Last November I got rid of my car and decided to see what life would be like in Calgary as a pedestrian and a user of public transit. I wrote a post about that on this blog at the time, and then wrote another after 3 months. I talked about the obvious advantages to my general health and finances. At that time, I figured I’d walked about 1,000 km I would otherwise have been sitting down for. Now that figure must be three times that. Put in practical terms, I suppose that’s like walking to Vancouver and back from Calgary.
When I first started this noble experiment, I suppose I felt like someone who in newly single after being in a long term relationship. Some people seem to feel that the default position for a human being is to be in a relationship, and that to be single implies a deficiency of sorts. But having been single for a decade now, more or less, I am finding for myself that it’s actually a positive position. I am one of the few people I know who actually enjoys being single.
Same too with my relationship with the automobile. At first, given that I live in Calgary which is a shrine to the car if ever there was one, my lack of wheels made me feel inadequate, somehow. Lacking. A negative position. But now that I’ve been at it this long, I don’t feel there in anything negative about it. In fact, I am reasonably convinced that what I am doing is right and that all the people I see alone in their cars burning expensive gas as they idle in traffic jams are wrong, on many levels.
Now that it’s summer, if that’s what this cold rainy season can be called, I have another mode of transportation at my disposal – my bicycle. The freedom and joy of riding my bike has made any desire to have a car again all the more remote. The great thing about it is the more you do it, the easier it gets, and the greater the distances one can travel. For example, one of the places I work at in North East Calgary seemed impossible to reach by bike a few months ago. Well last week, I rode my bike there. It took me less time than it used to take me to drive.
I just finished reading David Byrne’s book, Bicycle Diaries. The Talking Heads are one of my favourite bands of all time and I respect and admire David Byrne as a songwriter and performer and artist. Diaries is a meandering travelogue of sorts, having for a large part not much to do with bicycles at all. Which is all right, too. It’s interesting to read his take on arts and culture in different cities around the world.
While he doesn’t devote a chapter to Copenhagen, he does talk about the work of urban planner Jan Gehl, who has helped “successfully transform Copenhagen into a pedestrian- and bike- friendly city. At least one third of Copenhagen’s work force gets to work on bikes now!” I have no illusions about this every happening in Calgary, a city with a vested interest in keeping cars on the road for great distances and long stretches of time. But I notice that the bike racks here have more bikes locked to them this summer than they did last, so it feels like we are moving in right direction.
When David does get down to it, especially in the book’s epilogue, he talks convincingly about the important role the bicycle plays in the greening of our cities. He points out the obvious, that driving an automobile is not sustainable at all, and soon will have to end for all kinds of reasons. All of this makes me feel I am downright progressive and part of a vanguard that just might help rescue the city I live in and maybe even the planet from strangulation and suffocation.
If you’re interested in David Byrne and his take on different cities of the world (such as London and Istanbul) and cycling in general, this book is a good read. It’s not new, it first came out in 2009. (I found it at Fair’s Fair used book store.) It’s published by Viking.
I’ve included an interview with David about his design for bike racks in New York City.
Thanks for reading! Good riding out there!