With one bike totalled in August, the other recently stolen in London, my bike availability was temporarily exhausted. I was (condemned to) travelling around on foot. Walking isn’t an easy thing.
Thanks to a friend’s helping hand to a spare bike, I am now back in the saddle. But what happened in the three days I was without a bike, is of some significance to me. Just a few weeks ago I was (again) explaining to a journalist just why I cycle despite the lack of supportive urban design. The answer to this question had something to do with independence and time saving.
Here was the real-life experiment. I was bikeless. What would I do? Back from London and waking up in Newcastle on Sunday I was rather confused, bordering on feeling irritated… I would not be able to jump onto my bike and cycle over to Willi’s Café (my reading place) in less than 10 minutes. I could go by foot, sure – but how long would it take? It turned out to be half an hour at a brisk walking pace.
These 30 minute walks over the following three days showed me how inconvenient walking is. Nothing but a natural experiment! Walking is slow (in comparison to cycling) and not catered for in spatial design (like cycling). The speed that I travel when cycling, I reckon 10mph-ish and less, is just enough to sail past various happenstances and incidents. When you however walk you get involved. You are there, you see things. And goodness, was it frustrating: the speeding, the idling, the dangerous law-breaking behaviour by drivers was everywhere. In your face.
And not just everywhere. I also had to spend 30 minutes each way noticing these transgressions. Seeing the injustice, the discrimination, the sickness of automobility all-surrounding me. I argued a lot with drivers. Again, the walking pace allows you more readily to stop and talk to the driving school instructor parking on double yellow lines with a learner on board. Gah.
With a bike I am simply gliding through, at a speed I do not have to get personally involved too much, and due to the speed, it limits the overall duration too. I only spend 8 minutes in these unjust and uncaring public spaces that are the belching smoking sewers of the 21 century: the roads.
So, walking and cycling polices the streets – we are peace warriors in the urban jungle. But that I feel I have to limit my time in that space, is a telling tale too. I am glad to find myself back on the bike (that is despite the crap conditions). In comparison to walking, cycling allows a coarser grain of participation. How sad this is – in many ways. And how telling about civic design and the society it creates.