To survive you (usually) have to drive

As much as I love cars, I’ve been tempted to save some gas and get out and stretch the old limbs: walk to the corner store, or, better yet, really tearing up the miles by riding a bike.

Others obviously echo the sentiment (whether environmentalists or health advocates, jumping on the bandwagon) citing recent (and steady) gas-price hikes as the motivation we finally need to get off our high-backed bucket seats.

That’s obvious: You’ll be doing your heart, mind, stress level, body fat ratio and the environment a whole lot of good by hanging up the keys and strapping on a bike helmet every once in a while.

With enough participation, lower pollution levels and less delay-causing road maintenance (less money) over the long haul are distinct possibilities.

However, many of us have neglected to consider one teeny, tiny detail: The North American road infrastructure is just not set up to accommodate cyclists/roller bladers/skate boarders, or just about any other kind of alternative transportation, whether it be solar-powered scooters or giant paper airplanes with 12 cupholders and seating for seven. That’s just how narrow the thinking is: There’s little or no consideration for anything other than cars as personal transportation modules. Curse skateboarders and cyclists all you want for getting in your way, but they’re not the problem. The problem is that in many (or most places) there’s no lanes dedicated to them.

Sure, there are bike paths around parks and sparsely populated suburban areas, but not much to get you safely downtown in rush-hour traffic. In most cases, you’re taking your life into your own hands just leaving the driveway. And when you get to work, where are you supposed to park your wheels? Does your work provide a bike locker indoors? How about a shower? Or, what about adequate bathroom facilities to reapply makeup or at least toss on a fresh top? No?

This is how dependent we’ve become on our personal gasoline-powered conveyances: We’re just not set up to do anything else particularly well.

Drivers are not used to seeing anything other than other cars on the road, most cities haven’t adequately planned for anything other than cars: Even people who own pedal bikes wouldn’t dream of actually taking it to work.

Despite this, the reasons for pedaling couldn’t be any more obvious. In fact, given the congestion in most of our downtown areas, it’s quite likely that your morning commute on a bicycle would not only be healthier and cheaper, but faster, especially in Los Angeles where driving two miles recently took 30 minutes. Great, but could the odds be stacked any more heavily against cyclists?

What would it take to put bike/roller-blade/scooter lanes on most streets? Not much. A little paint, in the form of divider lines, because, lord knows, the roads in most cities are wide enough to add a bike lane. If you don’t think so, spend a little time driving in Europe where the roads are half the width.

So, who’s going to get the ball rolling and be the first to draft a real plan to encourage people to use other forms of personal transportation? Who will be the first to offer discounts on health insurance for daily cycle commuters? What will be the first workplace to step up with a proper cycle garage? And who will spring for the first gallon of lane paint?

We’re not talking about a few streets here, but a real infrastructure that rewards people — or at least accommodates them – for being socially responsible and active.

It’s doubtful that your trusty sport utility vehicle will ever give way to two-wheeled propulsion, but, right now, in most places, you don’t really have a choice. You have to drive to survive.

So bring it up at your next city-council meeting or kick it around at the coffee machine tomorrow morning.

Riding a bike is a great idea that just needs a little help to actually make it more socially acceptable as a means of transportation and not just a means of recreation.

Among her numerous accomplishments, Courtney Hansen is the author of her own book, the host of Spike TV’s “Power Block,” the former host of TLC’s “Overhaulin’ ” and a writer with Wheelbase Media. You can email her by logging on to www.shiftweekly.com and using the contact form.

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