Make Biking Great Again

An example of new bike infrastructure in downtown St. Paul.

An example of new bike infrastructure in downtown St. Paul.

Editor’s Note: One of the missing voices in bicycle planning in the Twin Cities is college students. This series aims to include the perspectives of a generation that is much less likely than their parents to own vehicles. The authors are Macalester students enrolled in the “Bicycling the Urban Landscape” course. The overarching objective is to provide intellectual and active engagement with bicycling, including understanding transportation politics, equity, bicycle culture, local, national, and global trends in bicycling, and steps toward increased bicycle mode share locally and globally. This piece was contributed by Henry Harper.

If you’ve been in the United States at all this past year, you definitely get the reference. This phrase is a parody of the infamous slogan of Donald Trump’s current bid for the presidency. One of the main theme’s of Trump’s message is America’s lack of greatness and how it needs to be restored. This ideology is flawed, but nonetheless, Trump has expended a lot of energy creating a narrative that “America is in shambles.” Trump describes America as a country with crumbling infrastructure, led by stupid people, and riddled with violence, and that the whole world laughing at us. So, how can we solve these imminent problems? Trump might say build a wall, but I say get on a bike. Yep, that’s right, most of the issues we face today could be reduced if we returned the streets to the people, all hopped on a bike, and made biking great again.

It’s a little known fact that the street used to be a public commons that anyone was free to use. It was shared by all members of the community and was extremely practical. Biking certainly played into this time period around the late 1800s, which is considered the first golden age of bicycling. This was of course before the emergence of the automobile, which successfully ripped the street from the public and instead turned it into a space that only catered to the large metal machines. So why should we restore this dated notion of the street as a public, shared commons, conducive to biking?

Think about it, if we all made biking a priority, it would have a multitude of long-lasting benefits. Firstly, biking is an extremely sustainable and fairly convenient form of transportation that doesn’t involve some of the baggage of car travel. Using less fossil fuels (although there are other huge contributors to climate change besides fossil fuels) by riding a bike would help control climate change, something Trump has decided doesn’t exist. Biking is also more accessible than car travel in terms of cost and upkeep. Bikes cost less than cars, and bikes run on human energy; therefore, there’s no need to pay for gas. In addition, bikes are more versatile in terms of where they can be ridden, as they are smaller and more dynamic.

Obviously there are limitations to what a human can do on a bike, and the way our systems are currently set up, many places of interest are very difficult to reach on a bike. But if we placed a priority on biking, it would force communities to make sure that facilities are easily accessible for all members of that area. The emergence of a strong bike culture in the U.S. would also lead to many more citizens lobbying for better bike infrastructure, which subsequently improves conditions for cars, pedestrians, and businesses. If all of your community’s public facilities were easily accessible through a much improved infrastructure, biking as a means of transportation would be a no brainer. This would help appease Trump over his crumbling infrastructure arguments.

If everyone biked to get around, there is a greater chance that we would all be in better physical shape. It’s no secret that America suffers from an obesity epidemic. Biking would be the most sensible way to stay physically active, because biking would have (and still does have) extremely practical uses. And as we all know, in addition to an increase in physical health, staying active reduces stress and contributes to an overall positive mood. Maybe if Americans were in better shape physically and mentally, our schools wouldn’t fail, and people wouldn’t laugh at us as much as Trump claims they do.

Finally, a commitment to biking would bolster our sense of community. Instead of driving in enclosed pods, we would all share an open space together, like how the roads used to be. Bikes allow us to interact with others, unlike walls, which both physically and metaphorically separate us. Bikes also force us to really get to know our community. I’ve learned so much about my town and the people in it by just getting on my bike and riding about. Bikes are a portal to discovery. That being said, instead of sulking in our current problems, I think the real way to make America greater, and change our lives for the better, is to get on a bike and enjoy the ride.


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9 Responses to Make Biking Great Again

  1. Alex Schieferdecker
    Alex Schieferdecker November 4, 2016 at 3:01 pm #

    My interest in planning was sparked by (now retired) Professor Lanegran’s amazing urban geography field trip, which I did in the fall of my sophomore year. I did the entire thing with my bike, and I got to understand the Twin Cities to a greater extent than I had ever managed in the entirety of my first year.

    The bike is really an excellent way of getting around. It’s so adaptable, you can ride it, walk it, carry it, park it, take it through a crowd, or get up to speed and get somewhere surprisingly fast. Even better, it puts you out in the fresh air, and enables people to see the city in an entirely new way.

    To me, I’ve always seen these things to be connected. As I biked around the cities for the class, I couldn’t help but notice my surroundings, and become interested in how they became that way and where they were headed. I think this site is a testament to how many people who just started out biking or walking, and found themselves increasingly interested in the other facets of the urban environment. I think it works the other way around too. If you start out interested in bettering your neighborhood, and you discover the best way to get around is walking or biking, and it quickly builds on itself.

    I’d add that one additional benefit to the list in this post (do the students not get a byline, btw?). Walkers or bikers, I think are naturally more engaged and more interested in the fate of the city than drivers, or even transit riders. Every neighborhood along your route becomes your neighborhood too. I think that the increased interest in urbanism and the rise of urban-friendly forms of transportation are linked.

    Was really glad and excited to hear about this course. I wish I had been able to take it!

    – Macalester ’13

    • Betsey Buckheit
      Betsey Buckheit November 5, 2016 at 10:41 am #

      streets.mn decided to create a collective byline to be able to group these posts efficiently, but we hope to add student bylines in the body of each post. We receive the posts through the course instructor, but will add any author information we receive as soon as we get it. Thanks for reinforcing the influence of wonderful courses and professors!

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller November 7, 2016 at 11:04 am #

      Yes, this. Biking and walking allow you to engage with and learn about your surroundings in a way that’s impossible in a car.

  2. Tony Desnick November 4, 2016 at 3:12 pm #

    Please don’t honor one of the presidential candidates by co-opting his slogan. When I think of improved bike facilities in the Twin Cities, the last thing I want to think about is the Donald

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke November 4, 2016 at 4:24 pm #

      it’ll all be over soon. Finland waits for you.

  3. Adam Froehlig
    Adam Froehlig November 5, 2016 at 8:53 am #

    A suggestion to the students: a much better thing to write about would be realistic ideas that could be implemented to help achieve the vision. While I fully agree that increasing bicycling is a good thing, your piece here comes off as a bit utopian without much substance.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke November 5, 2016 at 12:29 pm #

      If you’re not utopian when you’re in college, when will you be utopian?

      • Adam Froehlig
        Adam Froehlig November 7, 2016 at 6:05 pm #

        If you’re phrasing it that way, I suspect we’ll be in disagreement about being utopian in college…

  4. Keith Morris November 6, 2016 at 11:23 am #

    I think the answer to getting closer to this utopia is in the picture on top: get that first piece of high quality infrastructure built.