Recently I moved from a suburban town to the small city of Providence, Rhode Island. While there was plenty of activity in my former town, it has been an eye-opening experience to discover the difference moving just ten miles can bring. I am not writing about the cultural advantages, restaurants and events that are typically available in cities of all sizes. The thing that comes to mind is the cycling landscape.
Okay, I freely admit it: cycling is always on my mind. I probably bore my co-workers, friends and family with cycling stories, complaining about things that aren’t working on bikes, or bragging how much I enjoy winter cycling. But there is no way I am imagining the pro-cycling environment that is present in the city.
Sure, while cycling in the countryside or in suburbia, one will often meet cyclists. That is, if it is after Memorial Day or prior to Labor Day. Just like golf clubs, most bicycles hibernate until spring arrives. That is, unless it is a bicycle that is fortunate enough to live in the city.
When I first moved to Providence in September 2009, I was impressed by the number of cyclists everywhere: main streets, side streets, parks, in the rain, in the wee hours of the morning or the evening hours. Parents with young children in tow, college students, teenagers, retirees and middle-aged alike are cycling in the city.
It is liberating to ride without feeling you are the only one riding a bike. Just last weekend, in the middle of January, I took advantage of the 30+ degree weather to commute to my local winter farmer’s market. As I approached my destination, it was encouraging to see three other bicycles locked up outside of the market. This feeling just about negates an unfortunate experience I had a few years back when cycling home from work on day. A motorist and her mother were apparently annoyed with the amount of “space” I was using on the edge of the road. I was being harrassed by several blares of their horn, along with the mother yelling obscenities at me. The woman in her eighties, so one would think she would have better manners. Not!
According to cycling publications and websites, cities are continuing to improve the ease of bicycle use for its residents and tourists. Bike lanes, extended bike paths, links to public transportation and bike racks are becoming more common each year. Governments are trying to get the word out that cycling is a great form of exercise, transportation and a way to cut down on pollution.
From my own short experience as a city dweller, I am finding cycling more convenient here then in my aforementioned suburban locale. Many people have questioned me about how I feel about cycling in a city – isn’t it dangerous? Is there any where to ride?
Sure, there are some dangers, as there always are with cycling in the streets. However, I feel safer here in the city as drivers are much more used to folks pedaling the roads than they are in smaller towns. As to where you can ride in the city, the answer is just about anywhere. Cities have increasing numbers of dedicated bike lanes, and are planning to add to their numbers. Providence has signs everywhere with arrows pointing the way to bike routes, the downtown area, nearby cities and bike paths.