MY HUSBAND loved bicycling before he loved me. When we met in high school, he had a thin layer of asphalt under his skin from a crash.
Later, we biked 60 miles from Marietta to my grandparent’s house at Lake Lanier. We spent a weekend in Dahlonega, where we sped downhill from the mountain, and suffered a long, slow, painful ride back up.
I pedaled along because I was a girl with a crush on a cute boy who happened to like to ride his bike...everywhere.
Drew, founder of the Savannah Bicycle Campaign, bikes not just for exercise or for speed, but for a certain way of life that I never quite understood.
When we landed 10 years ago in Savannah, where everything is close and flat, Drew embraced that lifestyle, riding to work, to get our Christmas tree, and with the kids to school.
Friends would spot him dressed in a suit on his bike or hauling all sorts of things by bike that most would transport by SUV.
I tolerated it and occasionally pedaled along, although in recent years the logistics of transporting our three school kids replaced the fun of getting there by bike.
Truth be told, I never really got it.
This summer we had the opportunity to take a family vacation in the Netherlands. Now, I get it. Bikes, bikes, bikes everywhere.
In Amsterdam it felt like the Midnight Garden Ride every day. Old, young, professionals, and leisure riders — everyone was on bikes.
Kids ride on the front, in the back, in cargo buckets, or on their own bikes.
During the workweek, professionals might arrive with slightly disheveled hair or a thin layer of sweat, but also having had a lovely ride on the bike before the stress of the workday. Bikes are loaded down with groceries from the market and briefcases from work.
Drivers, the minority, take a backseat to people on bikes.
Beyond the city, we biked along a complex network of bike trails, which were well paved and well traveled. Rarely did we have to share the road with cars.
When those paths crossed, cars stopped for us, a welcome change from the fear of crossing the street by bike that many experience here.
Throughout our travels, everyone looked fit and healthy. The bike culture created a healthy life style almost inadvertently.
So can this utopian bike culture of Northern Europe translate to a lifestyle change in Savannah?
At first glance, no. We lack the infrastructure and culture to put everyone on bikes.
Plus, it is really hot for at least a couple of months. But those are just excuses – the Dutch do it year round, through rain and snow.
Imagine if activist and musician Frank Barham was able to ride his wheelchair from Atlanta to Savannah by bike path, instead of on Highway 21, where he was tragically struck by a car and killed.
Judy Grossman who died on Bay Street, less than a mile from the end of her week-long bike ride across Georgia, could have arrived safely if we had a safe bike infrastructure in place.
Despite these failures, a lifestyle shift has been happening in the past ten years here, and I am ready to cross the line and join it.
Through efforts of the Savannah Bicycle Campaign and other advocacy groups, we have seen more bike lanes and bike parking.
With more people riding, the familiarity of the sight causes drivers to be more aware and respectful.
We can look to Atlanta’s Belt Line as an amazing example of changing the culture and economy of an otherwise depressed area. Restaurants and shops have sprung up along the route to accommodate the many people enjoying the the multi-use path.
Cities like Minneapolis have embraced bikes, with an extensive network of bike paths. Rumor has it that the city plows the bike paths before it plows the streets.
Most of all, riding a bike ride to work or school is fun. It is a healthy activity that helps clear the mind.
Neighbors can greet one another with the ring of a bell or a friendly “hello.” We can all enjoy this beautiful city while staying healthy and active along the way.
In this day of differences and distrust, imagine the good energy we could generate by pedaling together.
So if you see me downtown with my hair a bit disheveled and with a thin layer of sweat, you’ll know that I chose to ride my bike that day. I suspect I’ll be in a happier mood and a little bit healthier.
I hope when it is convenient for you, you will give it a try. And finally, I will admit, my husband was right all along.
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