…and if so how will we know? When we look back in hindsight I suppose one day we will be able to say to ourselves that “hey this was the time when we transitioned from a complete lack of cycling infrastructure to a comprehensive approach to transportation for our city” but I have a stronger feeling that if you are an advocate or stakeholder you may actually see that this time is now and that the passion surrounding the cycling community and the things that are happening today really reflect a comprehensive change to our approach to transportation in our environment. Last night I attended the event entitled “Could Richmond be the next Portland?” insinuating that we somehow would be able to match the cycling quotient exhibited by several time bicycling magazine winner of most cycle friendly city in the USA. While the name seemed contrived to me I assure you that the organizers and speakers presented information that was intelligent, experienced, and bold as an approach for our town to move forward with our next steps in planning to make changes that reflect the necessity of cycle infrastructure as an integral part of our transportation environment. Not only were the speakers well prepared and experienced in the path and journey we are beginning to embark on but the crowd was enthusiastic as any to be a part of the program. Over 150 (and at one point I heard someone say 200) people were in attendance at the Science Museum of Virginia and the attendees included members of many aspects of the policy making and cycling communities in Richmond and from other towns in the Commonwealth. Here is a brief rundown of some of the attendees I saw last night:
Councilwoman Ellen F. Robertson
Chip-Owner Pibby’s bikes
Champe Burnley-President-Virginia Bicycling Federation
Nathan Burrell-City of Richmond Parks and Rec-Trails Manager
Chris Eklund-River City Cycling Collective
Luke-Owner-Bunnyhop Bike Shop
….and so many others who I either didn’t know or didn’t see. I won’t try to really re-hash what was said during the event but let’s put it this way, Richmond, as we know, is woefully deficient in the amount of cycling infrastructure available for cycle commuting relative to the available resources we have, the size of the cycling community, and the potential that exists for cycling to become a major transportation option for our city. I’m preaching to the choir here but it is my firm belief that for urban areas to regain their competitiveness in the areas of economic development, quality of life including schools, recreation, and live/work dynamic, and to increase their long term viability we must advocate for and make policies that support those advantages that are unique to our community. We cannot win a competition against suburbs who have infinite tracts of cheap land to sprawl around and distribute at costs that are not borne buy their users but rather by future generations who will be paying those costs when the suburb becomes the blighted wasteland as the automobile and cheap gas decline. As such, promotion of uniquely urban transportation options is a necessity for us to grow our population and to build our tax base to evenly distribute the costs of services for the citizens who need them. While we all know that more exercise would be great, pollution is bad, and space is at a premium ultimately a lot of this comes down to social justice as it is simply not acceptable for one aspect (the impoverished one) of our society to be forced to accept the high costs of car ownership to the detriment of a little savings, failing schools as a result of this cycle of poverty, flight and erosion of the urban middle class, and the healthcare costs that must be borne for people suffering from diabetes, sickened from polluted air, and cancerous from exposure to pollutants. Yes, riding a bicycle is good for those who choose to ride them but ultimately engaging people daily while on your bicycle and interacting with your neighbors at 5mph can do things for all of us that we simply can’t pay to make happen even if we had infinite resources to draw on. People want more efficient government, less taxes, reduction of crime, and better services. The vision we were presented with last night does all of those things and more. Simply maintaining the prevailing paradigm of “car culture” is unsustainable and the localities where this is recognized and rectified will be the areas where growth will be seen in the future. Richmond is at a crossroads and the most important part of the meeting I got last night was that there are 200 really enthusiastic people working to make this become a reality for our community.
For my part I hope that seeing pictures of some bicycles I think are pretty nifty around town, and my experiences riding to work as well as the things I encounter provide you with some encouragement and enlightenment in regards to cycling to work. The bills don’t pay themselves (neither does this blog, pay the bills that is) but you shouldn’t have to suffer to get to work to pay them! Get out there and ride kid because the first day of the rest of your life is today and tomorrow can’t wait for you to get there. Below are some the links to presenters and advocacy organizations who were at the meeting last night. All of them need your help and support and while I can’t speak to what each one is doing find one that meshes with your interests and go from there. In the meantime, chop Wood and Carry Water.