As a frequent bicycle commuter, I read with interest Syd Mead's article in the local paper today, "Bikes are Not Ideal Transit of the Future." Although Mead tempers his criticism of this practice with praise for bikes, even his nods to the humble two-wheeled contrivance suggest that he lacks much time in the saddle -- at least commuting. For example, during my commutes I rarely experience the "intimate visual, aromatic and auditory connection to the world around you" that he describes -- unless I fall off onto some unidentifiable but fragrant organism smushed into the road. That's probably because I'm not sightseeing but trying to transport myself to work on time without becoming another unidentifiable but fragrant organism smushed into the road.
But according to Mead, this sort of bike transportation is not actually possible:
[T]he bicycle is not, strictly defined, a transport device. Ever try to carry a watermelon on a bicycle? (Yes, it can be done, but how much else could you carry?)
All right, Syd has a point. Many are the mornings I've left the house near tears, having chosen to tote my laptop to the office instead of those lush green melons beckoning me from the kitchen counter. At least I can take comfort knowing that motorcycles and two-seat roadsters -- all passenger cars, really -- aren't transport devices either, strictly defined. But seriously, how many of us have room in our driveway for the massive trucks watermelon farmers use to get their produce to market?
Talk to me, bicycleman. Talk to me.
If I sound skeptical of Mead's view, that may be due to what he identifies among cyclists as an "almost messianic insistence that bicycles should be a part of the urban transit mix." Messianic? I'm not sure I can agree with that: ever tried carrying a cross on your bike? Sure, it can be done, but how much else could you carry? And where would you put your watermelon?
The main point of Mead's article is that "the notion of being 'liberated' from the car is an interesting one that has zero basis in practical terms." This is what courtroom advocates call a "straw man" argument, or "a weak or sham argument set up to be easily defeated." And it's the primary flaw with his position. With a few notable exceptions, cyclists don't argue that bikes should wholly supplant cars.
I like my car. I don't want to get rid of my car. I use my car all the time -- and not just to carry melons or chickens or other agricultural products. Granted, bicycle commuting is not for everyone, and requires planning and trade-offs. But that doesn't mean bikes can or should be omitted from transportation plans -- any more than windmills should be omitted from energy plans just because they won't satisfy all of our energy needs.
Oops, I think I just stepped right into one of Mead's traps. He discerns a particular, disturbing worldview among cyclists:
[T]here's a save-the-earth mentality in bicycle culture that seems to make riders feel entitled to ignore traffic management signs. This flaunting of traffic rules, what I would call "eco-elitism," is all too common.
Interesting. Somehow I never made that connection before. But it's clear now. Thanks, Syd. That explains why I sometimes exceed the posted freeway speed limits. Oh wait, that's in my car. Well, I'm just thankful that so many of my even greener eco-elite comrades are out there on the interstate roaring past me. We are saving the planet -- one gallon of premium at a time.
But even though I enjoy my car, I still prefer using my bike for the 12-to-14-mile ride to my downtown workplace, whenever I can. And so do many others here in San Diego -- or so I thought. Syd gets the last word (I'm kidding; this is my blog): "In large urban centers, however, using a bicycle to traverse 10, 15, or 20 miles one way is simply not feasible."
So I have to use my car now. Super. That does me no good at all.
Truth be told, I don't even like watermelon.
If you liked this article, kindly share or "Like" it. And if you enjoy Stutsblog, be sure to subscribe to it (see blue buttons to the right, just beneath the periscope in San Diego Harbor). Thanks!
SUBSCRIBE TO FUTURE BLOG ARTICLES