Quick. What feeling comes to mind when you hear the word “bicycle?” Excitement, joy, frustration, anxiety, annoyance? When I speak about my interest in bicycles, I sometimes get surprised looks of slight confusion. Why focus one’s efforts on bicycling of all things? Why do bike lanes matter? What’s the point? Answers to these questions have been evolving along my journey with bicycles.
Entering my Sophomore year, I became the Alternate Transportation fellow focusing on semester bike rentals for students. My perspective for biking was centered around enjoyment and efficiency of getting to class. Working with Village Wrench last summer revealed the importance of two wheels and some metal. Two wheels and some metal can bring people together to form meaningful relationships. Broken two wheels and some metal provide an avenue for stories to be shared and thoughts expressed. Two wheels and some metal though can also be the only affordable and reliable way an individual can get around. Learning how some community members rely on a bicycle started to make me realize that meeting people’s needs, a crucial foundation for sustainability, depend on accessible transportation and safe infrastructure. The word “bicycle” went from meaning enjoyment to meaning a method of transit that provides an avenue for building relationships in our community.
Studying abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark furthered my perspective shift on bicycles. As I sat on my host grandmother’s single speed pedal break cruiser in a bicycle traffic jam at the base of a bicycle/pedestrian bridge, the sheer number of people on bicycles blew me away. Raised cycle paths, bicycle stop lights and blue bicycle intersection crossings provides a safe and secure way for people to navigate the roads to amenities as 50% of Danes cycle to work in the city. One’s financial situation, job, or physical ability, did not hinder many people from cycling. Rusty single speed bikes were the norm. Mail carriers, construction workers, business people, school children, nursing home adults, and compost distributers all cycled together on bikes of varying innovative designs.
There was a sense of underlying personable connection to the city crowd as I waited at a red light surrounded by other cyclists. My thought process of a street was reframed as I was reminded how streets are public spaces. Prioritizing bicyclists and pedestrians allow for many different people to be mobile together. The word “bicycle” expanded to not just amethod of transit, but the method of transit that supports equal opportunity for reaching necessities.
My fellowship this summer with City of Greenville Parks and Recreation has continued this journey. Gaining a government perspective has shown light on the realities, challenges, and opportunities there are in making changes towards a more bicycle friendly community. Seeing city, county, and state road ownership helped me understand the detailed process of redesigning a road. The sustainability science major essentially strives towards an ideal world of a symbiotic coexistence of humanity and the environment. This idealism from education, as my grandfather told me, should try to be prolonged as long as possible. Balancing ideals with realities of regulation, cost, and labor must be a crucial part of working towards sustainability.
This fellowship has furthered my passion for mobility with road infrastructure because the community prioritizes safe roadways in a recent long-range transportation study. Going out into the community and listening to people’s thoughts about bike lanes, sidewalk improvements, and the bus system has further confirmed that mobility is an essential element in sustainability. Mobility links communities together and allows for access to opportunities. A “bicycle” is not only purchase a for one’s exercise and entertainment. The word “bicycle” carries not only individuals, but their stories. Their stories of daily life drive me to want to be a part of working towards safe, secure, and accessible routes for all members of our community.