Guest Opinion: Ride with me through Biketopia

The views expressed in Guest Opinions represent only those of the author and are in no way endorsed by Richmond BizSense or any BizSense staff member.

Wouldn’t it be cool to live in an urban bike paradise? Bear with me while I daydream about the ideal ultra-cool cycling city. Cool cycling cities are natural tourist destinations, drawing families and bike enthusiasts from across the country to ride on long, safe bike trails that pass through and connect major tourist attractions such as battlegrounds and colonial-era historic sites.

Energetic and committed advocates help bring these facilities into existence, funded by enlightened local governments and major corporations who maintain headquarters there. In those cities, almost everyone knows that opportunities for safe cycling of all types raise property values and quality of life for everyone, not just the cyclists.

In my Biketopia, you would ride to work down wide, straight, two-lane, one-way streets through neighborhoods of quaint turn-of-the-century homes, shielded by a canopy of trees. Or you could ride to work on trails or quiet roads along a beautiful scenic river. Not bad, eh?

What if your morning commute took you through the campuses of two major universities? What if one university’s nationally ranked sculpture department viewed bicycles as a form of art and created a bike frame workshop, fully equipped and stocked with esoteric tools and materials? You might even expect such a city to be the natural location for national exhibitions of handcrafted bicycles as the epitome of functional art.

And it would be doubly cool if your city was the subject of a pilot project for sustainable transportation funded by a major corporation, with the goal of integrating electric cars, bicycles (including electric bikes), Segways or other transportation modes into its smoothly functioning conventional transportation infrastructure. And for those who would choose not to drive, ride their bikes or walk, there would have to be a really good public transit system. It would be really extra cool if it were the top-ranked transit system in the country.

That would mean that all of its buses would need to have bike racks on the front, thanks to tireless efforts of local cycling advocates. You might find these factors in a forward-looking city that, for example, boasted one of the first public light rail systems, powered by locally generated renewable hydroelectric energy. The perfectly cool cycling city would have to be on a major national bike route, of course.

Still, a city would not be truly cool for cyclists without at least one local pro racing team and weekly training races in the city parks for competitive club cyclists. And ideally it should have at least one Olympic cyclist with more gold medals than Eric Heiden who would make his home in your urban cycling paradise. An Olympic Training Center with a world-class velodrome would take the cool factor up a few notches for sure. International level bike races running through the downtown streets like a human-powered Grand Prix would be essential annual events to maintain cool status.

Inevitably, there would be bike couriers buzzing around the downtown business district, flagrantly violating traffic laws, yet unexplainably never being seen to crash or cause accidents. Any really cool cycling city is bound to have its share of those – it’s a small price to pay, and some even find them entertaining. Plus, think of the cars they would otherwise be driving and double parking all over town.

All truly cool cycling cities offer great opportunities for other sports year-round, such as whitewater kayaking, skiing and snowboarding. And it would be beyond cool to have an island in the middle of the city, crisscrossed with hiking trails and mountain bike trails, surrounded by world-class whitewater.

But you can’t have a world-class-cool cycling city without bike shops. You need shops catering to the high-end with carbon fiber time trial and triathlon bikes for super athletes, and you also need those little neighborhood shops that will fix your bike while you wait and offer everything from brand-new city bikes and custom-built wheels to classic recycled transportation bikes with fat tires and fenders. These are essential coolness factors.

There actually are a few cities in this world that can lay claim to some of these cool attributes. You typically find them on the West Coast, in the Rocky Mountains, or in Europe, where cycling is a major form of everyday transportation, not just a sport for hard-core enthusiasts with unlimited Lycra budgets. They get lots of press, tourists and international status, and they promote themselves as cycling friendly destinations and great places to live. Their citizens are generally happier and healthier than average.

But can you imagine what it would be like to actually live in such a city that had all of the elements of a cycling paradise?

I can, because I live in Richmond, where all of these factors are either present or within reach.

But please, let’s keep it quiet. I mean, what if the whole world knew? Cyclists everywhere, from Portland to Boulder to Copenhagen and Amsterdam, would be up in arms, demanding equality. I suggest instead we just quietly paint some bike lanes on existing streets, maybe designate a few suitable roads as preferred bike routes and finish what we have started. That would be cool indeed.

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