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Why I Ride

Erik Bike

Post by: Erik Reader, President, Reader Area Development

I have been waiting for the right time to drop my own post on the Bike Peoria site for a while. It’s not that I haven’t had the words, I just haven’t had the time. But isn’t that the age old excuse. For those of you who are unfamiliar, I usually do my blogging over at Reader Area Development dot com. Sure, that’s some shameless self-promotion for myself, but what the hell, I’m an administrator on this site as well.

Like most, I grew up riding my bike around the neighborhood after school just to be outside playing. That evolved into riding to school, downtown, to baseball practice, a friend’s house, or wherever my legs could motor me. Somewhere around that pivotal age of 15-16 it became clear that it wasn’t cool to ride a bike. As we all know, the most exciting thing for every high-schooler is getting their driver’s license.

I remember my parents telling me that I would have to get a job in order to afford a car. So at the ripe old age of 14 I got my first real job – at McDonald’s. Yep… first you have to be humbled before you can be cool apparently. Needless to say, I saved up enough to buy a 1990 Chevy Beretta. How I kept the ladies at bay was a mystery, it just naturally happened.

At a time with $0.88/gallon gasoline (1998), I made my way to the bowling alley, movie theater, cross town to friends houses, to school and a few side trips my parents don’t need to know about. That was all fine and dandy, but I still had to work here and there to afford my new-found responsibility. With no other obligations to my name, this wasn’t a huge drag, but the real sticker shock would occur in the 15 years since.

The cost itself wasn’t just in the form of driving from A to B, it was everything else it represented. Gas, car insurance, maintenance, the occasional ding or scratch, countless hours staring through a pane of glass, and the hours working a job I hated to afford it all. I grew up outside of Chicago in the far western suburbs and that meant LOTS of driving. Want to go to a baseball game? Drive. Need a job? Drive across the ‘burbs. Thinking about visiting friends? More driving…. you get the picture.

In college, I had an opportunity to study abroad in the Netherlands. Leeuwarden, a northerly city of 90,000 people exposed me to a different culture that has taken years to decipher what I really learned. The Dutch are widely regarded for their over-the-top biking culture. I didn’t really “get it” until my semester abroad started.

Amsterdam

We were told that we would probably want to rent a bike. The few Americans in the group looked at each other like it was a joke or something. Even me, I hadn’t ridden anywhere on a regular basis for several years didn’t understand it. We have cars … duh?  All kidding aside, they were serious. The best way to get around town is by bike. The town, which is hundreds of years old, is perfectly laid out for it. No bike? Well, walking is just as easy. Riding to the bar as a 21-year-old was probably the most freeing feeling you could imagine. You mean I can go do something stupid and follow it up with something responsible afterward? No shit…

Unless you’ve been, I have a real hard time of putting it into words and trying to explain it. That’s the reason why downtown Leeuwarden remains as my website header. To serve as a reminder that this other place exists.

Leeuwarden

After my tour abroad ended, it was back to Geneva, where that quaint, charming downtown existed but the biking culture didn’t. I was dying to bring back what I thought to be a slice of heaven back with me.  No one else felt the same. My excitement to ride faded as my jobs would take me here, there, and everywhere by car. It got to the point where I was filling up for gas twice a week. It became a repetitive and vicious cycle. I’d seen my Dad fall into it, and I knew it was killing him too. Spending hours in a car everyday isn’t healthy for you. That’s a no-brainer. So why do we get stuck in the proverbial rut?

We somehow accept this as our reality. We know in order to find work, we must drive. In order to find food, we must drive. In order to live, we must drive. After a year of life on the road, my then girlfriend, now wife, Danielle and I moved to Dallas, Texas. A change of scenery was interesting, and it provided the initial stimulation we needed. But something still seemed off. Gone were the Main Street’s and downtown’s of Illinois I was used too. Everything is bigger in Texas, even their big-box stores which dominated the landscape. Six-lane residential thoroughfares were the norm. Big hair. Big trucks. Big stereotypes. We enjoyed our stay, but after 5 years it was high time to head out.

Before we did, I came across a little biking movement that was taking over a south Dallas neighborhood. The Oak Cliff neighborhood was quickly becoming the “bike part of town.” I was curious, as I hadn’t heard of such a thing. Bike Friendly Oak Cliff, was one of those things that I needed to see at just the right time. “Ok, so there are people who have thought the same thing as me and feel the same way…” This wasn’t about racing, an extreme off-road excursion or loading up the bike for leisurely stroll at a park. This was about riding your bike for day-to-day things. I get that.

When we left Dallas for Peoria, I decided I’d like to take a slice of what I thought was a great citizen-led movement with me. We moved to Pekin, which admittedly, isn’t the biking capital of the world. I would talk about the Dutch, Dallas, and what I thought could be a bike movement in Central Illinois. The only thing more out of the ordinary than seeing someone without a DUI riding their bike in Pekin, is someone talking about “Bike Friendliness.”

