While I sincerely believe that we need to coordinate changes to infrastructure and social norms to make progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, I am not going to sit and wait for the coordination to magically happen on its own. That means actively experimenting with alternate lower-emissions routines.
The pandemic has eliminated my daily office commute for now, but we are back to full-time child care out of the home. For two children with five years between, that means four trips each weekday to different destinations — a 3.5 mile round trip and a 6 mile round trip.
How hard would it be to make those trips by bike?
Those are easy distances in nice weather, but traffic is the unknown. It’s one thing to look at a bike route on the map, another indeed to make that route a reality as cars zoom past indifferent to your safety. Just because Google Maps shows you a recommended cycling route doesn’t mean that it will be obvious how to safely traverse intersections on the way. Maybe when I have more commuter cycling miles under my belt, this won’t be as intimidating. But right now, it’s a barrier.
Rather than gamble with my first attempt when there is time pressure (i.e. gotta get this kid to camp and back before my first meeting starts), I took a trial run to the toddler’s daycare this (Saturday) morning.
I picked up some valuable intel:
- The round-trip takes twenty minutes. This is scarcely slower than going by car.
- Even where there are sidewalks, they don’t feel any safer than the road. The sidewalks are bumpier and there’s not enough room to pass pedestrians.
- I already knew this going in, but a toddler in a bike seat dramatically reduces my ability to move my weight for balance. No short cuts through woods to avoid busy roads!
- I can’t count on cars seeing me when they are about to turn through my right-of-way. I have to be prepared to make eye contact with drivers and claim my space.
- On stretches of country road, there can be as much as a two inch drop from pavement to the gravel shoulder. If I get forced off the edge, there’s a good chance I will crash.
I’m sure this is old news to seasoned bike commuters, but there is no substitute for taking over the lane. I’ll see how it goes for real later this week, but I’m still worried that it will be hard to feel safe with my kid while making this trip. If there were more cyclists on the road so drivers were expecting us, this trip wouldn’t be a big deal. This is a critical mass problem.