TagCopenhagenize

What is Conversation Cycling?

Mikael Colville-Anderson posted a link to this photo set called Conversation Cycling (his photo above). The concept of Conversation Cycling is simple:

Build a bikeway so two people can cycle side-by-side to have a pleasant chat. 

I want this for Chicago. When you ride with friends, how would you prefer to ride: yelling ahead in our narrow bike lanes or conversing to the side? This is sometimes possible on the Lakefront Trail, but not always: the Lakefront Trail’s maximum width is the same as the standard with for cycle tracks in Europe!

Bike lanes in the United States, when they’re available and not being parked in, are not even wide enough for one person to ride without danger of being doored. It’s not surprising this is the case. In addition to how we prioritize the movement of automobiles and the placement of parking before pedaling, the national minimum width for a bike lane is 4 feet (without gutter), or 5 feet when next to parked cars or with a gutter.

I gathered some hard evidence: My handlebars are 28 inches wide. The door of my roommate’s car is 32 inches wide. 28+32 = 60 inches, or 5 feet. And that’s without a buffer. Essentially, bike lanes as we’ve built them are not compatible with the rest of the street.

Two Department of Revenue workers cycle side by side, meeting the edges of the bike lane, on Armitage Avenue in Lincoln Park. Photo by Mike Travis. 

Door zone bike lanes are not unique to any American city. Illustration by Gary Kavanagh. 

A group cycles on Damen Avenue in and out of the bike lane. Photo by Eric Rogers. 

Moving from a subculture to culture

Mikael says bicycling in Chicago is a subculture.*

It will become a culture when lots of people (of all sizes, shapes, and colors) ride bikes for all kinds of trips. Read about the 8 to 80 threshold.

But I’m afraid that our subculture won’t exist anymore if it elevates to being part of the American or Chicago “culture.” Bicycling is the subculture that puts on bicycle scavenger hunts, teaches schoolchildren to repair bikes, takes in abandoned bikes and sells or donates the fixed up ones, goes on Tweed Rides. The same subculture that introduced me to strong friendships, based heavily on our shared passion for using the bicycle as transportation and trying to encourage others to ride for utility as well.

I’m not sure if any of this applies to Portland, Oregon, though. They will be successful in keeping the quirky and whimsical aspects of an American bicycle subculture as they transform into a bicycle culture. This is probably because Portland is so “weird.”

I went to Europe in December 2010/January 2011 and I rode a bike in Como, Italy, watched people ride their bikes in Milan, Italy, then rode a bike in Bremen, Germany, and Utrecht, Houten and Amsterdam in the Netherlands. I then rode again in Copenhagen, Denmark. I saw a lot of bicycle culture happening; er, does culture happen or does it just exist?

I would like to move to Europe and get a job or Ph.D there. Continue to learn how to transplant certain aspects of European culture to improve transportation in the United States. (“Making Transit Work” is one of the most interesting papers I read comparing European and American transportation-related cultural characteristics, discussing how urban form and automobile usage affects how often and how many people use transit – we can learn about more than bicycles in Europe.)

But in some of the places I visit or live in Europe, those that have a bike culture, I would have to adapt to a new culture and base my relationships on something other than riding bicycles to get around town. Because connecting to each other because of a shared passion for bicycling and “sustainable transportation” is not a thing. Fixed gear riding is a thing. Riding for sport is a thing. But riding a bicycle because it’s cheaper and more convenient than riding the bus is not something you tell your European friends about – cuz they ride just as often as you do.

*Mikael said this to me when we had dinner and drinks in Copenhagen during my January 2011 visit. Here’s us late that night.

In a bicycle culture, we won’t need to stop people biking on the street and ask them if they want a free headlight. Everyone’ll have a light because the police will ticket them if they don’t (this could happen now but it doesn’t, so education first and a free light is the strategy used in some places, including Chicago).

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