I have always loved bicycles. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting behind my parents on rides through Columbia neighborhoods. These eagerly anticipated outings followed a route of very important sites that I would make sure we checked off each time — the beautiful wrought-iron carriage mailbox, the house with the “mean dog” who always barked ferociously as we passed, the house with the broken chimney that kept its moniker for years after it was repaired, and, if I was lucky, a stop at the gas station for a piece of candy before we headed home. But most important of all was a speedy ride down a steep hill; I always hoped to be on the back of Dad’s bike for this essential component of the ride as Mom descended it much more cautiously.
It was a big day when my training wheels came off and I learned to ride my first bike. I distinctly remember pedaling around the yard and the terrifying process of learning how to lean my body to turn. Thankfully this fear was quickly surmounted, and I resolved to be a bicycle maker when I grew up so that I could have a new bike whenever I wanted.
Upon graduating from college and moving to a new city, my first stop was to purchase a new bike — my first in many years. I rediscovered the joy of tooling around town with the wind in my face, exploring the gravel trail that wound for miles through town, and even participating in an annual group night ride called the “Starlight Spectacular.”
While not an “unfriendly” bike city, Columbia has a lot of room for growth in establishing more of a pro-cycling culture. Early one morning in 2016, my father hit a pothole rounding a turn and landed in the hospital for more than a week with five broken ribs, a punctured lung, and a broken collarbone. In addition to the sorry state of many of our neighborhood roads, busier streets have a dearth of bike lanes, which not only makes it less safe for cyclists but also causes friction between them and drivers. It is annoying when a biker insists on riding in the middle of the road, and that frustration sadly leads drivers to being less cautious and more aggressive towards any cyclist using the street, perpetuating a negative cycle.
The answer to both problems lies in better infrastructure. Fortunately, Mayor Daniel Rickenmann says that the Walk Bike Columbia plan is growing into a reality. “We have a strong design for the bike lane package along Calhoun that will stretch from Wayne to Harden Street,” he says, “and we are looking at incorporating road diets for a number of other transportation projects. Building connectivity by tying more roads into existing bike lanes, constructing ADA curb ramps and high visibility crosswalks, connecting the Rocky Branch Greenway with the Vista Greenway … We have lots of various pocket projects going on that should, together, make a big impact.”
While I do not find myself astride my bike now as much as I would like, I am certainly encouraged to resume doing so after reading about the diverse group of individuals who enjoy cycling so much in our capital city, featured on page 56.