A Long Way to Go
by Jane Skinner

This is Bike Festival week where I am and yes, I think I saw about 3 more bicycles than usual on my way to work this morning. The organizers are asking people to keep track of how many kilometres they travel by anything other than a passenger car--bikes, feet, bus, etc. There are of course many many cars on the road, most occupied by one person. Why don't more people bike?

The excuses I hear from friends are: it's not convenient, it's too far, they don't want to get sweaty, they are afraid of the traffic, their backs or knees or shoulders (pick a body part) hurt. Many people are out of shape, it seems, and are exhausted and out of breath after a short ride. So I think it comes down to, for a lot of people, a very personal view of their world and what they think works for them.

These same people complain about the enormous cost of running a car--insurance, repairs, etc. Certainly people in our society are completely sucked in by the notion that cars give you freedom and anything else is too much trouble. Sad, because for me the reverse is true, and if they would only try an alternative, each individual would find their life so greatly improved.

Regarding transporting things by bicycle, it's amazing what can be carried in a backpack or bike basket. And elderly friend of mine has never had a car and bikes everywhere. She takes her cats to the vet in a child's covered wagon/trailer thing attached to the back of her bike, and can even ride with a case of cat food balanced across her front basket. Further to the subject of getting "stuff" home, I must admit that I personally never shop for groceries in massive quantities, but buy bits of things here and there (market, grocery store, health food store, co-op). It's just gruesome to see all the cars churning out fumes lined up next to the drive-through parcel pickup at the grocery store in my neighbourhood. It seems to be the North American way to buy huge quantities of food at a time. Just another example of our unbridled consumerism?

People say to me all the time, "Don't you find it hard not having a car?" But I chose my apartment based on being able to walk for groceries, wine, vet, drugstore etc. People can make these choices if they just stop and think! A new coworker is forever asking me if I want to put my bicycle in her van after work so she can drive me home--she thinks this biking around is simply inconceivable!! People I know will see me out walking and, "taking pity," pull over and offer me a ride. Meanwhile it's me that pities them for being so obsessed with their steel death machines. I have tried to explain to people that I ride or walk because this is what I want to do, but they just don't get it. I have to keep saying, "No thanks, I have my bike," or, "No thanks, I prefer to walk."

Last Sunday in Toronto two very heavily trafficked roads (Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway, for those who know the city) were closed for a charity biking event. Thousands took part, and the pictures on TV were great to see: bikers just streaming down the DVP! But the complaints from car-drivers started right away…boo hoo, they couldn't drive, etc etc. And this was for charity, a mainstream type charity like heart and stroke, and people were still complaining. So I wonder: will they be able to close those roads for next year's event?

We have a long way to go to convince people that car-free is best. I am always encouraged when one person (and now and then it happens) tells me they've given up their car and are not buying another one. Makes you want to cheer to hear it, and it helps to counter-act the depressing effect of someone else announcing (with pride? let's hope not) that they are now a three death-machine family.

Jane Skinner