Delighting in bikes

I don’t think the importance of delight (as advocated in “The Carbon Efficient City”) can be overstated when thinking about how to make people change long-established habits. In many cases, I think finding delight is really the only way to make a significant change. Just look at smoking – decades of research showing without question that it is seriously bad for your health, and we’re still fighting the idea that people think it looks cool. Voila, the importance of delight. (Ok, and addiction – but why did people pick up the habit in the first place?)

One urban/environmental measure that needs way more emphasis on delight is cycling. Sure, it’s great for my health and saves me money, but what I really really love about riding my bike is the pure glee of flying down a hill that takes me back to being 8 years old and taking laps up and down the giant hill in my old neighborhood with my friends. Then there’s also the freedom – hopping off and on, locking it up wherever, taking time for unexpected detours to check out the things you notice moving 15 miles per hour but not at 35. That’s delight, and it’s why I keep choosing my bike.

When I first moved to Seattle, I was terrified to ride in traffic. Navigating the city in a car can be stressful enough, and seeing people riding to work in full neon spandex battle regalia made bike commuting even less appealing to me – how was a recent college graduate turned temp worker supposed to afford all that stuff? That fear blocked all perception of delight for me, and I think it does for a lot of people. While there are serious safety concerns cycling, and a lack of bike infrastructure in our city, the danger is often overblown. Yes, you must be conscious of the dangers of cycling, but how often are you conscious of the dangers of driving? 

For cycling to be a success, people have to see how it fits easily into their lives. While the full neon spandex battle regalia certainly makes people very visible, how much more safe is that person, really, than an alert rider who knows the rules of the road wearing lighter colored clothes and a bright front and back light? I don’t think the difference is significant. No amount of gear is a substitute for common sense, and the perception that you need that kind of gear probably keeps people from biking in the city. That’s a serious shame, as getting lots more people out on bikes is what will get more drivers thinking to look for bikes, and understanding how to share the road. 

So, delight! How do we change the conversation about biking from fear to delight? One nice example comes from Copenhagen. (Woah, Denmark doing cool cycling things? No way!) The city had people stand at stop lights and hand candy to cyclists, with a little note attached saying something to the effect of “hey, eat your dessert – you rode your bike to work today”. I would much rather eat candy than get a badge of courage for cycling.

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