Get on your bike and ride

I had run out of excuses, really. It was a warm-ish, sunny, windless day, and I needed to take a trip downtown on a Saturday. Parking would be a nightmare and really, I need the exercise. So I dusted off the old Trek 800 (and when I say old, I mean 20-plus on this old trooper), and pedaled my creaky, squeaky way downtown.

My route takes me along Idlewild Drive and on to Riverside, where the city of Reno has just installed a “Bike Boulevard.” This section of road is definitely an improvement over the old, bone-jarring, pothole-and-patch experience of Riverside Drive. You can tell it’s a “bike boulevard” because big, white letters in the middle of the road spell it out. But other than the new paving and the signs, it’s tough to see what constitutes a special bike route here. There are no dedicated lanes, and the old traffic-calming structures (which can be effective when placed properly) are replaced with large, languorous speed bumps. Still, it’s a good step toward a more bikeable and walkable community, and I’m all for that.

I wish I could say I were an “avid” bicyclist, or even a “regular” bike commuter. I am blessed with one of the flattest, prettiest bike commutes through town—about half of it is along the river. When I ride to work, it takes about 10 minutes longer than driving each way and, of course, I get a workout in at the same time. So, I really have no excuses, beyond pure laziness and habit, to keep me from pedaling my way pretty much anywhere I need to go.

When I do overcome my inertia, I notice details that escape my attention in a car. Like the water levels in the Truckee, the kingfisher perched on a telephone wire across the river, those crazy people fishing in shin-deep water in November. I feel a little more connected to the community. I appreciate this place a little more deeply. Although I know little about urban design, I’m intrigued by the difference in bike-accessibility between the older neighborhoods built on the grid pattern and newer neighborhoods built, “lollipop”-style, around courts and cul-de-sacs. The latter are meant to increase our sense of privacy but ultimately make us more car-dependent and less connected to our neighborhoods.

City, county and transportation officials here, as in many urban areas, are exploring methods to make our neighborhoods more pedestrian and bicycle friendly, that little stretch of Riverside Drive being one piece of a larger effort. It’s a challenge that highlights the crucial importance of long-term planning in the initial design of neighborhoods before they even get built in the first place. It’s no accident that the developments of the ’60s and later are more car-dependent. These neighborhoods were specifically designed to get residents out of buses and into cars. Developments designed in the 1980s and ’90s here appear downright hostile to pedestrian and bike travel. High-speed arterials linking tightly-packed nests of residences and freeways challenge all but the most courageous to stay off the pavement. A few years ago, some students of mine found that Washoe County had more than 300 car-to-bike accidents resulting in hospitalization or death in one year. Another generation now is working on improving bike-pedestrian safety on the UNR campus.

There’s a lot of work to do—more now that we have to work against the original design of neighborhoods in many cases. But it’s a worthy and do-able project. We enjoy great weather and clean air most of the year. Getting out of our cars and onto our bikes will help us keep it that way for years and generations to come.