty much any way I want to. I recognize that I have options and I try to make the best choice given where I’m going and how much stuff, or how many people, I’ll be hauling.
I live on the north end of town, but I tend to retail and grocery shop either in mid-town or the on the south end of College. So I bunch as many stops together into one trip, load up, and haul everything home by car. But if I’m going somewhere closer to home, such as the kids’ school, to church, or to a restaurant or cafe, I’ll generally walk or bike.
I try to make good choices. I recognize that when I walk or use my bicycle, I’m getting exercise, not polluting, and I’m doing much less damage to the city’s infrastructure (roads and sidewalks) and therefore using up less of the city’s resources. I could bike more, and I’m trying to push myself to take more and more trips by bike. I recognize that there are times when a car makes more sense. It’s just that using a car all of the time doesn’t always make sense.
I’ve been in a situation where a gal very kindly offered to drive me to and from our weekly meetings. She felt bad that I was “stuck” riding my bike. I assured her that I had a car I could use if I wanted to. (In fact, I have two — my own and my son’s. Despite being a teen, he’s not too excited about driving, so his car is almost always available. He bikes to and from school.) So I have a choice. Don’t feel bad for me. I’m not “stuck” walking or biking. I’ve chosen to use active transportation for some trips. I do it on purpose. And I feel good about that choice.
When I ride, you benefit. It might not feel like that if you’re stuck behind me in a skinny travel lane. But nonetheless, it’s still true.
I’m not polluting, so I’m not contributing to problems with asthma and other respiratory illnesses. I’m not using gasoline, so I’m not pushing the price of gasoline up nor am I contributing to global conflicts that revolve around petroleum reserves. I’m causing far less wear and tear on the roads than if I were to do the same trip in my car (And I drive a pretty light car. It’s a Toyota Corolla.) so I’m saving the city money, which means less of a tax burden. I’m keeping my health up, so I’m less of a drain on insurance companies now and hopefully on Medicare in the future. I take up less space on the road, and most of the time I’m able to use a bike lane or trail so I’m not in your way, which means less congestion on the roads for you.
In other words, my choice benefits me, but it also benefits you. You breath cleaner air. You spend less in taxes. And you have more space on the road.
I’d be willing to bet that you have a bike in your garage. Maybe you only pull it out on occasion to ride a trail, or to get downtown when there’s zero parking, like during New West Fest, or to take part in Tour de Fat. I encourage you to try it out a little more often for trips you’re not currently using it for. Pedal to the cafe nearest your house. Or meet a friend for lunch and bike to the restaurant. Forget something at the grocery store? Run back by bicycle instead of car to pick up the item you missed.
Start small. Gain confidence. Use the Fort Collin’s bike map to plan your route in advance so it’s not stressful. I suspect that after just a few trips, you’ll start to enjoy riding a bike. You’ll feel better, both because you’re getting your blood pumping, but also because you’re outside, enjoying the wind and sun and scenery as you travel. You’ll save money on gasoline. You’ll be able to say hi to your neighbors instead of just waving from behind the windshield. You might just find that the benefits outweigh the risks.
I’ll tell you right now that cycling isn’t all a bed of roses. Though the bike lanes and routes are improving, it’s still a car’s world out there. And as you start to learn the rules of the road for cyclists, you’ll realize most motorists haven’t a clue what the rules are, and that can be scary sometimes. But you’ll feel better about yourself, your impact on the environment, and your connection to the people and places of Fort Collins.
It’s worth it. Come join me.