In previous posts, I talked about riding my bike experiences in Madison, Wisconsin. Bike lanes, shared roadways and paths galore. Not to mention many good places to lock your bike. Bike riding there, especially in downtown, was common, understood and even perceived as expected in some crowds. The role and place of bike was a growing part of the local community culture and landscape.
Riding 'round here, the wearing of my "super nerd" safety vest has come and gone in fits and starts. It's a love/hate relationship. I want to ride my bike (for a variety of reasons), but the route I ride on isn't the safest. Since I want to feel comfortable and relaxed, I think about sporting the neon, reflecting safety vest. I may feel safe, but wearing the safety vest with front and back lights going does nothing for my desire to feel and make bike riding normal. Nothing says "I-know-I-might-be-the-only-cyclist-on-the-road-but-I'm-here-so-please-don't-hit-me.-I'm-doing-my-best-to-be-visible" like a safety vest. Increased visibility to be safer, One. Normal bike riding experience, Zero.
I recently went back to riding in a pair of older khaki pants and ditched the spandex, for the sake of appearing more normal when I ride. I have taken to wearing a nice coat (and not a racing jacket) when I bike to meetings for my job. I'm making personal decisions that demonstrate that folks can get on a bike without the need to invest in a new wardrobe. So, does infrastructure influence the ability for biking to become normal, safe and an every day activity?
I think so. In Madison, I didn't need my super nerd vest in many places because there were places to ride that were safe and comfortable. All kinds of people wore every day clothing and took to the streets daily. In the Upstate, I bring my vest wherever I bring my bike in case I feel like I need that extra layer of "protection." (What I really feel like I need in some cases is bubble wrap!) How many people would like to ride but don't feel safe enough? If there's a need to wear lots of bright, reflective material for even short bike rides, I would argue that we're not (yet) doing enough to serve the needs of the biking community.
I can't wait for the day that I can put away my super nerd safety vest and feel comfortable wherever, whenever I ride.