Me and my bike got kicked out of the post office yesterday.
I was meeting up with a friend who had to mail off a few things at the post office here in Portland, Maine, and realized, as I was rolling up to the building, that I had forgotten my bike lock at home. Not wanting to leave the bike outside sans lock, I started walking it through the post office doors with the intent of parking it in the rather spacious lobby. No sooner had my wheels crossed the buildings threshold when I was accosted by a visibly upset post office worker demanding that I take my bike outside. I told her I had forgotten my lock and only wanted to park it for a few minutes while I waited for a friend (it was 95 degrees outside, nice and cool inside) but she glowered at me and told me that the "rules" stated that no bikes are allowed in the building.
I walked back outside, a minute later another guy with a bike walked out of the building. He quickly told me his story -- he also had forgotten his lock, had to pick up an important package, and assumed that it would be OK for him to park his expensive bike in the lobby for the few minutes it would take to make his way through the line. My friend filled in a few details not long after that and told me how the guy had actually been harassed by no less than three post office employees who apparently took it as a personal affront that he would dare bring a bike into their building. He stuck to his guns though, stayed in line, got his package, and then fled their glares.
Bikes get no respect ... No respect, I tell ya.
I'm a fairly new convert to the cult of the bike rider but it doesn't take long to figure out how little value our country places on people who get around on two wheels. There are exceptions to the rule of course -- the other Portland on the west coast is a well-known haven for bike riders and there are pockets of bike-friendly communities found here and there, but for the most part, we get the short end of the transportation stick.
In my little city there's a noted lack of proper bike lanes. Most businesses don't have bike racks and even those that do are often inadequate for the volume of cyclists needing them. Heck, sometimes I have a hard time finding a place to lock up at Whole Foods.
Tom Vanderbilt wrote a great article over at Slate titled "How decent bike parking could revolutionize American cities
" that's worth of a click and read. His contention is that our country should start putting a little more emphasis on providing infrastructure for cyclists. Car drivers get the world handed to them. For example, it's estimated that 99 percent of car trips in the U.S. end in a free parking space. Car drivers get huge expensive parking garages, often built with public funding. Bike riders get half a crappy bike rack, if we're lucky.
We could take a huge bite out of our oil consumption if we could get more people out of their cars on onto bikes. Giving those bikes a place to park is one of the first big steps towards that goal.
The model for how to do it right can be found right across the Atlantic ocean. About 27 percent of daily trips in the Netherland are made by bike, something made possibly by amazing bike lanes, ubiquitous bike racks, and even large multi-story bike parking garages.
I'm going for a bike ride. Keep your fingers crossed that I'll find a place to park it.