Walking and biking the Big O | News

I remember it distinctly.

I had been in Oxford for about a week, had walked everywhere, every day, to meet with colleagues at one of the colleges, to visit Blackwell’s bookshop, to the train station, to Gloucester Green to catch an afternoon bus to London, had dodged and been dodged by bicycles, oh, all the bicycles.

After a week of walking with purpose to the internet cafe, the Bodlean, the Pitt Rivers Museum to see the Oxford dodo, I awoke one morning with nothing to do, and after my coffee I found myself out on St. Giles Street, without knowing how I got there, asking myself, now where shall I go?

Huh? Walking to well, just be walking? What was happening to me?

So I walked out to Summertown to the bike shop there, because for all my walking I was admiring the bicycling culture, and I couldn’t get enough of it. The young moms with their babies in seats on the back pulling up behind buses, waiting for the light to change. The elderly dons weaving about on bikes with tires flattened and whining and their scholarly rumps draped over the sides of the saddles. Student bikes chained on every rail in sight.

All of it, human-scaled, nostalgic, a community in motion, but slow enough to take each other in, even if it is England, and they never initiate conversation. It was this, being out and among others walking, biking, all together, that engaged me and created in me a desire to be out there with them.

I am thinking of this because I read with interest the article on Friday that our community leaders are interested in conducting surveys on the walking and biking needs in the county. The Chamber Young Professionals and the Chamber of Commerce are taking this on as a way to assess needs and to see if there is a way to attract young people to the area.

I have nephews living in big cities, walking everywhere, because that is what you do there. Oh, maybe they hop on a city scooter if the distance is far, but mostly they walk. My nephew, Reading, just moved to Denver, living downtown, not far from the son of a family friend, who doesn’t even own a car. He cycles everywhere.

Health Highlights: June 14, 2022​

I come home from my travels in England, in Amsterdam, in Central Europe and I rededicate my life to walking. And yet, I can practically see Kroger from my front yard, but the intersection at 25th Street and Frederica Street is enough of a barrier to make walking feel uncertain, and at times, unsafe.

Owensboro is flatter than a flitter, as flat as Oxford, almost as flat as Amsterdam, or so it seems, a perfect town for biking comfortably. But I got a panicked phone call one time from our Czech students because they thought they might ride their bikes out to a store on Highway 54, at night, and it would have been a doable thing where they live, but not here. They truly thought they might die.

Now, we would never attempt that, of course, but it illustrates a perspective we may need to adopt if we wish to become walkable, ridable. Why can’t we ride our bikes to Target? Downtown? What must we do to make it possible?

My beautiful English bike was stolen, a loss I am still not over. But if I’m honest, it never fit me quite right. So now, I am making plans to replace it, and this time I am thinking I might buy a real Dutch omafiets, which translates into “grandma bike.” It is more upright than even my English bike. It is like sitting in a chair, but pedaling.

I encourage my pals at the Chamber to read β€œIn the City of Bikes,” by Pete Jordan. It is a good overview of why and how Amsterdam became a cycling city. It discusses how the cycling culture in Amsterdam didn’t happen organically. Or at least not completely organically. There was a municipal commitment to make the streets bicycle friendly, and a commitment to resources, some significant.

Watch videos of the Dutch and their bikes on Youtube. I could spend hours doing that, and have.

Survey people who don’t own lycra bike shorts, but might want to bike. People who don’t own those clicky shoes that clip onto their bike pedals. Those cyclists are a different thing. They are athletic, and very cool. But they aren’t most of us. And we would like to bike, too.

I’m going to be a good citizen and keep writing about this. I love the whole idea.

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