Saturday, January 01, 2011

Increasing Cycling Awareness in America

I am a cyclist. You won’t be finding me trying to be a professional, Lance Armstrong-type, hammering flats at rapacious speeds or chugging up gargantuan hills without stopping until I reach the top, but I am a cyclist. Nor will you see me—at least for now—riding a prodigious number of miles each week to go from Point A to Point B, but I am a cyclist. And, as a cyclist, all I want is a place to ride.

It may be a highway, of which I do have a legal right to share, but I want to ride on it. It may be a Greenway, created by tax dollars as part of a park system, but I want to ride on it. It may be a trail where the previous use was a pathway for trains, but I want to ride on it. It sounds so simple, so easy. Throw down some bucks, buy a bike, and take off.

But I also live in America. And, like many Americans, I may never travel to a land where bicycling is more of an establishment, rather than a hated inconvenience to non-cyclists. Indeed, I could find some place to ride almost every day in this country, if I so choose. But I do so with caveats aplenty ringing in my ears.

I do it with the knowledge that the next trip on the road, some recalcitrant Bubba (or Bubbette) may decide it is my day to become their hood ornament. I do it with the knowledge that, if they choose, some backwoods Barney, bored with polishing their single bullet, will want to cite me for an infraction that only exists in their truncated thought processes. I do it also with the knowledge that an elected official will, with an almost patented duplicity, seek to enact laws and amendments against what I (and many others) ask of them just because we are not a significant lobby, and thus not important enough to them.

So what can a single cyclist, in a simple, humble way, do to help change the culture of a nation, or section thereof (since some places in America do have progressive cycling programs), that doesn’t want to acknowledge them or their fellow cyclists.

The answer is CAROM, or Cycling Awareness Ride One Mile. CAROM is saddling up for at least one mile each day (or as often as possible), for a highly visible ride, that is seen by more non-cyclists, thereby increasing cycling awareness in America. It is so simple even a Bubba could do it if they so chose.

Some cyclists who already doing that without a fancy acronym may see it as silly and pretentious. I applaud these brothers and sisters of the wheel because, whether by desire or need, they are following the famous Nike slogan of ‘Just Do It’ and are usually in the saddle for several miles each time they strap on a helmet.

Still, is there anything wrong with attaching an innocuous moniker to something that is, for the most part, fun and benign if it helps more people ponder the ideas espoused? If applying CAROM assists more drivers to become instinctively aware of cyclists, isn’t it a good thing? More cyclists, even for that short distance of one mile, will put more faces on the cycling culture in America.

And the greater meaning is that more cycles faces means an exponential increase in the societal impact of cycling.

Better roads for everyone; not just drivers, not just cyclists, but everyone
Better laws to protect cyclists
Better enforcement of the law, (including those associated with cyclists responsibilities)
Better resources for consumers from the business community
Better opportunities for employees in the work community
Better gains for the environmental and personal health sectors

And as more cyclists hit the roads, cycling will become safer every day. That will be accomplished because visibility adds to the voice and strengthens the efforts of cycling advocacy the same way rebar fortifies concrete.

True, there will be a downside because more cyclists will mean more accidents, and an increase in injury and death of cyclists; at least until that day when the evidence shows the diligence of today’s groundbreakers to be fruitful. Naysayers will use this as fuel to fire their viewpoint. They will claim that cycling is unsafe and that any use of public funds to increase or improve cycling facilities is a waste. The effective counter to that myopic drivel is that when Congress throws public monies into new road construction and flatter, wider roads, it only leads to more cars, more accidents, more injury and death, and is just as wasteful.

So maybe an acronym is only semantics and seems a bit absurd. The important thing is not the thought; it’s the action behind the thought. And action . . . is the whole purpose of the thought.

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