Monday, July 5, 2010
Bicycling is King (just don't tell Albert)
I am in bliss. This place I now call home is one of the most bicycle friendly countries in the world with all sides of the spectrum represented. On any given day, I can see a world class racer riding along the channel as well as everyone's Oma (grandma) riding a bike down the road with her Lady friends. (yes even the elderly still ride bikes here). Families routinely take the kids out for a spin and I even saw a man pushing his disabled Dad with a special wheelchair attachment. Egad! Bikes are a "normal" mode of transportation.
Coming from San Francisco and being a regular bike commuter, I had quickly learned to be a "defensive cyclist". Getting car doored one to many times, hit by a taxi cab, and even knocked down by a runner wearing headphones who decided at last minute to change direction, it is just an unfortunate reality and sadly, just an inevitable statistic for trying to be healthier and a bit greener in the big city. I called my commute an urban assault.
I accepted this and rode anyway. Apparently it doesn't have to be like this!
In my numerous travels to Europe for various cycling events, I noted a HUGE difference in the acceptance of the bicycle not only as a sport but as a viable mode of transportation. Throughout France finely coiffed women pedal down the streets with a baguette in the basket. In Italy a babushka like Grandmother rides her ornately decorated street to the market for produce. They do not have to fight traffic nor don their battle gear. There is an unspoken understanding that this mode of transportation is viable and there is no animosity among the traffic. Hmmmmm.
In Belgium, it is even more structured. Most roads have a specially designated bike section which sometimes is shared with the footpath. If on a footpath, as in a town, the cyclist has the right of way. Wahoo! Ring a bell or call out hello and the pedestrian or slower cyclists moves to the right. it is so logical!!! why is it it the USA, you do that and the pedestrian either freaks out and/or gives you an earful?
Mostly the bike lanes are painted on the shoulder of the road. There is normally ample space for cars to ride alongside. This brings me to my all time traffic favorite: the round-a-bout! This little gem is such a wonderful tool for keeping the flow of traffic for everyone. Once again the bicycle gets the same right of way as the car!!! I am now in heaven.
For those of you readers who are my American cycling friends, you completely understand the bewilderment and utter joy I am having as I am no longer a target or insignificant traffic obstacle. HALLELUJAH, this is the cycling promised land.
Ok, it's not all so hunky dory. ???? Being a west coast California girl, I'm used to perfectly squared out cities and towns. Streets logically intersect and occasionally loop around. Some in the San Francisco even dare to run diagonally and after careful map studying, I accepted that. But here, it's all crazy circles and confusing route planning. Here's an example: In addition to the regular bike lanes, there is an extensive network of designated bike routes called the fietsroutenetwerk that have blue numbered plates and connect all over the state of Limburg. I bought the map so I could explore the area and try various routes. Think circles, loops and circles. Hey to get the miles, ah I mean kilometers in, I have to surrender to the circle. I'm used to navigating using the sun and have a decent sense of direction but when I've gone riding with one of Mr. X's friends, I swear we were going in circles! I pointed to him where I thought our final destination was and he was surprised, and said yes, yet we still turned the opposite way! Aye ca-rumba, the circle is my new friend.........