It never fails. I'm trying to ride my bike to work through my neighborhood and these packs of cars always get in the way. They take up the whole road and won't let me pass! Should cars be allowed on neighborhood streets?
Last week, I wrote the above post on my personal Facebook timeline.
It was meant to be funny, but seriously, I DO often get stuck behind cars on neighborhood streets. I live in an older, urban neighborhood in Charlotte where yards are small and most people park on the road. Roads here aren’t built to accommodate four cars abreast, so one often has to wait at the end of one block for an oncoming car to pass.
On my bicycle, I can easily squeeze through and even leave plenty of room for several oncoming bikes! But with the car stopped on one end of the block, I am stuck behind it, breathing its noxious emissions. I then have time to contemplate, considering where I live and the convenience of everything, that the 8 passenger behemoth blocking my path has probably driven less than a mile with two or fewer occupants.
All of that I can handle, because I’m generally a tolerant, peaceful and generous person. What I can’t stand though, is when one of those cars (probably the same one that has blocked me multiple times) happens to have a clear block (except for me) and comes up, breathing down my neck (because I’m riding my 5 miles below the speed limit) and guns the accelerator to pass me before the next stop sign. I then am again stuck behind that same car, from stop sign to stop sign.
Bicycle or Car, which is better?
When you think about the advantages of bicycles versus cars, you realize that the debate we are having about bicycles versus cars is all wrong.
Which vehicle takes up less space, causes less road damage, is 100% environmentally friendly with no emissions, is less expensive to maintain, and helps the user stay fit and reduce stress? If you guessed the bicycle, you are correct! Now, which vehicle pollutes the environment, requires expensive maintenance, is tough on road surfaces, has been considered by many courts to be a weapon when used recklessly and takes up so much space that most urban areas can’t keep up with the massively expensive road construction required to fit everyone who wants to drive his or her climate controlled SUV solo back and forth daily? Unless you’re a bike hater or kind of dense, you probably guessed car and, if so, you’re right!
Studies have shown that current transportation practices in this country are not sustainable. I have personally heard one North Carolina senator (who is not a bicycle rider) on our legislature’s transportation committee state that we cannot keep moving people in the same manner for much longer. The growth of the need for highway space is outpacing our ability to produce it.
Time to Reframe the Car vs Bike Debate
Don’t get me wrong. In this country, most people need cars. I have a car that I mostly use to drive out of town (a lot). I’ve used the Amtrak but it often runs at inconvenient times, is occasionally hours late, and doesn’t stop at most of the places I need to go. And, while I’ve tried to adjust my lifestyle to accommodate walking and bicycling (like smaller, more frequent trips to the grocery store), I will drive locally if I have to carry tons of stuff or have a bunch of kids to transport. I do try to avoid the latter; mine rides his bike.
But I think we need to reframe the conversation. A car is something you take because you have to, not because it’s better. It’s like grabbing your ski parka when a light sweater will do, except worse because the ski parka doesn’t pollute and can’t hurt anyone. And when car drivers see bicyclists, they should say something like, “I wish I were out there on a bike enjoying the fresh air instead of being stuck in this steel box,” or, “there’s someone doing her part to reduce CO2 emissions. Thank you!”
Like any social change, this one is likely to happen only by necessity and repeated exposure. Right now bicycle enthusiasts and advocates feel like we’re beating our collective heads against a brick wall.We hear people complain to news reporters and see social media posts about how much everyone hates bicycles and we feel discouraged. But, I remember the words of the Senator and think, “it won’t be long before your 20-minute commute will take an hour; you’ll beg for help and we’ll come to your rescue.”
I’ve now been choosing my bike for local trips long enough that I am very disappointed if circumstances require me to use a car. Once you have your gear and clothing figured out riding is a JOY. It doesn’t come down to a car vs bike debate for me, but which option is a healthier and happier one.
North Carolina lawyer and Bike Law founder, Ann Groninger, has advocated at the state level on behalf of bicyclists in North Carolina for over 15 years. Ann has offices in Charlotte and Durham and has helped bike accident clients in Asheville, Raleigh, Durham, Greenville, Wilmington, Fayetteville, and throughout the state. Read more about Ann on her bio page.