In America, there is a lot of talk about freedom and how it is one of the founding principles of our country and how we must stand up for freedom at any cost and on and on. I get really tired of this rhetoric, because often times it’s from a very narrow point of view, and often means something like “we must take freedom from someone else so they don’t take it from us,” which I think is no kind of freedom.
As a resident of Portland, Oregon, and a bicycle commuter, one way I look at freedom is the ability to choose the way I get around the city, and thinking about that choice, I think about the freedom a given mode of transportation allows me in going where I want/need to go, as well as the freedom it gives me to enjoy that distance traveled.
One of the biggest arguments I’ve heard for cars as a means of freedom is the ability to “go anywhere, anytime.” For intra-city travel, my bike serves exactly this same purpose – with a number of added bonuses.
I don’t ever have to pay to fuel my bike. I never have to worry if I have gas in the tank. I also don’t have to worry about running out of gas while I’m out and getting stuck somewhere (we’re particularly bad about this one with our car).
Parking is often a problem in Portland for cars. It ranges from “inconvenient” in some parts of town to “absolute nightmare” in others. It’s not unusual to spend anywhere from 5-20 minutes just trying to find parking once you’ve gotten to wherever you’re going (especially if it’s downtown or in the Pearl District). Not only is it easier to secure a bike to normal everyday immovable objects, but bikes take up much less space, allowing for more parking in a small area, and I find that in the places I go on a regular basis, there is almost always easy parking near where I am going. Not to mention that I don’t have to pay for it, or worry about meters running out, etc. As the number of bicyclists increases, this becomes more of a problem, but Portland is already planning more bike corrals and bike parking around the city.
Traffic jams. You know them. You hate them. I forget they exist. I don’t think I’ve ever sat in traffic for more than a few minutes when going anywhere in Portland by bicycle. This should be a big enough reason in itself to try bicycle commuting – I think sitting in traffic not moving is at the very very bottom of my list of things I want to be doing on any given day. I love the feeling of cruising down Terwilliger from OHSU when traffic is backed all the way up the hill, and not having to stop until I hit the stoplight at the bottom. I love riding down Madison towards the Hawthorne bridge, casually flying past all the traffic that is waiting to get onto the car part of the bridge (see some of the videos on video.portlandize.com for examples).
A bike can go places a car simply cannot go, and allows a freedom of movement that just isn’t possible in automotive traffic. As an example of this, I’ll give an account of my commute to work this morning. I made it out early today, so it was still dark, the sun was just barely becoming visible at all. By the time I made it to the Hawthorne Bridge, there was just a nice bright glow on the horizon. As I came off the bridge and looped down onto the waterfront, I noticed that Mt. Hood was making a beautiful silhouette against the skyline, but it was behind a building where I was, so I rode just a little bit further North on the waterfront until I could see it.
Everything was quiet, I could hear the water moving below, the faint sounds of traffic from the bridge, the occasional bicycle or pedestrian that passed by. The air was crisp and cold and I could see my breath. I was early, so I decided to just sit there on my bike and watch the sunrise for about 15 minutes.
Had I been in a car or on public transit, I simply wouldn’t have been in that place at all. I wouldn’t have seen Mt. Hood, and I wouldn’t have been able to just stop and watch the sunrise even if I had seen it and had wanted to.
So you see, traveling by bicycle in the city, I have greater freedom of movement than by automobile, and that is, to be honest, maybe my favorite thing about riding. It gives me not only a full view and sensory exposure to my surroundings (I’m not enclosed in anything), but the ability to interact with them and to stop and enjoy them anytime should I so desire. I can get basically anywhere I need to go, at a pace and in a manner that is enjoyable, without being dangerous or inconveniencing others, and while doing so, I have full freedom to enjoy the city I’m in… and a beautiful city it is!