After being called a traitor to bicycling earlier this week, I got to thinking: What we commuters need is a little comfort.
That’s partly why 70 percent of Bay Area commuters drive solo. It’s more comfortable to be enclosed in your own vehicle, to be able to choose the radio station, to chomp noisily on that breakfast burrito and to engage in ghastly personal grooming habits that even members of your nuclear family wouldn’t tolerate.
Sure it’s `scary.’ The point, obviously, is to make it not scary. That’s why the other cities have things like colored bike lanes, protected bike lanes, traffic calming, bike parking, bike signals, etc.
He was reacting to my comment that I’m not comfortable with my 1.7-mile ride from the train station to work, with 18-wheelers blowing by and the alternative of glass-strewn sidewalks.
I did, in fact, mention that there are efforts under way to make bicycle commuting more comfortable, including plans for a path that would get me past the scary part of my trip.
But there are many other factors that militate against bike commuting increasing much beyond what it is now. According to the most recent Census survey, only 4 percent of Bay Area commuters either biked or walked to work in 2005.
The Bay Area will never be Amsterdam or Copenhagen, which are both flat and not nearly as sprawling as the Bay Area.
Those cities have all of those amenities that towns need to be bike friendly, and the Bay Area could have those things as well.
If bicycling were better accommodated, with such improvements as extra BART cars during rush hour and clean bike paths for a half-mile in all directions from every BART station, I think bike commuting could double or triple here.
But that would still be a small number. This area still has hills and people who can’t afford to arrive at work all sweaty.
I have colleagues who ride down from the hills to work and huff and puff back up on their way home, and that’s great. If I lived up there, I’d do the same. But we live in a society that values comfort, and that arrangement will never be as comfortable as driving or even riding a bus.
Which brings us to transit. I’m constantly getting comments on this blog sniping between bus and rail commuters. Why do people who don’t have to ride buses prefer to commute via rail? Comfort.
One of the e-mailers to Wednesday’s show complained about rubbing elbows with babbling psychiatric out-patients on city buses.
You don’t often run into such situations on commuter trains and while it happens on BART, it’s not nearly as common as it is on buses in the Bay Area’s urban core.
If the choice is bus or car, most people, regardless of their socioeconomic status, will choose the car. You’re safe inside your little cage, and all day while you’re at work, you take comfort in knowing that it’s there whenever you need it.
Does this mean we’re all lazy. One of my commenters, Roderick, clearly thinks so:
The unwillingness of many people over here to ride bikes or exercise in general is because of the American system I might call a “lazocracy,” in which reducing individual physical effort is lauded. I don’t watch TV, but I’ve polled friends who do and they admit that there is never a single character on the tube who rides a bike. (Except for occasional crazy people!). And you can bet the car-company advertisers insist on that. Same reason you don’t see any transit riders either.
Sure, we Americans (especially used-car dealers) are fond of saying “wheels beat heels” and “why walk when you can drive?” preferably in the nicest car you can afford. A company car says you’re a successful employee working for a successful company.
But even before we run out of oil, which Roderick predicts will finally change our wasteful, self-destructive commuting habits, we may run out of comfort behind the wheel.
I ride a train whenever I can because I find its reclining seats, refreshments and free newspapers make my commute far more comfortable, even if it takes somewhat longer.
As traffic degenerates to four hours of gridlock every morning, the comforts of BART, the bus and the bike path may prove the laziest way to go.
Video from YouTube by Luke Lewis.