A little fading of willful optimism.

In one of those posts about Belgium I mentioned that everyone rides bikes, including grey haired elderly people.  (I know, you probably didn’t read that whole post, it was too long, and there were three of them, so I will keep this one shorter)  Katrien offhandedly mentioned that it was more normal for older people to ride than younger, other than school kids, and over the past month I have observed that this is true.  In the morning it is kids on the way to school, and all day it is elderly folk running errands.

This is alarming.  Because it seems to me to indicate that the everyday use of bicycles has more to do with a generational difference in economic resources than it does any sort of awareness of environmental cause (or other conscious reason for bicycling, like health, traffic reduction, or frickin inter-human contact, even if only in passing).  I find myself disappointed.

I think every time I travel to a new area I am secretly hoping that the people there will “get it” in some way.  They will have figured something out and demonstrate increased awareness of the important things in life.  But if the people here are more content to drive all these shiny BMWs instead of bicycling on a beautiful day, then they are just the same as Americans.

That sounds harsher than I mean it…by a smidge.  I know it is easy for me to say they should bike.  But you can’t show up to work sweaty.  And often the distance is too long.  And people often just don’t have time to go the slow way.  And it’s just so damn much easier to drive.

But to some extent those are excuses.  Or at least, surmountable reasons.  If people really saw a worthwhile purpose to biking instead, a lot of them could do it.

And suddenly I remember Stockholm.  I got to Stockholm a little before dawn and was walking the streets as the sun rose on a chilly September workday.  The city spans 14 island, with 57 bridges, and is a powerful economic focal point.

(I don’t have any of my few pictures from Stockholm available, so here’s one of the two I have from Scandinavia.  It’s Copenhagen on a Saturday morning…and I kinda wish I’d been there for whatever Friday night activities left a pillow in the street.)

As I was walking around looking for a place to stay that night, there was solid traffic of grey business-suited professional men and women….on bikes.  Few cars.  The light would turn green and pedals would turn, sprockets would catch chains, and all the serious Scandinavian multitudes would accelerate along their way.  So maybe the Swedish get it.  Or maybe the relatively minor traffic capacity of a series of islands has more to do with it.  And maybe a forward thinking government regulated it.  (Which would be great, but I would still prefer a broad and communal consciousness.)

To give Belgium credit, there is still much more bicycling and I would say more general health-awareness here (without being all maniacal about it) but not by as wide a margin as my willfully rose-tinted glasses at first showed.
And I don’t know the reason or motivation behind the bicycling crowds of Stockholm, and in fact I was only there one day (couldn’t find a place to sleep) so I don’t even know if it’s really true, but at this point, I am going to believe it is, and leave it at that.