Cycling in the City

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.

Just yesterday, I noticed two brand new bike posts at my local bakery, Seven Stars.  Certainly the most unusual ones I have ever seen.  It was then I knew I had made the right move.

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6 responses to “Cycling in the City

  1. Yes I understand what you are saying. I have had the (good or bad which ever way I wish to spin it) the opportunity of moving over two dozen times in 30 years. I have lived in the rural county area, the subs, the heart of the city. Funny how I would tend to think rural riding is the best, yet when I lived it the heart of the city for two years I found I could hop on my bike and go anywhere. Looking back I guess I loved it. Rural living I am out there by myself riding for distance. As for safety, when I am out there in the county riding I wonder “if I am hit/hurt” how long till someone finds me? Then again how often does a car pass me? City riding I figure more to look out for, but more help if needed.
    Good and bad to both.

  2. Great first post, bicyclegirl! Thanks.

    You (and sarahwb) make some excellent points. I’m a Red Sox fan who was, for a time, exiled to New York Yankers territory. I wore my Sox cap with pride but felt terribly isolated (and at risk). I remember once visiting Boston on business and feeling so at home amongst the denizens awash in Sox gear. The situation is analogous to bicycling, no? There is power in numbers, and every individual will feel an increased sense of safety and empowerment as a consequence of more and more of us being out there together, most of the time doing perfectly ordinary things (i.e., like running errands and making our way to and from work, versus donning spandex and racing a crit through town).

    One more thing: I find city-riding to be quite an adrenaline rush precisely because there is so much more to look out for. It heightens your awareness.

    sarahwb is right to say that there’s good and bad to both. I still love long, long rides on empty country roads.

  3. “There is power in numbers”, I’d agree with you on that for sure. It’s like seeing your state represented on a predominantly Michigan blog site from more than once source (go bicylegirl!) – really makes you want to contribute more :). Seriously though, it must be a cool experience seeing that many bikes on the streets and having a sense of comradery. Unfortunately, I can only offer the rural perspective wherein the experience feels very solitary. Occasionally you’ll pass a fellow cyclist on the open roads who for the most part seems perfectly content to ignore you. BTW, what’s up with that? Is that just a RI thing? I wave to every cyclist I see and maybe get a 25% return on it? Is there some etiquette I don’t know about?

  4. True, I noticed the same thing. When I lived 7 miles out of Elgin Ill. (90,000) in the unincorporated sort of farm land rural area I only rode my bike a couple of times in 12 years. When I moved into the city I started using the bike for recreation and short errands to the store for groceries and to church a couple miles. I have had four bikes stolen however in the last 14 years and now take the bike in or lock it up. Thanks Ed

  5. Smiling Nathan as you say you only get a 25% wave back. I am the Waver. But what I have learned is I get waves and hellos from others like me, Jeans, Sneakers or Birkenstocks and tee shirt. “The Professionals” as I call them with matching outfits and jerseys almost never wave, so I usually just nod. They are always on a mission it seems and I understand that. Then I wonder to myself, do they ride as much as me or are the weekend warriors? All good and does not matter, just an observation.

  6. I must say if I am cycling, either wearing “professional” cycling clothes or regular garb, I will always return a wave. I cannot imagine why one would not.

    Ed – a lock is a must, as you have observed. It is a shame we have to lug a heavy lock around, especially on a light bike, but there you have it.

    Thanks to all who posted. It was truly an enjoyable experience writing a “bike blog”, and I look forward to writing again!