The Ride Stuff

Bike lanes are okay, Mr. Mayor. But if the goal is sustainability, perhaps we should all have horses.

Dear Mayor Ballard:

You were elected by the people, which gives you the right to foist upon the people whatever you think the people need. Apparently, we (the people) require more bike lanes. You ride a bicycle yourself; I’ve seen photos of you in full gear, and you look like you know what you’re doing. I’m all for the healthy example you set for our young people and our indolent (and somewhat obese) citizenry.

I myself am not as active as I should be since I gave up swimming a couple of years ago. The water was too cold, and I used up most of my allotted time getting in the pool, one goosebump at a time. And then there was the whole dress-undress-dress routine; a person could lose a whole day just to get in a few laps. At least with biking, the only downsides are a sore behind and helmet head—and the scenery is better.

Like most kids, I rode plenty back when fashionable bicycles had upright handlebars, a kickstand, and two gears: stop and go. We tooled around on sidewalks, looking both ways at driveways and intersections. That was before thousand-dollar bikes and special Lycra attire. You rode a Schwinn or a Huffy (with a basket, if you were lucky) and assumed that drivers had the right-of-way. Nobody I knew ever got killed.

Now the whole bike thing has become a huge trend, if not for fitness then to save money on gas. Somebody at the office where I work parks his/her bicycle in the elevator lobby, which makes the rest of us feel bad. Me, I get in the car in my garage most mornings, get out of the car in another garage, and go sit at my desk until lunch, at which time I walk 83 steps to Au Bon Pain next door to get soup and a sandwich, which I sit at my desk and eat.

I would never commit to riding a bike to work (I’d have to stop at the ER for oxygen on the way), but, given your inspiration, I guess I could at least circle my neighborhood in the evening, since it stays light until 10 p.m., at which time kids all over the state are jumping up and down on their beds waiting for nightfall.

“I’ve watched the instructional video but I feel the process should be intuitive, like breathing or Angry Birds.”

I realize you had nothing to do with creating daylight-saving time, let alone putting Indiana in the Eastern Time Zone; the honor belongs to one of your elected brethren in higher office. You are, however, responsible for increasing the number of miles devoted to bike lanes from 30 to 64 last year alone. By 2024, you say, the 64 miles will soar to 200! I gotta be honest with you, dude. Some of those lanes, especially on Capitol Avenue and Illinois Street, are pretty lame. It doesn’t take an engineer to conclude that you can’t add 5 feet of bike lane to an existing street and expect the car lanes not to suffer. I swear, I’ve driven so close to other cars I’ve practically seen sparks fly, and, in some cases—when two driving lanes merge into one, or you’re motoring along and wind up behind a line of parked cars—the plan fails.

I’ve watched the four-minute instructional video on your sustainability website, but I for one feel navigating bike lanes should be intuitive, like breathing or Angry Birds. I’ll give you this, though: As inconvenient as the bike lanes are to drivers, they are a better idea than, say, the new parking meters downtown. I used to drive to Massachusetts Avenue for lunch at Bazbeaux and a stroll through Mass Ave Toys. Now I never do, because who can figure out how to operate the meters with a credit card? Need additional minutes? Feh! I would often purchase two slices of pizza and a princess costume for my granddaughter, so my absence can’t be good for the local economy.

I understand your soft spot for bikes, and I don’t mean to be picky, but I can think of better uses for our historic City Market than as a parking garage for the two-wheelers. There’s no place left to buy fresh produce, meat, or seafood; I can’t find a restaurant worth the walk; and there’s bird doody on the outside tables; but you can park your bike in a secure indoor garage? Now you’ve got me started, and if I don’t control myself, I’ll take on the reconfiguration of Georgia Street, which I still don’t get.

Anyway, I’m not the beneficiary of many of your ideas, but you’d be impressed with my 71-year-old brother-in-law, who has ridden his bike to Kokomo and back 100 times, which I can’t even fathom. The only reason I go to Kokomo is to eat at Culver’s. Their burgers are sublime—don’t you agree?—all fresh and hot on those soft buttery buns.

Speaking of family, I bought my younger son an $800 Trek bike when he began college, before I was savvy enough to realize no freshman needs an $800 bicycle. Needless to say, it was stolen the first week of class; the only thing left at the end of the day was one tire attached to the bike lock. I personally own a specialty bike with a seat back that would never be stolen, as most passersby mistake it for a wheelchair.

If the goal is sustainability, perhaps we should all ride horses. If you figure in the cost of manufacturing, the retail price of a good bike, and upkeep on pedals and chains, we’d be better off with a nag and a daily pail of hay. I myself have been afraid of horses since sleep-away camp, when I landed in the bushes along the trail and told everyone I’d been thrown. The truth is, Greg, I couldn’t control the reins, and the beast kept galloping around in a circle. So I jumped. And you know the saying: Once you jump off of a horse, you never get back on. But let’s face it—horses and humans eventually wind up dust-to-dust, which is as sustainable as it gets. We’d still need the special lanes, but we could hitch the animals to the parking meters, which would at least make the contraptions easy to use.

Yours truly,

Deborah Paul

Illustration by Andrea Eberbach

This article originally appeared in the July 2012 issue.