November 21, 2011

What a mess

By Anna | 19 Comments »

Bikeskirt is primarily a story proving that women in the south can and do in fact commute by bike fairly successfully. I personally haven’t delved too much into the philosophical/political because I feel that

  1. I’d be preaching to the choir
  2. Bikes are fun, and  drama clouds that fact
  3. I’m a judgmental asshole and try to keep that at bay as much as possible
  4. I am actually not a good writer and have a hard time making coherent points

But that doesn’t mean I don’t stew about all of the things out there in the social sphere that impact why we and others do or don’t ride.

Friday morning while I prepared to hop on my bike and ride to work, I heard on the local NPR station (WBHM represent!) about a wreck on our most nightmarish road to town, 280. The wreck had resulted in one death and major traffic delays. It was upsetting to hear that someone had passed away (which later turned into multiple deaths), but I felt that the reason they were reporting on the wreck was primarily because it was blocking all lanes of traffic into and out of the city.

When I arrived to work I heard my co-workers speaking about how terrible the traffic was on said road from hell. I didn’t hear details of the conversation, but I’m sure it revolved around how inconvenient the incident was for them as they tried to make it into the office. I restrained myself from jumping into the conversation with unwelcome comments such as “it took me the usual 10 minutes to get to work today” or a more general “I had a great time riding my bike this morning”.

This all got me thinking about how people’s priorities are completely backwards (how did traffic become worse than death?), question for the umpteenth time why everyone wants to live in the horrible suburbs and spend an exorbitant amount of time in boxes, and contemplate why we as a society have lost our ability to discern how we want to live and to run our government for the good of all society. For example, many people I know move out of the city because they want the perceived safety and the good school system, but why can’t they take a stand and create that in the city? Why do they want to commute in a car for an hour on a good traffic day when it is completely unnecessary and unhealthy? Why are we all sheep who do what society tells us to? Questions for the ages.

While this is not specifically bike related, it does speak to a main reason why I ride. I ride because I want to live a meaningful life of integrity, and no one is going to tell me otherwise. The cars that buzz me, the friends and family that think I have a death wish, the strangers who make snide remarks, the city planners that continue to ignore that I even exist – they might upset me, but they don’t stop me for doing what I love and believe in. I wonder how many people who live the suburban life can say this.

I have hope for change; the city seems to be recognizing the great things that downtown Birmingham has to offer and new businesses and opportunities for development are popping up. We have new apartment buildings being built too, which is very exciting. I love my city, and I just wish the people around me who do nothing but gripe and complain and thus accept the status quo did as well. Take a stand! Live for the city IN the city! Don’t accept these social ills!

See what I mean about not making coherent points? Maybe what I’m saying is that everyone else’s life is shitty and mine is awesome so be more like me…which is not a very good argument for anything. Whatever, I’ll just ride on my wide open streets and appreciate what I have anyway.


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  1. On November 21st, 2011 wle said:


  2. On November 21st, 2011 Bike Jax said:

    From one judgmental asshole to another, very well put Anna.

  3. On November 21st, 2011 Dave said:

    It has struck me as well during the Occupy protests, that the main beef the city has with them is the potential for blocking traffic. And much of the population is right on board with that. “Don’t stand up for what you believe in, you entitled assholes, I need to be to work in 5 minutes and you’re making me late!”

    Just like you, I realize this isn’t all black and white and it’s not like we can expect the freedom to just go sit in the middle of the street all day, but at the same time, there is a huge social pressure in the U.S. to just shut up, get in line, and take what you’re given, a huge push to work too much, for work to be the most important thing in your life, and spending money next important, and all of that is extremely destructive (obviously).

    Thankfully here, people are really starting to see that the suburban situation is destructive, not only environmentally, but socially. Public perception is moving away from city schools being the “gritty” or dangerous ones, and there is clearly more crime at the edges of the city and in suburban areas than there is in the main part of the city. It makes sense, the more people you have around (and the fewer of them locked into metal boxes), the less bold people will feel to commit crime.

