Friday, December 04, 2009

Bike Riding in the Suburbs vs Urban Areas

Davan and I took the bull by the horns and, even though it was under 30 degrees this morning when it was time to leave, we rode to the Oregon Convention Center for the Festival of the Trees. Davan was not feeling excited about riding, but I was. It's about a 14 mile ride. We layered up, put a skiing type face mask on Davan, wore hats under our helmets and used our ski gloves rather than our bike gloves.

The ride was a good one. It was stressful for Davan at first, figuring out how to shift and break with the big bulky ski gloves on and we were cold at first and a little sweaty later, but were both truly glad to have ridden. The ride home was easier with fewer layers (and no face mask) needed and, while it was still almost too cold for them, our long fingered bike gloves rather than ski gloves.

Our ride to the convention center (which is largely the same route as our ride to Do Jump) had me thinking more about something that has been bouncing around in my head for a couple weeks. Our route takes us from the suburbs, where we live, into the urban area. Out in the suburbs, at least here in the Portland Metro area, you will still find bike lanes. However, you won't find a lot of people using them. The bike density increases significantly after passing out of the suburbs, though the kind of iffy in between area and into the populous urban center.

Why do more people ride in the urban area? Well, I don't necessarily think it's because everything is closer, although, to some extent, that's true. Places like OMSI (our science museum), the convention center and downtown are closer and riding to them is much more convenient if you live close. However, where, other than commuting to work perhaps, which may well be downtown, do people go the most often by car or bike? School or the grocery store, I'm thinking. In the suburbs, at least around here, these places aren't any further away then they are in the urban area. So, why don't people ride their bikes there in the suburbs?

I think there are several factors at play here. One is that things feel more spread out in the suburbs. Houses tend to be further apart. More space is given to parking lots. Because there is more space between things, it feels further, even though we have some 4 or 5 grocery stores within a mile and a half of us.

Another is that, even though we do have bike lanes, we don't seem to have as many side walks. Pedestrian traffic means more people out of cars and, thus, more people likely to choose to be out of cars, even by way of bike.

In the urban areas, it's not nearly as easy to drive as it is in the suburbs. Out here, the streets are wide and car friendly. In the urban areas, the streets are narrow, often with cars parked on both sides, meaning that cars have to dive in and out of parked cars to pass each other. Also, it's not as easy to drive because there are so many pedestrians and bicyclists and you really have to watch out for them. Of course, this becomes a chicken and egg thing - which came first?

In good part, though, I think it comes down to who is choosing to live where. Generally, people who choose to live in the urban area prize different things than those choosing to live in the suburbs. Urban people, generally speaking, want things close and don't prize cars. Suburban people are, often, creating a life around their car. By definition, many suburbanites are commuting and, more times than not, this involves a car.

All of this reinforces the fact that we probably living in the wrong place. Given our priorities, while not our finances, we should be living urbanely. This is a goal of mine, but it is so much more expensive and moving is a drag, so we'll see if it actually comes to fruition.

1 comment:

  1. Moving sucks. I'd rather go through labor. Or shoulder surgery. Either one is preferable to moving.