Understanding cities by riding bikes

On Sustainable Cities Collective, a beautiful essay about the way that riding a bicycle around your city changes the way you think about urban space. I gave up cycling when I moved to London -- the flat is up six flights of stairs and there's nowhere in it for a bike, in any event. But the advent of short-hire bikes around town has got me riding everywhere again, and I'm loving it.




Invite a motorist for a bike ride through your city and you'll be cycling with an urbanist by the end of the day. Even the most eloquent of lectures about livable cities and sustainable design can't compete with the experience from atop a bicycle saddle.
"These cars are going way too fast," they may mutter beneath their breath.
"How are we supposed to get across the highway?"
"Wow, look at that cathedral! I didn't know that was there."
"I didn't realize there were so many vacant lots in this part of town."
"Hey, let's stop at this cafe for a drink."
Suddenly livability isn't an abstract concept, it's an experience. Human scale, connectivity, land use efficiency, urban fabric, complete streets... all the codewords, catchphrases, and academic jargon can be tossed out the window because now they are one synthesized moment of appreciation. Bicycles matter because they are a catalyst of understanding - become hooked on the thrill of cycling, and everything else follows. Now a new freeway isn't a convenience but an impediment. Mixed-use development isn't a threat to privacy but an opportunity for community. And maybe, just maybe, car-free living will eventually be seen not as restrictive, but as a door to newfound freedom.

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