Recently, I ran along with my 4-1/2-year-old son, holding the back of his bike seat saying “push, push, push!” Soon, I let go and ran along beside him. “You did it! You were biking all by yourself!” He laughed, smiling ear-to-ear. His delight was contagious. This was a rite of passage, another big step toward his independence. As we grow up, we gain new abilities to travel farther and under less supervision. Eventually we graduate from a bike to our first bus pass. Then, for most Americans, car-ownership is the ultimate sign of maturity.
So what of those who cannot or choose not to get around by car? Mobility is such a significant part of our identity that it is defined in our laws as a right: The Americans with Disabilities Act ensures mobility independence for wheelchair users and the blind. Senior Citizens’ organizations are among the most vocal advocates for public transit. For those of us who have a choice, living car-free is one of the most significant things we can do to reduce our contribution to climate change.
Many years ago, I made a commitment not to commute by car, indeed not even to own a car. I have always ridden my bike or taken public transportation to get to work, do my shopping, and socialize. But many still see bikes as toys, and sometimes I have felt judged for using a “toy” to get around, or for being dependent on others for rides.
Urban designers have a role in changing the perception that making this choice means giving up a measure of maturity and independence. Designing robust bicycle infrastructure into our streets and public places, creating comfortable and beautiful transit stations, and providing parking solutions that encourage ride- and car-sharing are some of the tools we can use to shift our culture toward seeing bikes and transit as grown-up choices, signifying their own type of maturity.
For those of you interested in other effective ways to reduce your impact on climate change, the Institute of Physics offers one of many interesting articles to consider.