This article from Blue Zones hits on just about every point for changing the way we think about our public spaces. It’s impossible to summarize, but I particularly liked this graphic:
The more compact the radius, the more time people are given to be with the healing wonders of family, friends and “tribal members.” As more people are “bumped into,” strangers are no longer strange, but novel characters appearing on the unique neighborhood stage. Inside a compact life radius, people celebrate living with complexity and stretching intellectually, leading to fuller, richer, more complete and meaningful lives. Inside this radius, comfort is achieved, creative thoughts spring to life, bonding and community building occur naturally.
In my quest for a car-free existence, which took about 5 years from inception, my life radius changed dramatically, although I didn’t think about it in this way at the time. I can picture exactly when I came across the the blog High Heels and Two Wheels, I was sitting on the couch in our apartment in West Ashley in Charleston. The only walkable aspect (the pool doesn’t count) was that it shared a parking lot with Costco. The saddest part? We drove a car the few hundred feet over. The striking gap between what is possible for West Ashley and what the concrete archipelago reality of living and commuting there is probably what spurred me to move to a different area of Charleston. But there was still a problem with that plan.
You see, no matter where you live in Charleston, if you want to get from one area to another, you pretty much have to get on 526 to get there (red lines above indicate ‘no way in hell’ unless in a car). Granted, if you live downtown or in central Mount Pleasant, you have the Ravenel bridge (that one green connection line, denoting an adequate protected bike/pedestrian lane). Meanwhile, the debate over adding a common sense bike lane to the Legare bridge connecting West Ashley to downtown Charleston rages on.
When I mention to people that I used to live in Charleston, at least half the time I get a response along the lines of “oh biking must be great there”. Which confounds me to the point where I feel the need to pull out my phone and ask if they have seen a map of Charleston. Sure, you can bike around the peninsula (where arguably cars should be banned in favor of high density design, but that will never happen because it’s Charleston). And I could bike with ease around Daniel Island, which was a big step up from living in West Ashley where you *could* technically ride your bike (denoted above in orange), but it was super unpleasant. Within any neighborhood, biking is feasible, but there is virtually no connectivity the way there is in, say, New York.
The essential problem I had was illustrated perfectly by the life radius: I could go a couple of weeks without getting in my car, but ultimately a job assignment, errand or social event would require going to Mount Pleasant or downtown. The abysmal state of public transportation in Charleston meant that the car was the only option.
Fast forward to Greenville, where my life radius isn’t perfect, but I’m 3 miles (15 minute bike ride) from downtown, 4 miles (20 minute ride) from work, 1 mile from a grocery store and within a mile of the Swamp Rabbit Trail. Most importantly, none of my life radius necessitates getting into a car. I’ve come a long way from West Ashley and the drive of shame across the parking lot to Costco.
So. What’s your life radius? What would your neighborhood/ town/ city look like if you could design it for yourself and your community? And with that in mind, what are you going to do about it?
Every year for me since 2015 is the “year of the bike” by default, but 2017 was exceptional.
Following a conversation at my local bike shop, a handful of shop regulars started a friendly competition to see who could ride their bike at least 1 mile (logged on Strava for proof) per consecutive day of 2017, with a “last wo/man standing” approach.
It was said that as a commuter, I would surely win. But with the time I have off with a school district job, and my inclination on some weekends to stay at home and slowly drown in cat hair, it was a challenge nonetheless.
Strava did let me down unfortunately, with a total of 362 days logged for the year between times that I saved my ride the next morning and an overnight, 2-day logged ride while on the Natchez Trace with spotty reception.
But scout’s honor, I did ride the minimum mile each day, for a total of 5k logged miles at years end.
It was a sad day when I broke the streak on January 2 of 2018. I half considered keeping it going, but a) I do feel bad clogging up people’s Strava feeds with often underwhelming 1.1 mile or repetitive commute logs on many days, b) it does add pressure and an extra complication when planning a trip, and c) I would rather set a total 7k mile goal for 2018 instead. Oh, and d) I currently have bronchitis and haven’t left the house for 3 days.
The best result of this experiment was creating a photo diary of sorts for the year. I think I took more pictures than usual, in part to add some interest to my boring commutes and short rides. Between the title, pictures added and comments among friends, I have a capsule of sorts for 2017 to remember the literal and figurative ups and downs of 2017. In a year where the need for self care was pretty much unprecedented, riding daily was also a thoroughly needed catharsis and mental break from the general chaos that often seemed to reign supreme.
Some highlights of the year?
Marches and rallies, because 2017:
Group rides that might otherwise blend together:
Getting a beautiful new road bike:
Crossing items off the bike-it list: Georgia Guidestones, Silver Comet Trail
The Natchez Trace in April
Good times with friends and family:
Road trip ‘side rides’ with borrowed wheels along the way:
Buying and renovating a house.. with some interesting trips to Lowe’s
Sharing ongoing progress with house projects:
Not to mention countless other memories.. it’s hard to fit a year into a post.
There were some challenging days (Marked by neighborhood loops during Irma, which took out our power for 3 days)
And icy snow days that I had off of work but managed a slow roll down the street or around a salted parking lot)
But I can’t recall once regretting the yearlong commitment.
Not to mention I finally got my gummy bear prize, hand delivered:
I would highly recommend a month or year long experiment like this; I may even try it again myself down the road. In the meantime, I’ll keep rolling through 2018, open to new adventures✌️
Right after my joyful discovery of Limebike in Charlotte, I had the chance to try out a similar dockless bikeshare while passing through DC over thanksgiving:
Ofo was recommended by a friend, and they had a similar setup with $1 rides, 3 speeds and an easily operable app. I did really like the quickest of quick release seatposts the Ofo bikes offered. It’s the only adjustment you really need to make on these bikes, and that much easier when you can adjust it by lifting a simple lever.
I hadn’t flown through Reagan International before, but since we had a few hours to kill waiting for family to fly, I figured I could sneak in my daily ride with a mile around the National Mall. A quick trip on the Subway was all it took to escape the airport waiting area. There was even time to visit the Smithsonian Natural History Museum to boot!
Pro tip: If you can swing it on a Tuesday, the special butterfly exhibit is also free and you can take selfies with ginormous caterpillars.
One of the best parts of riding every day of 2017 was getting to ride in different locations. Although it was quick, a ride around the Mall was a fun, memorable and totally free way to spend day #325 of the year.
And guess what? If your city has Ofo
and isn’t covered in a bomb cyclone, you can ride for free all of January!
But this guy deserves a medal. And a cookie.
Today marks day #360 of my ‘ride every day if 2017’ challenge (and yes, I see the flashing red light at the end of the tunnel!).
Some days I take a quick turn around the neighborhood to get the minimum required 1.0 mile in, but today on a whim I decided to venture out with the trailer to do some errands and post-Christmas shopping. The faintest hint of sunset was showing in the sky when I exited my last stop and heard a friendly “I hope you stay warm out there!” as I bungeed my bags onto my already rather full load.
I have to admit, at first I thought that this kind person had assumed that I was experiencing homelessness, and I found myself self consciously explaining that I live nearby and enjoy bike commuting.
As it turns out, the friendly voice belonged to Sandra, who used to bike commute regularly when she lived in Las Vegas and Massachusetts. I could tell it thrilled her to see someone bike commuting in a place like South Carolina, and we enjoyed swapping stories about our experiences and shared frustrations with the car-centric culture we live in.
I love the sense that every ride has the potential to build community and new connections. You just can’t say the same for driving!
Not having a car can get awkward in unexpected ways. Like filling out residency forms for South Carolina. I guess they’ll let me know if they have questions?