Copyright 2005 Ben S. Pollock
Friday, July 15, 2005. It would take some nerve to call myself an avid bicyclist. I pedal more than most, and a lot less than others. I biked for fun and for commuting as a teenager, even though I could borrow Mom’s Beetle almost whenever I wanted. I liked the exhilaration, and being different.
Getting around in and near the broad Stanford campus was practical only on a bike; cars were banned on most of it. Junior year I bought an ancient child’s push scooter at a junk shop and used that most of the term, 20 years ahead of the Razor fad.
Since becoming a grown-up, I’ve biked off and on: Rarely for recreation, rather to commute: The six years I both lived and worked in downtown Little Rock, and 18 months studying and teaching at the University in Fayetteville.
When I didn’t bike in Palo Alto, I took buses and as I approached San Francisco, the BART subway. In Little Rock, I kept a handful of bus tokens for when it was too icy to drive or bike.
On vacation, my wife and I often prefer public transportation, for efficiency (we don’t get lost), saving money (you rent a car to use it one hour out of 24 on certain kinds of trips) but mainly to see the sights — and the people.
She worked off and on for few months in London in 1999–2000. Where her co-workers took taxis, she took the Underground. Most of her commutes began or ended at the very two stations of the main 7/7 attacks, Aldgate and King’s Cross.
All this is a long way around to say definitively I am a fan of mass transit in every form as well as any alternative to cars, especially bicycles and feet.
So it sounds odd to call silly the serious proposals for light rail in Northwest Arkansas. But they are. Public transportation is inevitable. But we non-big-city Americans — most of us — don’t want any limit to freedom to come and go as we please.
Planners have to admit another fact, that no community or series of communities outside old metropolises are set up for rail or serious bus use. These work in old S.F. for the reason they don’t in new L.A.: density.
I usually pedaled to and from my first newspaper job, summer 1978 as a reporter at the Times Record in Fort Smith, which its then-editor Jack Moseley recalls anytime I run into him. (I also biked the summer before to KHBS-TV/KFPW-AM, where I reported.)
In my first week, I did a story on bicycle commuting, interviewing the head of the local bike club (who unintentionally taught me a lesson when he praised me, saying he’d seen my name on well-written articles, when I hadn’t published anything yet).
Then I talked to a city official, who said something to the effect of, “No one’s going to take bicycles or buses seriously until gas hits a dollar a gallon.”
We’re likely going to stay at more than double that price, yet there has been no serious drop in sales of gas-guzzling four-wheel-drive tulip-crushers. What will cause us to clamor for local government to do something? Five dollars a gallon? Ten?
Given where we live, where we work, and where we shop and play, our solution is going to be more buses on longer routes, lots of park-and-ride lots for them, for 24 hours a day seven days a week.
A track-bound people-mover goes far, but it can’t go wide. –30–