It all started innocently enough. I was 12 years old, living on a farm, and my dad brought home a girl’s bike. I taught myself to ride it. By age 14, I hit the road. I must have biked up and down every rural road in Essex County, Ontario where I grew up. I loved the freedom that it afforded me…a chance to get away from my parents, explore and do my own thing. Little did I know then that I was beginning a lifelong dependency on the freedom and exhilaration that biking brought to me.
Nine years ago, my husband and I decided to move to Guelph, Ontario. I was determined to live within walking/biking distance from work. This dream led us to live near to downtown. Because of this lifestyle choice, I have been able to comfortably manage, most of the time, without using the car. Since taking up biking as my main mode of transportation, I have begun to look at Guelph and other cities through a different lens. I don’t think you can ride a bike in any city without getting interested in social justice issues. You begin to wonder why getting around any city is so much easier by car than by any other method of transportation. In the words of Enrique Penalosa, a renowned vocal advocate of equitable use of public spaces: “A person on a $30 bike is just as important as a person in a $30,000 car.” Well said. All people are entitled to equal treatment under the law. So where did we get this notion that public roads should be only for one type of user…the motorist?
People who can’t afford cars or don’t want to use them are also deserving citizens. For example, children should have priority in a city too. They should be able to walk and bike to school and around their neighbourhoodsin safety. Their parents shouldn’t have to fear that their child might get hit by a car while engaging in this normal, healthy, social activity. Teenagers, as well, should be able to get to work or socialize independently of their parents. They shouldn’t have to rely on mom or dad simply because it is too unsafe to reach their destination except by car or too time consuming to reach it by public transit.
I think that once you step outside a private vehicle, you see more of your town, and in a different way. You can experience it in a way that is impossible when cooped up in a car. If you cycle or walk, you see smaller things that get missed when driving. And if you travel by public transport, you get to see and share space with people from all walks of life.
Cars create social isolation, cycling and walking create social awareness.