Since writing the editorial earlier this week questioning whether biking will ever be taken seriously in this region, I’ve heard from a few people that my arguments in support of bike trails and bike lanes should have gone further.
A colleague suggested that the phrase “eminent domain” should have been part of that piece. But that’s not a phrase to use lightly. Pfizer took over an entire neighborhood in New London when it crossed the Thames to expand its Groton-based operation. Infamously, the neighbors lost in U.S. Supreme Court and Pfizer built its corporate complex on the shore of the river with promises of jobs and a major infusion for the local economy. Just a few years later the company abandoned the site. The mention of eminent domain carries an especially negative connotation around here thanks to that ugly case.
Yet the idea of taking a few feet of space from someone’s property — along a roadway — shouldn’t be considered all that offensive, despite such ugly cases.
A frequent letter writer weighed in, also wishing the editorial had gone further by urging readers to take action.
The positive in what I’ll consider constructive criticism is that perhaps the biking movement has more momentum than I thought. So perhaps this can be the start of a grass-roots movement to get the attention of town leaders — and some drivers — in doing exactly what the editorial asked: to take biking seriously.
While I enjoy biking, I don’t do it nearly enough, and I’m not one of those guys in the cool suits who rides 50 miles on a Saturday morning. But I’m not afraid to bike around in dress shoes and office clothes on my way to and from work. Around here, the word “dork” would come to mind for many, but go to any large metropolitan area and you see briefcases and sports jackets, not just dress shoes and khakis, on a bike. It seems that in towns such as ours, however, the only purpose for a bike is recreation. Bikes aren’t seen as alternative forms of transportation and that’s a shame, especially in these towns. While it’s certainly risky to bike on many stretches of Route 1 around here, there are opportunities in each of our small towns to run an errand on a bike without too much risk. Downtown Westerly’s traffic pattern can be a challenge, but for the most part, people are driving slower and looking for pedestrians crossing streets so bikers can feel some sense of acknowledgment. Still, drivers in these parts generally only see bikers as a nuisance with no right to be on the same paved surface as their SUV.
The reality, of course, is that biking makes a whole lot more sense in downtown Westerly-Pawcatuck or Stonington Borough or the neighborhoods south of Route 1 in Charlestown or the “back streets” of Mystic between downtown and the highway than the small tanks many still drive around in suburbia.
Maybe the action to take is to just get on a bike and use it. Throw a set of panniers on the back and run to McQuades for the milk and bread or that prescription. Meet a friend for lunch via bike. In other words, if more people just started using a bike to accomplish something, then drivers would get more accustomed to seeing us.
In the meantime, if anyone wants to start an “eminent domain” petition to bring to the town council or board of selectmen, let us know.
David Tranchida is the editor of The Sun.