Rent a Bike rack, Berlin, Germany

I can’t remember the last time I rode a bicycle, at least one on wheels as opposed to the stationary type at the gym. But that doesn’t mean I’m not a fan of bikes and bicycling. I am. It seems to me that Lowell would have everything to gain and nothing to lose by becoming a more bicycle-friendly city. It might even get me riding one.

This past summer I had the good fortune to spend a week in Berlin, Germany which I found to be one of the most amazing cities I’ve ever visited. Something that truly shocked me was the proliferation of bicycles in that city. They’re everywhere ridden by everyone: old people, young people, men in suits, women in dresses. They’re routinely carried onto street cars and subways and if you don’t have your own, rental stations are available on almost every block. If streets don’t have specified bike lanes, the adjacent sidewalks do, with red bricks indicating the pedestrian side and gray bricks the bicycling side.

Although I was in Berlin in the summertime, I used to live in Germany year-round and its winters can be gruesome, about what we have here, so I doubt the bicycles are used as much in the winter, but I assume the city’s outstanding public transportation network then absorbs those who leave their bikes at home because of nasty weather.

I know bicycles and public transportation seem radical concepts to some, but for city dwellers, that mixture plus pedestrian friendly sidewalks (i.e., car owners don’t use the sidewalk for vehicle parking) seem like a pretty good alternative to everyone driving everywhere every time. That’s why I welcomed the news yesterday that the city of Lowell has purchased four bicycles for the use of its employees on official business. It’s good for the city to lead by example.

Everyone rides bikes in Berlin

9 Responses to Bicycles

  1. kad barma says:

    Painting new bike lanes is like trying to push string. If people are not already out there riding, it’s just more impediments to drivers that appear to have limited purpose, and a net drag on the impulse to be seen riding a bike. (It’s a bit like how people would feel when to see 8 empty handicapped spots in a parking lot with 20 spaces–doesn’t make them more supportive of handicap access if it appears that it’s not serving a useful purpose and just getting in their way).

    People who like bikes have to remember that the real obstacle will never be bike lanes–it’s all the people out there who don’t ride bikes.

  2. DickH says:

    Bikes or bike lanes; it’s kind of a chicken or egg thing. The biggest impediment to increased bike riding is the lack of “bike awareness” among people who drive cars. Even if you’re an attentive driver, if you’re not constantly alert that someone on a bike may be alongside of you (or overtaking you when you’re about to open your door after parking), you inadvertently become a menace to the bicyclist. The lanes, at least, are a visual reminder that bikes share the road with motor vehicles. If we have the ability and the funding to create bike lanes, I don’t see the purpose of waiting until we get some critical mass of bicyclists to do so. Besides, the bike lanes on Fr. Morissette Blvd are part of a comprehensive traffic calming strategy that’s intended to make the area friendlier for pedestrians as well as for bicyclists. No harm there as far as I’m concerned.

  3. Jack Mitchell says:

    When I see some Lowellian’s knee-jerked reaction against the spurt in anything bicycle related, I figure it is because they can’t wrap their head around living in the downtown, as a city dweller would.

    I find it very common in Lowell, in the mind set of folks that live all around the perimeter of the city, that the downtown is to be visited and then left behind at dusk. Thus, it is foreign to them, the notion that others would dwell there. That others would want the City to attend to their lifestyle choice.

    When sparse tax dollars are allocated in ways that don’t support the paradigm of “The Downtown is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.,” we hear grumbles.

    As a related aside, the neighbourhoods get sick of all the business development focus on the Downtown. We appreciate the recent detours towards the ‘Bridge St. corridor’ & ‘Cambodia Town.’

    There is a lot to like about Lowell. All over Lowell. ;v)

  4. kad barma says:

    I’d put the chicken and egg question back to the point about riding. People who don’t ride lack “bike awareness”, and will likely always lack bike awareness, even with bike lanes and sharrows and what have you. I don’t disagree about offering improved visual cues to help those who remain “bike unaware” to at least be better part of the time. But I’d still put it back to “put money where mouths are”. The critical mass comes when people stop making it about painting stripes on roadways, and start actually riding bikes. There’s a casual Monday night ride leaving from City Hall every week. But, more importantly, we’re all within a short distance of grocery stores and other errand destinations every day. We have backpacks. What is stopping us from taking that loaf-of-bread errand on a bike? It’s not stripes. It’s roadways that are too narrow, and too-closely bordered by trees and other hazards that leave small margins for accident error. It’s drivers who think that roads are for cars, first, last and always. It’s us.

  5. Nancy Greene says:

    LOVE the new bike lanes on Father Morrissette Blvd. It feels friendlier and more orderly – no longer an aggressive raceway. Looking forward to cycling there in the near future

  6. Dan Tobin says:

    At what point did “Bike Awareness” and “Awareness” become two different things?

    Kad, when I see the bike lanes, I think of smug hipsters in too tight skinny jeans.

    I ride with or without Bike Lanes.

  7. kad barma says:

    I think “awareness” for drivers has always been limited by experience and priority. I know a lot of older drivers who don’t prefer to look both ways let alone for non-vehicular traffic before they pull out of a side street, and feel that bikes are required to get out of the way for them in any case. I know a lot of younger drivers who only prefer to glance briefly at the road between texts, and don’t really care what might be coming at them. Both are extreme hazards for bikers, and #1 and #2 reasons for always insisting on eye contact before presuming anything about a driver’s intention, and even then only as a possibility. As for hipsters, my experience is that the skinny jeans types aren’t the granola/teva bikies, and there are differences. (The skinny jeans folks tend more towards driving Minis and the odd ZipCar to get around). And, yeah, that’s my point–bikers ride with or without bike lanes, and more bike lanes don’t make more bikers the same way that more bikers will lead to more bike lanes as drivers get annoyed and insist on channeling them into their own little space so that they’re less of a nuisance on other parts of the road. Because that’s what bike lanes are really for–not for bikers, but for cars who don’t like dealing overmuch with bikers.

  8. Jack Moynihan says:

    I too am happy about the city’s purchasing bicycles for employees, and support increased bike use in general – but only if existing rules/laws regarding bicycle usage are enforced. While responsible bike riders would be appalled at the idea of riding opposing traffic, breezing through stop signs, and forcing pedestrians out of the way while you ride down the sidewalk – this behavior is quite common for a lot of Lowell riders. This is particularly true in the downtown area, where, aside from being extremely dangerous – it presents a most unwelcoming atmosphere. I haven’t been riding myself locally for some years out of the concerns that Dick and others have raised about the lack of attention to, or outright aggression towards, cyclists by many drivers (as a long time runner, I have dealt with this type of thing for years). This does need to be addressed (along with many other driving violations). However (with all due respect to responsible cyclists), before the city moves to encourage more bike riding – I believe that it should enforce existing bike riding laws, and eliminate menaces who give the activity a bad name. By the way, walking can also be a nice alternative to driving.