I drove my bicycle to the grocery this morning.
That is a very odd statement. The statement is odd because I’m admitting doing something out of the cultural norm in the United States. It is also odd because I am deliberately appropriating language used and understood by motorists to refer to what they do with motor vehicles — specifically the verb “drive.”
One might argue that I am merely being accurate or factual in referring to the proper way the operator of any vehicle ought to move from place to place on city streets. And I would agree to a certain extent and then remind my interlocutor that facts are very often wispy things under the gaze of culture. An example I use with my students: They think the sky is blue. I prove to them — with facts! — that it is not. But none of them will pledge to refer to it in the future as anything but blue. Thus, the power of culture.
I was daydreaming a bit as I drove through the parking lot on my way home. I wondered what a Dutch person, specifically from Amsterdam, might think if they were whisked from home to that grocery parking lot (further assuming they had never been to the U.S. before) and saw me driving home on my European-style townie. Oh, and sans helmet, too, because none of my helmet-wearing criteria applied this morning. They would also have seen several other bicycles parked at the rack near the door. To be sure, they would have seen nothing like, say, the city market pictured below that was just outside the B&B apartment we rented in Amsterdam last summer.
But I assume the person might take note that, yes, a few Americans … what … what verb would a Dutch person use? Drive? Ride? I have no idea. So let’s go with “drive/ride” for the time being. So I assume they would note my bicycle driving/riding despite a lack of infrastructure. And I think it is possible, given the propaganda, that they might assume that more people hereabouts don’t drive/ride bicycles because it’s dangerous to do so without infrastructure.
I further daydreamed that the Dutch person talked to me about my bicycle driving/riding and was shocked, SHOCKED, to learn that not only do I feel perfectly safe and comfortable on city streets hereabouts but that the one time that I felt the most danger driving/riding a bicycle in my entire life was on the streets on Amsterdam. In fact, I was so frightened at the thought of driving/riding a bicycle in that city (after walking two miles from the B&B to the bicycle rental shop) that I nearly decided not to do it. Then the thought of admitting to Carbon Trace readers that I had been a big weenie frightened me even more
I hear tell that bicycling in Amsterdam is safer than other cities. Maybe that’s true. So as I continued on my way home, a hypothesis began forming:
The system of bicycle lanes and tracks in Amsterdam is full of conflicts and manufactured dangers that do not exist in the system of traffic around the urban core of Springfield. But given that Amsterdam does have a system of sorts and people are used to it — and further given their cultural propensity to drive/ride bicycles — it appears unproblematic to me to suggest that they have learned the system and know how to use it (and, perhaps, how to abuse it). Here in Springfield, I feel very confident claiming that most people do not know how to use the system of traffic when driving/riding a bicycle (or believe that cannot or should not use that system). That leads me to this hypothesis: If people in Springfield knew how to drive a bicycle in traffic — thus mitigating most motorist-bicyclist conflicts as taught by CyclingSavvy — and accepted it as a normal transportation method, then our streets would be safer than the streets of Amsterdam for bicyclists.
So what you would have is more people enjoying what I show in the movie trailer below. And, BTW, the darn thing is almost finished. I’ll keep you posted