Saturday, January 2, 2010

What would it look like if we all really shared the streets?

I saw the future of Spokane cycling on an outing with my family, and it looked great. Here’s what I saw:

  • People of all ages, stages, sizes and colors putting up with each other’s varying levels of speed, agility and coordination, while keeping the stream of movement flowing smoothly
  • Little kids so wobbly that you feared they would crash in front of you and take you out too, but so cute you were just glad to see them out there at all
  • People on wheels sharing really, really close quarters at a relatively high speed, occasionally infringing on each other's safety zones but negotiating lane-sharing with a fair amount of courtesy and the occasional light bump
  • Older folks serenely wheeling along, not bothered that they’re being passed by much speedier teens bent on impressing each other as they take a corner really fast
  • Young people obviously on dates, doing something healthy together by getting out and moving around
  • Parents and kids hanging out together participating in a shared activity, all of them enjoying the flow, the movement, the exhilaration, smiling at each other, encouraging each other, teaching each other
  • Kids racing each other, eager to be the first to cross the finish line
  • People using different types of equipment—some designed for speed, some for comfort

But there wasn’t any ride scheduled for January 1, you say. So where did I see this? Pattison’s North Skating Rink, during the free New Year’s Day community skate session.
Despite reading occasional pieces about conflicts between different types of cyclists (racers vs. commuters, share-the-road vs. separated-path infrastructure fans, hipsters on fixies and stump-jumpers on mountain bikes, recumbent vs. those of us sitting up a little higher in the saddle), I believe we have more in common than things that divide us.
In the skate session, despite all those differences in balance and preferred speed and ability to take a fast corner, we all negotiated without so much as saying a word. We shared the same space. We made it around and around and around without conflict, without arguing over whether one person accidentally cut off another in a tight spot, without yelling at someone for going too slowly or exiting a little too abruptly right in front of you. Sure, every so often a voice came over the loudspeaker to remind us that there was an overall speed limit (“if you’re passing everyone, you’re going too fast”), but that was pretty minimal enforcement.
I hope our roads are like that someday. Expand it beyond different types of cyclists and you’ll see a vision of people walking, biking, driving, waiting for buses, taking a wheelchair up a ramp—all of us flowing together at our own rates, in our own ways, all sharing the experience of going somewhere and enjoying the journey.