Free Wheeling

As a kid my bike led me to the greater sphere, to the busy motion of the world beyond my own rather ordinary and uneventful neighborhood. That two-wheeler was my first real gift of independence.

By age ten, my brother and I were making almost daily trips to the drugstore, to purchase bubble gum or Tootsie Pops or some other childhood delicacy.

We had our clear parameters from Mom. “Don’t cross Brownsboro Road,” she’d say, in her I-mean-business voice.

I remember earning that very privilege, once I reached the 6th grade and from then on the world, or at least the East End of Louisville, belonged to me.

These days, I don’t see many kids riding bikes, though, which I think is close to shameful. I can understand their parents’ caution. It’s frightening enough to drive a car on most of our streets. The Loop roads can barely accommodate two passing Ford Explorers, much less a twelve year old on a Schwinn.

As an adult, I rode my bike some when I lived in Atlanta, although I have to admit the hills often presented a bit of a barrier. I buzzed around the Emory campus easily enough, or over to the trendy Virginia Highlands area. I still think of those times now when I’m walking on the campus of UNCW. There aren’t as many bikes in the racks as I’d expect to see on a college campus, though. Probably because the students are smart enough not to risk their lives trying to travel by bike in this city.

“What? What did you say? Are you talking about free-wheeling–in Wilmington?”

I know–I might as well be suggesting that we build a high speed train down the middle of College Road, or Market Street— because each mode of transportation along these treacherous roadways–bicycle or train–sounds flat ludicrous.

I’m not for the train idea, not for intown travel, that is. But I do think the bike option has some considerable merit. In fact, I was more than mildly shocked when I discovered that Wilmington is not a cycling town. When I fell in love with it eight years ago, before I moved here, I just assumed it was. The town has that kind of sensible feel to it—-and we don’t have hills. The perfect combination for a cycling Mecca, in my opinion.

We’re widening roads constantly–as I’m sure you’re painfully aware. May be just today, you were sitting in construction traffic or morning gridlock, listening to the radio, waiting patiently, or not so patiently, for the light to turn green–for the third time.

Now tell me, wouldn’t you rather have been riding past all those other people who were stuck in their cars with their blood pressure rising and their road rage mounting? You could have just breezed right past them, grinning smugly at your own pleasurable efficiency.

Although I did think of one possible hitch. If Wilmington ever finally commits to becoming the second cousin of Portland or Seattle, places where cyclists are admired and encouraged, where bike paths are constructed to insure their safety–I mean, if you were riding a bike earlier today–then you wouldn’t have been listening to commentaries on the radio in your car.

You’d have been listening to the wind, and feeling the brush of Carolina air on your face, instead. That sounds like more than an even trade to me.

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