Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Cycling in Ohio

Been visiting the in-laws in Ohio this week and observing the bike culture while I am here.  Apparently, the local bicycle shop does a pretty brisk business.  I took the family there for bike rentals--for them, I brought my bike--and also for canoe rentals.  The cycling seems primarily a recreational thing, which is fine, but a limited use of bicycle potential.  I haven't seen many street cyclists, except for youths.  Youths don't really count the same because folks generally make allowances for them--even the law does, as it should.  I believe the rules in NYC about not riding on the sidewalk, which is indeed enforced, does not apply to minors and children's bicycles (under 24" wheels).  The youth riders are important.  They are a wedge in the struggle to gain road space from drivers.  They soften up motorists to sharing the road with bicycles.  Much of today's cycling movement can probably be traced to college students who kept on riding while in school because it was a cheap form of local transportation--same reason the kids do it.  The college students hopefully graduate and come out learning that bikes are really useful machines.  Bicycle commuters just like to expand that definition of "local" a little bit.

I did see one street cyclist.  He was pedaling right on Main Street in North Canton, Ohio.  He was the only one I saw on my entire week-long visit.  That said, I must have been the second one in town.  I rode on Main Street along a less busy stretch, but I found that the same things I did at home were working in Ohio--essentially staying out of the way.  Two differences: I was not riding during rush hour and there was no shoulder or bike lane to ride in.  The latter was only a minor problem--I used the rain gutter, which was dry and pretty smooth for riding, or the right lane depending on traffic.  I can see some of the trouble with cycling out here, but the road layout isn't the main problem--it's the distances involved.  When I drive out here it puts NYC in geographical perspective.  The US is still a big country and the car is king--it probably always will be.  This just makes reforming the internal combustion engine that much more imperative and urgent.

I do think the bicycle has a place in the North Canton, Ohio universe of transportation, but it is not going to replace the automobile.  It may reduce congestion, which has picked up in the years I've been visiting, but the bicycle is practical mainly in town.  I did see bike racks at various establishments and I sincerely hope to find biking more common in future visits. 

As an aside, I hate to see bicycles used against greening automobiles as done here: http://finance.yahoo.com/tech-ticker/telsa-is-%22silly-...-a-stupid-idea%22-lindzon-says-govt.-better-off-investing-in-bikes-520397.html?tickers=TSLA,F,AAPL,NKE,INTC,GS,TM--bikes are great, but not the solution to everything.  One thing the segment doesn't touch on is the fact that bicycles are generally not made in America, while the Tesla electric cars would be.  It an entirely other matter that taxpayer money is going to start a  business in which some folks are going to get rich and claim they did it through the free market.  However, in visiting a state like Ohio, which has been ever so hard hit by the manufacturing void in America, it is hard to justify sending a cent overseas in "economic development."  


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