A No-Brainer?

by Mark Deshon

photo of bike under city signageSometimes a “no-brainer” is just that.

BikeNewark is indeed thankful that on Monday night, April 29th, the City Council overwhelmingly recognized the wisdom of not removing the bike lane on Delaware Avenue (instead of placing temporary parking along that heavily used central Newark artery), because it is a safety issue.

However, after that night’s lengthy special City Council meeting on the City’s parking plan during the Main Street rehab project, I got to wondering why removing the bike lane ever made it to the drawing board in the first place. Certainly, this signals to me that, while the City and its businesses like its designation as a “Bicycle Friendly Community,” the City staff doesn’t naturally consider bicycles as a mode of travel that deserves adequate accommodation on the roads, and Newark’s businesses don’t view people arriving by bike as equally important downtown customers.

This is why an organization like BikeNewark exists—because there’s a real sense among the cycling community that we have to continually remind those in positions of authority, whose decisions have far-reaching consequences, that people do get around on bikes and that this is good for everyone, those biking and those benefiting from fewer cars on the road and less air pollution.

Believe me, I get it. I understand the importance of economic vitality in this city, particularly Newark’s downtown businesses, which will each struggle to a greater or lesser extent over the next year during the upheaval on Main Street.

But we need look no further than vibrant cities like Ft. Collins, Colo.—where my son lives—for evidence that where the bicycling community is truly valued, economic development is robust and businesses benefit greatly. In fact, everyone benefits—those who prefer getting around on two wheels, four, or none.

Having now lived in Ft. Collins for two years, my son now hates the “long,” 15-minute drive to his job in Loveland, wishing instead that his job were in the city in which he lives, so he could bike to where he works, shops, and plays. He’s obviously been spoiled by platinum-level bike infrastructure there.

As a longtime Newark resident, I’ve experienced that how my son would prefer to travel to his job, downtown businesses, and recreation areas is actually quite doable here in Newark—a much smaller university city.

What if we were to take the approach of making bicycling even easier and more preferable and encourage city residents to ride their bicycles to get around during the Main Street construction (thus mitigating our already-awful traffic issues)?

I know that, contrary to the League of American Bicyclists’ designation for Newark, there are many who don’t consider this city very bicycle-friendly. It takes all of us working together, but especially a serious commitment on the part of City Council and City staff, to make a “Bicycle Friendly Community” a reality, not just a tagline on a road sign.

 

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Bicycling Newark in the Dark Ages: 1987–1991

photo of bicycle under Newark, Delaware, and Bicycle Friendly Community signsby Andreas Muenchow

I grew up in Germany and learned to ride a bicycle at age five. My first bicycle arrived six years later in 1972, which I used to propel myself to school every day. Arriving in 1987 in Newark as a graduate student, I bought a used bicycle to get from a rented room on Cleveland Avenue to a shared office in Robinson Hall. This was perfectly normal for me, but not common at the time.

Ann, a fellow graduate student, was the first American I saw on a bicycle. Racing past my Cleveland Avenue home, she saw me sipping coffee on the porch and stopped to say hello. She looked like an alien decked out with an aerodynamically shaped helmet, fancy clothes worthy of the Tour de France, and a wobbly walk (as her clip-ons were not meant for walking). She asked me why I was laughing at her and if I knew how to bike. Well, yes, I replied, but I do it in jeans, Birkenstocks, and a t-shirt in summer or a coat in winter. Furthermore, I bicycle to get to work or to go shopping or to transport stuff.

My second bicycle culture shock relates to dating. One day I was brave enough to ask out a girl I liked. We quickly agreed on a leisurely Saturday afternoon bicycle tour into Pennsylvania. From her dorm on campus we headed out New London Road heading north. My idea was to spend three to four hours on small roads without a clear destination. We had not even reached White Clay Creek State Park when my date said she was tired, exhausted, and suggested we return. I was crushed and disappointed, as this girl had a very different idea of bicycling than did I.

My third bicycling experience happened in 1989 after I had moved to Madison Drive with a single mom and her two kids. My favorite childcare duty was to drop off four-year-old Daniel at his daycare center on Wyoming Road. So, I mounted a child’s seat to the back of my bicycle, got him a helmet, and off we went every morning at 7 a.m. Every other kid except Daniel was dropped off by car, and he was teased about it a little at first, but not for long….

Daniel is a creative and rambunctious kid, so he poked twigs into the holes in his helmet to create antennae to turn himself into a space pilot. With his helmet, his silver snowsuit in winter, and a squirting water pistol in summer, he thoroughly enjoyed this routine. The other kids loved his daily adventure stories, too, and asked their parents to be dropped off on a bicycle as well. A few did, albeit none on snowy roads in winter.

Some years later this kid got an engineering degree from the U.S. Naval Academy. He worked in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa as a Navy electronics aviator. He currently catapults fighter jets off aircraft carriers and supervises their landing on deck. I doubt that my late-1980s bicycling had anything to do with this, but it is vain and fun to think it may have.