Bikes - They're Just Like Cars!

The need for a shift in mindset about transportation options.

image via Flickr

Happy Friday,

Last summer while I was furloughed from my job, I undertook what has become a quintessential American task: the cleaning out of a storage unit.

There are few things in this country anymore that scream bald eagles and apple pie quite like paying a company an ungodly sum of money every month for a 20x10 locker to store a bunch of stuff you haven’t needed in a long time (and will actually never need again), but can’t bring yourself to part with.

I sifted through cardboard boxes, 30-gallon trash bags, broken furniture, and old sports equipment. Among that trash, though, I did stumble upon one piece of treasure: a bicycle.

I haven’t owned a bike since I got my driver’s license in 1996, and to this day I’m not entirely certain where the one in the storage unit came from, but when I saw it I got excited. Like baking bread (which I didn’t do) and growing facial hair (which I absolutely did do), riding a bike became a symbol of quarantine life in the pandemic.

This one very clearly had not been used in years, so I took it to the local cycle shop, had them give it a restoration treatment, and spent a week waiting, researching, and plotting out my first ride. It turns out, I found, that the area I live in will not be mistaken for a biking utopia anytime soon.

Had I not found that bike in the storage unit, I don’t know that I would have noticed how lacking the active transportation infrastructure is in my town (and it’s actually much better than most of the surrounding towns).

In much the same way, if I hadn’t seen a Twitter thread, I would not have been introduced to Carmel, Indiana, and the shift in perspective that its leaders used to develop one of the most extensive - and beautiful - active transportation systems in the United States.

Alternatives to the automobile are having a moment in urbanist discourse, it seems. The benefits are readily apparent in the realms of public health, social equity, and local economic vitality. But we need to embrace them as a viable means of transportation, not simply as recreation or a hobby, to deliver the full effect of those benefits.


Every Friday I send this newsletter out with:

  • Something I wrote, and;

  • A few things I read, watched, or learned that I found value in and think are worth sharing.

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Something I wrote

The active transportation infrastructure in Carmel has been like a song stuck in my head all week. I wrote about it on my blog and over at Medium.

Representative line from the piece: “Instead of treating a bike trail as purely recreational, the city started to treat it like they would a road. Bikes, just like cars, seen as a means of transportation.”


Some Things Worth Checking Out

  • I quoted this 2019 story about Carmel extensively. Shout out to Cleveland’s own Dan McGraw for some great reporting!

  • “Ultimately the best, most proven way to curb speeding, and thereby create streets that are platforms for congregating and value-generating activity, is to use design,” wrote Daniel Herriges in this 2020 article for Strong Towns.

  • Kyle Gulau has become a must-read for me on Medium. This piece about marketing ideas in the urban planning field is pure genius, and something I’m sure to be employing in my work.

  • If we want our cities to grow, we should make building things easy. If we want them to stagnate, we should keep doing what we’re doing:

  • NOACA, the Metropolitan Planning Organization for Northeast Ohio, is seeking feedback on its long-range transportation plan, eNEO2050. The nonprofit organization Bike Cleveland has some concerns.

  • Phoenix Coffee in Cleveland transitioned from a traditional business to a worker-owned cooperative during the pandemic, as Belt Magazine reports. This is part of a growing trend across the Rust Belt amid declining union power and increasingly predatory employment practices by large corporations.


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