I took the day off today. It’s was a beautiful, sunny autumn day in Fort Collins and I was craving a double/dry whole milk cappuccino ~ something I can’t make at home. Plus, I frequently meet thought provoking people at the coffee shop I like to go to.
As I pulled around to the bike rack, I was pleased to see it was jam packed with bikes. I know this means there are fewer cars on the road and probable kindred spirits enjoying coffee and conversation. Inspired, I snapped a photo of the bike rack and headed inside. Not more than five feet in the door a woman sitting at a table leaned toward me, politely, and said “Excuse me, we noticed you are taking a picture of our bikes. Is there a problem?” My reply was “No ~ I’m taking a picture of my bike along with the others in the rack. It’s full and that’s a positive sign!” That opened the door to a delightful discussion with two long-time, car-free bike commuters who have been at this car-free business for many years. They reside half of the year in Oslo, Norway and the other half in Fort Collins.
We talked about bike tires necessary for riding on steep and icy roads in Norway. The conversation shifted to climate change, the presidential election, and silly things non-bike commuters ask us like “What will you do if it rains?” They described how easy it is getting around by bike throughout Norway and surrounding countries utilizing public transportation, express boats and car ferries.
My primary take-away from this conversation was a reminder of how significant culture shapes us, influences our perceptions, our values, and our behavior. I moved to Fort Collins from Washington D.C. which is a bike friendly city, big time. Nobody wants to be in a car within the Beltway. It’s a nightmare on an epic scale that no one knows until they move there and have to deal with the I-495 influx of 80,000+ people traveling into and out of the District. Daily.
In other major cities throughout the world, it’s worse. The Beijing to Hong Kong Expressway in China regularly experiences a fifty-lane (50) traffic jam… 50 LANES OF TRAFFIC!!! I would have never believed this if I had not seen this.
When people in Fort Collins complain about traffic, part of me wants to say “you have lived a very sheltered, ethnocentric life and have nooooo idea….” but of course I don’t go there. The perception and frustration about traffic and hard to come by parking spaces is a indicator of the opportunity to promote and support a bike commuting culture in Fort Collins, and beyond.
It’s easier than one may think to ditch your car and pedal your way around. Especially in a city this size with the fantastic support of the municipal government, especially FC Moves/FC Bikes, educational institutions that influence bike friendly infrastructure (Go CSU!), non profit organizations, and local businesses, like New Belgium Brewing, who helped make Fort Collins the Platinum bike friendly city that it is.
The next time you see a rack full of bikes, try to remember the picture of the fifty lane traffic jam… and try to be a part of the sustainable transportation future we need to implement now. Get on your bike and ride! And smile!