    Things are shifting, but we have a LONG way to go before they’re healthy. Keep on it.

  4. On November 21st, 2011 Trisha said:

    “everyone else’s life is shitty and mine is awesome so be more like me” sounds like a good argument to me. ;) More seriously, maybe seeing other examples will get more people thinking about what can be possible. Or at least some people. I think that a lot of people are too exhausted from hurrying from box to box to feel like they can do anything to change their situation, sadly, even if they wanted to.

  5. On November 21st, 2011 Townie said:

    I agree with you, the poor people in the box are missing LIFE. I enjoy riding to work myself “when I can”and often pass stopped traffic. I also agree that more people should live in the city like “old days” and they would be able to walk, bike or ride transit to work. Keep riding and maybe others will se it and follow suit.

  6. On November 21st, 2011 Erica said:

    question for the umpteenth time why everyone wants to live in the horrible suburbs and spend an exorbitant amount of time in boxes

    Is this really a mystery? White flight, and subsequent middle-class black flight, is really the culprit here, not because people love driving or love suburbs. So then you have a generation like my parents’ generation, who are terrified of the very idea of a city, because it’s filled with black “bad people.” The trend is reversing, cities are filling up again with suburb-raised people from our generation, but it will take decades to undo the mass migration to the suburbs that the racism/classism of the 1950s and beyond graced us with.

    As for your coworkers, I think a well-timed “you know, people died in that crash” would project the appropriate amount of shame without any smugness.

  7. On November 22nd, 2011 Bliss Chick said:

    Fist bump from one judgemental asshole to another!

    Why do white people live in the burbs? They don’t know any better. Success has been defined as having your own yard and 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath house. There’s the racism part, to be sure, but it’s also an attempt to move away from the hard realities of life so they/we don’t have to see people living difficult lives and urban decay.

    I’m also fascinated by this perception that biking is so dangerous when we all know folks (even ourselves!) who have been in car accidents, and even fatal ones. Yet how many people do we know who have died or been injured in bike accidents?

  8. On November 22nd, 2011 Barry said:

    Well said, and said quite coherently!

  9. On November 22nd, 2011 tinker71 said:

    I’m reasonably sure, that your comment about a10 minute commute, while they complained about how DEATH inconvenienced them, would be a bad karma kind of event. My usual response to traffic complaints that resulted in death for one of the participants, is, “It ruined her WHOLE day too.” Ends the conversation, instantly, brings a moment of silence.

    Which is about as close as it gets, to a memorial to traffic victims.

  10. On November 22nd, 2011 Elisa said:

    This post is reason #59676 that I love Anna.

  11. On November 22nd, 2011 Russ said:

    I am trying to aspire to a walking/biking scenario with my upcoming move. My plan is to sell the car and do everything on foot or bike. I’ve built my urban assault machine(s) and I’m ready for the joy.

  12. On November 22nd, 2011 Luke said:

    Awesome post, Anna!

  13. On November 22nd, 2011 Justin said:

    Been a long time! Great coherent post!

  14. On November 23rd, 2011 Anna said:

    While I agree that white flight was the originator of suburbia Erica, along with the subsequent black flight, I believe that many people live in the suburbs now because that’s what everyone else does – it’s mindless conformity, and that’s what concerns me. I grew up in the suburbs, but while I decided to live in the city when it was time to get my own place, the majority of my peers still live in that area or have moved even further away from the city center.

  15. On November 23rd, 2011 Anna said:

    It’s interesting you mention white people Bliss Chick; the people I was referring to were indeed white, but in general what I would consider the suburbs is populated by all races. I think your definition of success is an aspiration in America regardless of race, and white people have just had more opportunities to obtain it for a longer period of time. I don’t believe the racial divide is in the past, especially where I live, but I think it’s important to recognize that we all, regardless of race, need to exercise critical thinking when it comes to how we organize and live our lives.

