Misery in the Median: The Quality of Life Argument for Cycling

We bike commuters specifically, and cyclists generally, like to talk about how being on a bike heightens our awareness of our environment and our communities. But this aspect of cycling remains one of the hardest to communicate to a non-cyclist. Your most poetic description of “heightened awareness” won’t convince sedentary habitual motorist to think, I want to try that!

Take this passage from a recent and heavily-tweeted post on Sustainable Cities Collective:

The bicycle is new vision for the blind man. It is a thrilling tool of communication, an experiential device for the beauty and the ills of the urban context. One cannot turn a blind eye on a bicycle – they must acknowledge their community, all of it.

Here lies the secret weapon of the urban renaissance.

Bored Worker
Sorry. Were you talking about bikes again?


Invite a motorist for a bike ride through your city and you'll be cycling with an urbanist by the end of the day.

See, I don’t disagree with any of that. Not a word.

But good luck with the, “Invite a motorist for a bike ride” part of the equation.

There is a large chunk of our society–and I don’t just mean the chunky hordes among us–who will respond to your invitation with a forced smile and a vacant stare, while thinking to themselves, Wasn’t there a War on Effort? Didn’t we win? (I’m talking mostly to Americans here, but other nationalities will understand the phenomenon.)

Stephen King's 'Misery" and a Dollar
Captured: The moment that convinced America to ride bikes.

A couple of days ago on my commute, I found a copy of Misery by Stephen King right in the median of a busy street I was crossing. Within half-a-mile, I found a dollar in the road.

For about five seconds, I imagined this would make a great See what you’re missing? case for cycling. Then I was brought back to reality. (If only it had been a DVD or a video game instead of a book.)

But I kept wondering how the quality-of-life argument could ever penetrate a culture so infused with the sedentary ethic that the argument must sound like complete nonsense to some people.

This recent article on NPR explores how our response to laziness defines (yet another) cultural divide in our culture:

[T]he battle over how we spend our leisure time turned into an all-out war between two extreme camps "” those who use it and those who snooze through it. The divisiveness continues today. Some Americans exercise religiously; others grow more obese. Some go to night schools; others are diverted by video games.

I’ve got no answers here. Just a solid belief that cycling and walking make communities better, and make life more fulfilling. That belief of mine is substantiated by research. But it seems as though the entire discussion occurs within our enclave. To outsiders, this discussion sounds like, Blah blah blah bike blah bike blah

Is there hope that anything other than the rising price of gas can make people more receptive to the quality-of-life argument for cycling?

Read this:

Things like biking and walking trails, parkland and recreational areas, farmers' markets boasting locally- grown produce and a strong public transportation system are also taken into account as factors that lead to healthy living.

Can you guess where that quote came from?

No, not Mother Earth News.

Not Green Left Weekly either.

Not even People & the Planet, or Grist.

That quote came from this article on FOXBusiness.

And no, it’s not the most focused or eloquent thing I’ve ever read in support of cycling and it’s role in better communities. But I marvel that it was slipped matter-of-factly into a piece from a “news organization” that is, if not anti-cycling, more than happy to play the “war on cars” theme and side with the cars.

Hope comes from the strangest places.

Thanks to Tom Bowden for sending me the FOXBusiness link.

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