Monday, October 12, 2009

Why What Should Cheer Me Up Makes Me Want to Stop Trying

This post has a heartening photo of long lines of people on bikes waiting at a stoplight in Denmark. For half a minute I loved it: My ideal world realized! Maybe I should move!

Then I thought of this earlier post on biking in Copenhagen, which argues that longstanding approaches to urban planning in Denmark mean "cyclists and drivers are really equals":

It’s actually impressive to a degree that’s somewhat unsettling. Regular bicycle commuting in the United States is, among other things, a somewhat meaningful identity category. Initially it’s thrilling to see so many of “your people” everywhere. But looking closer you start to see exactly what was explained to me—the whole reason you have so many people biking around is that cycling is totally mainstream in Copenhagen and doesn’t constitute an identity at all.

That one had me cheering too. The idea of people on bikes and people in cars and trucks and so on recognizing that they're equals—with all the same rights and responsibilities—is pure cake and ice cream to me. Add that to the sense that riding a bike "doesn’t constitute an identity at all" and you've given me a birthday present and a party too.

Understand: I resent the amount of time I spend thinking about riding a bike to work. It's a silly thing to waste consciousness on. And about the silliest thing I can imagine writing about.

I don't feel any special kinship with other people on bikes. (If I did, I'd probably scream at them less.) But I do think that biking in the city has made me think of myself as part of a group.

Little wonder since, according to the second post, 37 percent of commuters in Copenhagen take bikes while in New York only six-tenths of one percent do. That means there are probably fewer people who could be called bikers in New York than there are people who could be called artists.

Nothing short of apocalypse will get us from 0.6 percent to 37 percent in my lifetime. So pining after this ultimate American cityscape—one that allows everyone moving through its public spaces a reasonable sense of security if they're willing to follow the rules of those spaces—feels like a pipe dream. I try not to waste my time on pipe dreams.

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