Project Thirty Days (mostly) Car-Free: Nearly there!
Ultra-cold, snowy and icy conditions like we've had lately would normally have meant an automatic trip in the car but not this month. No heater, no heated seats, no protective steel and glass enclosure. But still fun James Huang
My 30 days of car-free travel for in-town trips is rapidly coming to a close, and it's a somewhat bittersweet ending. Given the record low temperatures we experienced in Boulder yesterday (it was -27°C/-17°F this morning) and the ridiculously slippery fluffy-snow-over-freezing-rain road conditions I foolishly rode through the day prior, it'll definitely be a luxury to have the option of climbing back into the more secure four-wheeled footing of my big steel dinosaur burner and its coddling heated seats.
But with that being said, I'm also struck by how the task has grown easier with each passing day. It's simple enough to throw on a few more layers when it's cold and had I invested the time and money, studded tires would have found me ripping circles around the hapless drivers who were sliding about (luckily, not into me). And I continue to be astounded by what can fit on the rear load shelves, including my most anticipated challenge – a full-sized bike box. I still haven't come close to the maximum weight capacity but I can't remember the last time I had the car loaded up with 100kg of gear for an in-town trip, either.
If nothing else, these few days have shattered personal perspectives on when a car is needed – and when it isn't. And looking back at my Garmin data, there's been a lot more time spent on a bike than there otherwise might have been, all while usually only adding negligible minutes to my errands when factoring in traffic and parking time. And of course, there's the small but not insignificant amount of money saved in fuel and occasional parking meters. Needless to say, that number would go up enormously were I to do this full-time and actually get rid of one of the vehicles in our two-car household.
Having a bike purpose built for the task certainly helps but an even bigger factor to this project's success has been the bicycle-friendly infrastructure built into my local city planning, not to mention the generally friendly and curious – not hostile – attitudes of the drivers around me, many of whom are likely cyclists themselves. Local mountain bikers may sometimes say otherwise but Boulder is an insanely easy place to do business on a bicycle as compared to the US national standard.
The dedicated non-motorized pathway system is extensive and sinuous – I dropped boxes off at a colleague's house about 7km (4.3 miles) away and was on surface streets for less than a fifth of the distance. Similarly, I jumped out to pick up dinner about 3km (1.9 miles) away and shared the road with cars for only four blocks. The incredible array of underpasses and bridges meant I rarely had to stop, and even when I've had to share the road with cars there's almost always been a dedicated bicycle lane with clear markings and virtually no abuse. And yes, there are bike racks everywhere.
I'm by no means trying to brag about where I live. The point is that while manufacturers can provide tools for the lifestyle, ultimately they don't mean much if there isn't an infrastructure in place so you can actually use those tools effectively. Build it and they will come, as the saying goes. Luckily for me, Boulder integrated bicycles into the city planning very early on. Those extensive bike paths were apparently bundled into the funding for storm drainages to help mitigate the costs and the city wisely recognizes that its well-earned bicycle-friendly reputation is a big reason why people continue to come here.
Remember when gas prices soared in the US not too long ago (and yes, Europe and UK, we know we were still cheap by comparison)? Consider it a blessing in disguise. Automobiles are smaller, automobile engines are smaller, people are downsizing. Even major US metropolitan areas like New York and Washington DC are making major changes to promote cycling – often against major objections from driving populations, too.
And then there are outfits like Bikes Belong, its People for Bikes initiative, Yield to Life, B-Cycle and countless others that are all centered around promoting bicycle use and cyclist safety. If there's ever been a groundswell of support for cycling as a legitimate mode of alternative transportation, now feels like the time. I may be especially fortunate here but it seems the times are a' changing in lots of places and there's no better way to demonstrate your own approval of the idea by using the facilities provided for you.
In other words, get out and ride! Even if you only set a modest goal for yourself – say, riding to work just on Fridays or for fair-weather trips under a certain distance – there's no better way to enact a culture change than by being an example. Logistics, routing, and family obligations all allowing, put yourself out there and see what happens. You might be pleasantly surprised.
Just a few more days to go in my commitment now though I may just push right on past that 30-day mark assuming Trek don't need this bike back right away. Can't guarantee at that point that you'll still see me riding 'the beast' when it's this terrible out, though…
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