Thursday, January 15, 2009

This Great Nation of Ours; Concerning my Recent Travels Therein

As we approach the historic inauguration of our nation's 44th white president, the populace is feeling a great absence, a great need for enlightenment though reasoned discourse. I refer, of course, to my own recent absence from the blog-o-dome (not to be confused with the Blago-dome). Since the last week in December, I've been all over the damn place, with a weekend in New York (blissfully sans children), a couple of weekends in Boston (less-blissfully avec in-laws) and a marvelous week of vacation in San Francisco and Berkeley, where people are so civilized and sensible that they don't allow the temperature to get below 40 degrees fahrenheit.

Happily, I was able to bring the ol' Xootr to Boston and get in some quality blizzard riding, but there was no possibility of bringing it to the Bay Area (two kids + two adults = two suitcases and carry-ons, so no extra hardshelled bike suitcase). That said, being in San Francisco was eye-opening for me: Cities really can be totally bike-friendly! Really, it's more than that: We were walking through Golden Gate Park and came upon a municipal frisbee golf course (for real!), and I had an epiphany about how local government operates in east coast cities and how it operates in S.F. Over here, even the most progressive, forward-looking government initiatives come about only because of a well-organized campaign by some subset of the population. There is nothing wrong with this - it's democracy in action - but it establishes a certain limit: governments don't go looking for cool shit to do because they can; they aim to please political groups with influence (except Luis Cotto - that guy is hardwired for awesomeness and you should vote for him in the Advocate's Best of Hartford poll as best politician). But I'm pretty confident that even in uber-nerdy San Fran, the frisbee golfers don't have much juice in the corridors of power. I think someone in their Parks and Recreation department just said, "Hey, I have seen the dot-communists playing this game. Let's make a course for it, but we'll call it 'Disc Golf' to avoid trademark issues." That's because their government just does good stuff. Case in point (to return from a lengthy digression): bike-friendliness. Everywhere there are bike lanes. In Berkeley, they even have "Bike Boulevards" (pictured above), which are streets that run parallel to main drags where bike may take the whole lane and are generally favored over cars (sort of like those weird West Hartford power-up things, except for real). People bring bikes on the BART (which is the bay area way of saying "subway") all the time, to the point where the emergency evacuation instructions remind people to leave their bikes behind in case of train evacuation (unless, presumably, your bike is one of these). I noticed cares yielding to bikes in a manner I found downright stunning - they were actually, truly cautious and deferential. Anyway, I wish I woulda had my bike there, but having my wife and kids there instead was a fair trade-off. Here are some photos from my recent meanderings:

If I lived on the hill my sister-in-law lives on in S.F., I would be the strongest bike rider in the whole world.

A bike boulevard in Berkeley.

This ain't no Bay Area! It's bike-friendly Cambridge, Mass., which is like Berkeley with snow and funny accents.

Bike parking at the North Berkeley BART station. Click for larger image.


Musegal said...

gahhhh! I'm going to SF in two weeks and I can't wait!!!

chillwill said...

i really liked riding the bike boulevard from shoupy's spot in Oakland to Berkley. it was a great ride for me on my wanderings and explorations.

you got studded tires yet? y'all are getting slammed!

El Presidente de China said...

For me, buying studded tires is like conceding defeat. Not defeat at the hands of icy roads, which I concede every time I fall down, but defeat in the larger sense: defeat at having let circumstance force me to live in an inhospitable climate.

Also, studded tires are for sissies.