    I know many people who have been injured in bike accidents (myself included – never been injured in a car accident), and will be one of the first to say that road riding is dangerous. However, this is mainly because of the cars on the road and the people who drive them. Driving is dangerous for everyone, weather you’re another driver, a pedestrian, or a cyclist. Until roads are built to be safer, drivers are educated, and the numbers of cars on the road are reduced, we’re all sitting ducks.

  16. On November 23rd, 2011 Anna said:

    Thanks for the comment Dave! Your note about the Occupy protest is something I hadn’t heard, but it’s yet another example of how screwy priorities are.
    I love to see how much Portland is progressing toward intentional city dwelling, and I hope that change will come our way one day. I want to stick it out here and be a part of that change, but I won’t deny that places like Portland call my name!

  17. On November 23rd, 2011 Erica said:

    I believe that many people live in the suburbs now because that’s what everyone else does

    Oh, definitely. We have an entire generation that’s been told you can’t have a successful life without a large house with a big yard in the suburbs. I’m 30 and have lived in cities quite happily for seven years, and my mom still likes to say things like “well, one day you’ll own a NICE house.” Meaning one like hers, two sizes too big, full of meaningless crap, and with a yard you could put a small farm on (although they can’t, the HOA doesn’t allow the yards to be used for anything practical). She still and will always see living in a city as a step down from suburbia. It’s impossible to explain to her why her version of paradise is my version of hell.

    Still, I think the race stuff is pretty central to this. Around here in Baltimore, both the city and the suburbs are extremely segregated, and the black suburbanites seem just as confused as to why anyone would want to live in the city. In MD, it feels almost like everyone is slotted into a specific city neighborhood or suburban enclave based on their income and race, and even moving back into the city doesn’t help with integration, as we predictably moved into the white hipster section of the city. I still feel more comfortable and like I’m a better person here than in the suburbs though.

  18. On November 23rd, 2011 Sam said:

    You’re extremely coherent and I loved this post.

    I’ve thought about this same thing for years. I think over a decade now. And I’ve always lived in cities (except for three miserable years) and I love the urban landscape more than I can express in words. And I’ve been very frustrated for years and years on why people weren’t logical and just worked to make cities awesome? What is wrong with people that they live in the suburbs and make shitty choices and add to their overall misery.

    And then…I read Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs and Building Suburbia by Dolores Hayden and I decided I was going to (to use that oft repeated, and frankly annoying to me phrase), be the change I wanted to see in the world. I’ve gotten involved with advocacy issues. For me, creating a livable environment with access to healthy food is all that is needed for eternally blissful lives. So I started out small, making a phone call to a legislator, writing an email to a councilmember. Then I stepped it up a notch and began attending public meetings and speaking up: against parking garages, in favor of bike lanes, in favor of infill development, against expansion of freeways, in favor of increasing transit, in favor of beautiful street design that is inviting to its self-propelled users. Jane Jacobs has proven to me that someone with remarkably humble beginnings can make a significant difference and I am inspired to do the same. Two months ago, I did something I’m still very embarrassed to admit because it is from a logical perspective utterly idiotic: I quit my job to devote the next 1-2 years 100% to advocacy efforts. I am working on an incredibly local level – my own neighborhood. I am asking for a local skatepark for the kids in my neighborhood, I’m working on bringing Ciclovia to San Diego, I’m working on taming high speed streets to more people scaled ones, I am joining committees left and right just so I can speak my voice that believes in creating a city that is sane, friendlier and inviting to both its residents and its visitors. I want to see how much I’m capable of and the funny thing is, I’m learning that it is remarkably easy. There are a few wrinkles here and there, but I am insanely persistent and patient and I am seeing results. I’ve been at it for less than a year and I’m already seeing progress. Keep up the hope and don’t give up! If we all did it in our own communities, bit by bit – we’d soon see changes. Let’s just not give up and become complacent.

  19. On November 25th, 2011 Nathan said:

    Great post. We need to keep fighting our corner and riding our bikes to work, to the shops, etc. Don’t be shy about taking an evangelical line, any converts you make will thank you for ever.
    Please take a look at my Bike Blog called A Bikeride a Day which you vcan find at
    Thanks Nathan

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