Making Soup–Er, Bike Networks
Mia Birk, the author of Joyride: Pedaling Toward A Healthier Planet who will be speaking at WSU Pullman next week, wrote a blog post a while back, “The Bikeway Network Recipe.” She describes several communities, all of which took different routes to achieve increased levels of bike infrastructure and bike use.
Birk concludes that the specifics matter less than simply getting under way and moving quickly. (Kind of like a bike ride, when you think about it—the sooner you start riding the sooner you arrive.)
I’d like to extend the recipe analogy a little more. I make a lot of soup, especially this time of year, because it’s easy to include lots and lots of veggies and healthy grains and beans, it helps me use up leftovers although I can also just start from scratch, it freezes well for lunches, and my whole family is crazy about soup, although of course each person has his or her favorite.
I generally just start with whatever I have on hand. That could be leftovers or it could be a trip to pantry and freezer and a little cooking to prep some kind of grain/protein ingredient such as quinoa, rice or barley.
In thinking about Spokane’s recipe for bike infrastructure I conclude that we are making soup.
Including healthy ingredients: That’s kind of a no-brainer when you’re talking about riding a bike.
Using up leftovers: In a manner of speaking, yes. People on bikes often get the leftovers: the bit of shoulder or lane the driver doesn’t occupy (that day. You hope.).
This is also true in the positive sense of the word. Out of some “leftover” asphalt and paint you can create something wonderful by giving someone on a bike a travel lane.
The cost of adding bike infrastructure elements to a street project is mere pennies on the dollar, in return for which you get transportation that doesn’t create any wear and tear on the roads.
Street engineers will tell you that it isn’t coming up with money for new construction that’s the hardest part of the budget–it’s the maintenance. So a little bit of infrastructure that lets them reduce the hit to the budget and still move people? Magic.
To me this is the strongest parallel to the soup-making process. A magical transformation takes place when you chop up onions, potatoes, and other vegetables, choose some seasonings from the spice drawer, and throw in some leftover rice. Out of elements that others might not have thought of in quite this way you have created something wonderful that people appreciate.
But it doesn’t happen if you don’t start, and it doesn’t happen without any ingredients.
Starting from scratch: We need to do this too. In the case of something like the Centennial Trail or the Fish Lake Trail, people had the vision and put together the ingredients to create a new treat for everyone.
Creating something useful both in the short term and in the long run (like the leftovers that remain after a good dinner): Absolutely. In the short term we are piecing together individual stretches of bike lanes and other markings and signage that in the long run will come together in a connected network that provides access across the city.
When you’re in mid-soup sometimes it doesn’t taste like much. In similar fashion the appearance of short stretches of bike lanes in downtown might not appear to represent a huge step forward—it doesn’t take us all the way from raw veggies to soup. But given time those stretches of bike lane will get connected.
The important thing is to remember the goal and stay focused on making soup. Sometimes you don’t have quite the right mix of ingredients and you need to add a little balsamic vinegar or garlic (always garlic). The way the soup changes as the ingredients come together draws on a cook’s skills to keep adapting along the way.
Making different kinds of soup for different people: This will be essential to the long-term growth of bike riding in Spokane. We are not a one-soup-fits-all town.
The “fast and fearless”—those of us who know how to take the lane and who will assert our right to use the road for transportation—get out and ride with only minimal ingredients at hand.
The “interested but concerned” need the support of a more fully detailed recipe that takes into account their allergies (say, to close encounters with careless drivers) and special dietary needs (wayfinding, for example, to encourage the use of bikes on the short trips of 1-2 miles that constitute the majority of U.S. transportation trips).
The “no way no how” people just don’t like soup. But that’s no reason the rest of us can’t have our soup and ride it too.
- Short Trip Analysis
- The Economic Benefits of Bicycle Infrastructure Investments (PDF from the League of American Bicyclists)
- American Community Survey Bicycle Commuting Trends, 2000-2008 (PDF from the League of American Bicyclists)
- Have a better metaphor? Do tell!