Behind Bars

Back to the subject of stereotypes. The same freedom, liberation, and mobility I felt in Leeuwarden could and should be applied in Pekin, Peoria, or anywhere for that matter. Why is it that people think you must have done something wrong to be riding a bike in broad daylight wearing anything but lycra? To be fair, there are a good amount of those riding with some legal troubles, yes, but that’s why it is imperative for low-income, low-educated towns like Pekin to adopt a new transportation strategy. One that is equitable for all of its citizens. And for those who don’t want to hear my previous statement, I’m sorry, the 2010 Census blew your cover [DATA].

Whether you’re young or old, need affordable transportation, wanting to stay fit, or wanting to exercise your right not to drive, you should have that opportunity. So that is why, when a fate meeting with some other like-minded individuals early this spring brought us to the table looking to create a “biking movement” I jumped at the chance.

Erik & Danielle

My ride last night finally knocked loose what I was looking to write. I ride as much as I can right now. I wish it could be more, but you know, I have to drive to Peoria for a job. I am in meetings on opposite sides of town. I am renovating a house after all of that and need to carry random odds and ends around. I have seen more people out there who are curious. Those are the people who will help shape the future of Peoria. Having only lived here for two and a half years, I see an area that is dying for a breath of fresh air. We, as everyday, ordinary people can give that to the area we call home – one bike ride at a time.

For more of Erik’s musings, check out his blog at readerareadevelopment.com, follow him on Twitter @RADincorporated and Like ReaderAreaDevelopment on Facebook.

Want to be featured in Bike Peoria’s Why I Ride section? Email us at bikepeoria@gmail.com

 

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Guest Post: What Would It Take For You To Bike Peoria?

Our tires are pretty pumped about having our first Guest Post here on our blog. When it comes to creating a movement or a culture change, it’s not always about who speaks the loudest or the most often – it’s about giving people a voice who don’t normally speak out about something they’d like to see done differently. Thank you to Sondra  for taking a minute to put those thoughts down for us to share!

sondra

What Would It Take For You To Bike Peoria?

Guest Post by: Sondra Ruffner, Peoria resident

S.Ruffner

When I was first learning to ride a bike, I would excitedly wait for my Dad to come home from work so I could ask him if he could take my training wheels off. He would usually give in to my request and with a twinkle in his eye he would help me on my bike and give me a little push start. I would eagerly peddle for a minute then suddenly realize I was doing it all on my own. I would hesitate and subsequently fall over.

It’s funny to look back and think about the excitement I felt and the hope I had that I might finally be ready to ride without training wheels. Oh the freedom!

I know individuals that let nothing get in the way of their love of biking. I have seen die-hard bikers on route 40 headed north, and I have friends that have biked across the United States, but most people I know that enjoy biking are casual riders and aren’t training for a race or a cross country biking trip!

People shouldn’t feel limited and guided by these extremes: a) Extremely dedicated despite physical safety b) Extremely desperate to ride in safety so they exclusively use special designated safe trails (paved or otherwise, most often a place they need to drive to).

path

I know others that make the extra effort needed for them to ride to work or the supermarket and end up turning it into an integral part of their daily transportation needs. It would be rewarding to be part of a community/society that promoted being regularly out and active, over being primarily in cars rushing from one indoor spot to the next.

Peoria has potential to be very bike-friendly. It has a good grid and network of streets, several parks with trails, as well as plenty of shopping locations and places of interest to become destinations. So why don’t we see more bikes on the road? I think it revolves around the amount of time it takes to bike to a destination and the level of safety one feels while out on the road.

I have seen a few signs dictating designated bike routes and I live close to one that I have not used. I have no desire to use it mainly because it goes into University Avenue (there is no bike lane or cross walk to walk your bike across to the route – I’ve seen lots of car accidents happen there – so I believe they expect you to just dart out into 45mph traffic and hope for the best) and has you use the turn lane which will lead you into a neighborhood that essentially leads to nowhere.

My problem with this particular bike route scenario is that many motorists don’t pay attention to other cars or motorcycles (for various reasons), and they also don’t pay attention to pedestrians (where there are/aren’t sidewalks), so why would they pay attention to me slowly peddling in a regular lane? It is nice that these routes exist, but they shouldn’t be confused as our safer option when they aren’t.

If we want to ride, we should feel free to do so efficiently with motorists while also feeling a certain level of safety. I believe that bike lanes and bike parking would provide a mental and physical awareness to drivers that there are others on the road and reassure bikers that they have a place to ride and a place to lock up and park.

If Peoria had a physical place for me on some of its primary roads, I would most certainly bike more. What would it take for you to bike Peoria?

 

Would you like to contribute to the Bike Peoria blog? All thoughts are welcome and no, you don’t have to be a pro. Please contact us with your thoughts and ideas!

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