A funny thing about bike commuting, as is also often the case with bike touring, is that random inconveniences often tend to work out perfectly. For example, today I ended up with a free hour to spend downtown since it wasn’t worth riding home between work and going to dinner. In a car, I would have rushed home for just a few minutes or found an errand to run along a busy, traffic clogged road, since there’s no inherent need to drive downtown and find parking at this hour. Instead, I took a quiet bike route through neighborhoods into Greenville and have wound up sitting and relaxing by the waterfall in our beautiful downtown park.The parking is free and easy, the view is gorgeous, and it’s a perfect opportunity to vote for my town in the elite 8 of the Strong Towns bracket and unwind in the sunshine.
Thoroughly loving this episode of Unladylike that addresses two wheeled street harassment.
Spoiler alert, it’s been around as long as bikes.
I feel lucky that I don’t often experience street harassment, which is to say I’m grateful that I’m not constantly reminded that some people correlate my value as a human being by the level of sexual attraction they have to me. That’s a sad state of affairs, and we can do better.
There are so many obstacles to getting more women on bikes (and thereby making cycling safer and better for everyone), and I would hope that street harassment isn’t a factor, but I’m sure it is. It’s made all the worse when you’re a vulnerable road user as it is, just to be made to feel more vulnerable by getting yelled at and objectified by someone in a giant metal box zooming by you (add in offended, scared, upset, and/or infuriated as it applies to you and you situation).
(I also have to say, I have a pretty low bar here. I’m not offended by hellos or an occasional “Hey Peaches” by a man I pass sometimes who I would judge is old enough to be my great great grandfather. I love it when people compliment my bike and tend to assume that they simply share my level of bike obsession. Being told to smile mildly annoys me, and I often try to smile and wave at people anyway because I’m an evangelical cyclist, and because I enjoy surprising and sometimes confusing people.)
I’m not referring to any of that. I’m referring to the gassholes of the world who think it’s acceptable to install a 500 decibel catcall whistle to their redneck pickup truck that is loud enough to reverberate a rider into a ditch right as they pass by me, in a school zone no less. I’m talking about the teenage boys who yelled “NICE ASS” to me out the window of a mini van and speed away laughing, just as much as I’m talking about the women who told me I should be flattered and that I’ll miss that kind of attention when I get older when I related to them how violated I felt.
Because oh, Hell to the No.
Those instances are few and super far between. Most of the negative reactions I deal with are actually from friends and family worried that I deal with an environment that would warrant me carrying a gun or some kind of weapon (oh hi, South Carolina). I have never felt that I would be safer with one, and never felt that I would need one any more than if I drove a car. Also, if you saw me try to open a jar of pickles, you would not advise me to handle a gun. It also surprises people that I feel much safer in my current neighborhood in a mostly low income area than I do in nicer parts of town. Almost all of the people I come across are incredibly friendly, well adjusted and respectful people, and the few that prove otherwise are not going to ruin my favorite thing for me.
Most women I know don’t bike commute out of a lack of safety in terms of infrastructure, such as protected bike lanes, trails or even low traffic routes. But how sad that we live in a society that essentially tells us that we need to put on a two ton “protective” armor of metal when we walk out the door, and that to do otherwise is “asking for it”.
So for the record, what I’m asking for is my physical and mental well-being, transit equity and mobility, a cleaner environment, and a stronger, healthier community. I’m asking to ride my bike, except I’m not asking because I’m going to ride it with or without your permission. It’s unladylike, and I hope you would expect nothing less.
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?