Search the Archive
Articles with Tag…
GREEN Reactor column
[Published in The Blue Paper newspaper on March 29, 2013.]
King of the Road
Listening to “citizen input” at the Key West Sustainability Advisory Board’s workshop on bicycling this week, I was presented with the idea that Key West should be a town were automobiles take a back seat to the island’s bicycles. Interesting concept. It’s not entirely new, since there are other bicycle-centric communities out there. Some are also islands, most without road access from the mainland. Others are small subsets of larger towns. Up to now, millions of Key West tourists each year (with cars being the most popular way to get here) have obscured this vision from me, but I believe it deserves a closer look.
Bicycling has always been my main transportation here (closely followed by walking, then occasional car-treks with the wife). There are plenty of bicyclists more avid than I, but my years of slow (and not so slow) 2-wheeling on this island have shown me every nook and cranny of virtually every Street and Lane. Other than within the bludgeoning traffic flow on the Boulevards, I honestly can’t think of a street where cars should be considered more “appropriate” than bicycles. After all, the island-wide speed-limit (with a few exceptions) is now 20 mph – a speed most bicyclists can hit when they push it.
Yeah, yeah, we need cars. Some folks aren’t healthy enough to bike. Some feel they need to dress in ways not conducive to peddling. (Interestingly enough, there are a LOT of people all over the world who DO peddle to work and events while well-dressed, so this excuse doesn’t completely hold water.) And the key counter-argument: carrying loads or small children. Yes, okay — though bicycle solutions exist for that, it’s hard to expect everyone to engage them. Did somebody mention the weather? I pull out my poncho and it generally does the trick. There are also easy-change rain-suits available.
Many people on this island are selfish enough to NOT drive cars all the time. They greedily pocket the money they save on gas and parking. They lazily avoid the effort of seeking out a rare parking spot or trekking to their destination from the one three blocks away. They flaunt their good health from the free exercise regimen of regularly riding those bikes. Yep, that’s me. And I want more! I want to be King of the Road. Along with the rest of the bikers in town.
The most common reason people give for not bicycling is that they feel it’s too dangerous. Too many flying taxis honking them out of the way. Too many near misses (or direct hits!) by distracted tourists. Too much fear of red-light runners failing to beat the yellow. This could all change if drivers on our island were conditioned to defer to the bicyclists. Why not? We would be King! Allow us to ride in the middle of the lane on virtually ALL of the roads without harassment. If bikers were King, the safety factor would rise dramatically. And more would ride!
And with that, what would we lose? Cars may have to slow a few more miles per hour – and take an extra 5 minutes to get to their destination (maybe 10 extra if they’re headed across town). Any other drawbacks?
In return, what would we gain? A bike-centric town would tend toward lots fewer cars in the long-run. Read that: MORE PARKING AVAILABLE. We’d have a healthier populous due to more exercise and lower pollution. There would be many fewer serious accidents with the cars slowed down. Once people got used to it enough for their road rage to subside, we’d all be happier…
Other not so obvious benefits: Less wear and tear on the streets, because cars that slowed from the old standard higher speeds were doing more damage to the pavement. There’d be major major improvement in carbon emissions – thousands of pounds less per person per year, even over car-pooling. Us GREENies (and all sensible people) love that one.
Another dubious benefit: you’ll have a tool to stop escaping criminals:
To wrap this up, I’d like express strong backing for an idea presented by “The Bike Man”, Tom Theisen. He has again pointed out what most town bikers know: how lousy Staples Avenue is as an official “bike path” — because of the stop-signs at every corner and the continuous flow of automobile traffic. That street is THE main central (off the Boulevards) bike route between Old Town and New Town, so it deserves more than just a few signs. He proposes actually turning that street over to bicycles! (Yes, cars going to or from homes on the street would not be blocked.)
Actually, all in itself this isn’t a new proposal, but he showed a quick and cost-effective and workable way to accomplish it. He pitched the adding of partial blockades (room for bikes, NOT for cars) at the MID-BLOCK point of each block. That would NOT impair the cars for those who live on the street (nor emergency vehicles nor trash pick-up), they’d still be able to get to their houses. But it WOULD stop cars who are taking the road as an alternative to Flagler. And then the stop signs would be removed for the bikes on Staples (only those pausing the CROSSING traffic would remain). Result: that street would flow smoothly and continuously for bicycles — across a big chunk of our town.
Think about it! And figure out what it’ll take to get the ball – ummm – the BIKE – rolling!
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.