The other day while gingerly nestling my bike against another unknown person’s at a bike lock up it crossed my mind that no car driver would ever tolerate parking their vehicle by rubbing it up against someone else’s.
I started to grumble and launch into an internal diatribe. But then I stopped and thought again. Because maybe this wasn’t something to rant about entirely (“Oh, the indignity of it all!”) but maybe had aspects to quietly celebrate.
Now I know that bike parking is a hot topic and yes, we need more of it and yes, it’s brutally unfair in terms of how public space is carved up in the city for the storage of personal-belongings-with-wheels: a 8′ x 24′ chunk of premium land for one, a glorified bent pipe for another. (And don’t even get me started on the “fun” I often encounter in trying to wrestle space in cities for transit).
But I do think there is a message and a lesson to be learned here amidst this somewhat curious process of sixty-nining bikes with strangers. Because if you sit and watch how people use crowded bike racks–at least from what I’ve witnessed–for the most part they are gentle and kind to all the other bikes there.
Yes, there are the jerks and thieves. But mainly what I’ve seen is decency towards complete strangers and a recognition that we’re all in this together. That I may not know you, but I’m going to treat you and your wheels the way I’d like my own to be treated.
After I let the initial spike of rage die down the other day, my bike rack epiphany served to remind me that one of greatest strengths of sustainable transportation–and the attribute that is by definition never shared by isolated single occupant vehicles–is community.
When confronted by car ad after car ad of large, glassy-eyed vehicles droning over lonely highways and empty cityscapes, we need to always remember that one of the biggest assets walking, cycling, transit and ride-sharing bring with them are people. Attracting people to healthier ways of getting around means building quality, safe and beautiful sustainable transportation. And it also means refusing to be bit players in the typical automobile narrative by writing our own story, and key to that story is celebrating the people and community that are integral to these modes.
People and community are part of this story in all their bad-and-good glory. Yes, the kind of people that jostle you on a sidewalk, jiggle your bike in the rack and give you the gift of their armpit on a crowded bus. And yes, the people that smile and nod as they pass, that carefully shift your handlebars out of the way, and move their bag from a bus seat to their lap so you can sit down beside them.
So, for sure, let’s keep collectively advocating for city design and infrastructure that enables community and vibrant places to happen and allocates space more justly. And let’s also take the time–as we cozy up our bike to another–to acknowledge our own participation in this intricate fabric and celebrate the kindness of strangers.
I’m looking out for your seat and handlebars, baby: namaste.