If you’re wondering whether you’ve grown old, the litmus test isn’t your tolerance for loud music but rather how annoyed you get at the site of bicycles leaned up against trees or sprawled along sidewalks.
While bikeshare programs such as LimeBike, GoBike and others have increased in popularity, so too has the whining about how the services are making cities uglier with clutter. The Wall Street Journal recently ran an editorial about the two-wheeled problem enraging Dallas residents. There must be nothing more unsightly than driving patriotically through downtown Dallas in a diesel-spewing F-350 and being blindsided by the sight of a neon green bike on a grassy knoll. Even the Chronicle’s Marshall Kilduff begged to city leaders in his March 20 column: “Put them somewhere, City Hall, that’s out of our way.”
When both liberal and conservative San Franciscans join together to whine about bicycles and plead for regulations, you know we’re in living in bizarro times. Heck, you’d even think from reading the papers that homelessness has been replaced with a much more severe problem: a lack of bike racks and kickstands.
To these whiners, I say: Look around — the precious landscape around us is cluttered with not two-wheeled but four-wheeled vagrancy. Cars and other motorized species are everywhere; parked constantly in front of our homes, churches and schools; lined up 15 wide and thousands deep every morning to get onto the Bay Bridge; often smashing into each other, leaving their plastic, metal and even human wreckage everywhere.
We’ve become so immune to the clutter of automobiles that we forget our entire metropolitan surroundings are devoted to them and their associated unsightly infrastructure. We raise massive cement structures into the sky and dig deep burrows into the soil and then pay to stack and store our cars inside them. And no one bats an eye.
Cars not only clutter our living spaces, but their noxious emissions clutter the atmosphere and our lungs. Scientists recently found birds in big cities have had to raise the pitch of their songs due to noise pollution from freeway traffic.
And when our cars die — or, more likely, when we buy a new one as result of the endless barrage of advertising clutter from automakers — the old ones go to the junkyard. There are acres upon acres of rusting metallic corpses in vehicle graveyards across America and beyond, taking up valuable land that could otherwise be used for growing food or housing people.
The real problem is not the automobile, but rather the people inside. Many are tired, obese, unhappy and angry. It’s not the cars causing that, but the lack of being outside, being mobile under our own legs and lungs and feeling the sun and wind on our faces. I am certain most everyone complaining has not been on a bicycle since they were children. It’s myth, after all, that once you learn to ride a bicycle, you never forget. You completely do forget the freedom and carelessness the experience grants you.
Said Mark Twain, “Learn to ride a bike. You will not regret it. If you live.”
Chirag Asaravala is a cyclist and op-ed contributor to various California publications.