Usually, about this time each year, I write a grouchy bicycle rant. It's actually a bit overdue, considering that it's largely precipitated by the return of the young' uns to our beloved university, which correlates with a jump in driving-while-doing-everything-but-paying-attention behaviors—performed by a cohort that's not very experienced at driving to begin with—which in turn correlates with a jump in near-death experiences for bicycle commuters like me.
You could call it a vicious half-circle.
But, this year, no grousing. (Uh ... except for that first bit.) Instead, I'll slip on my designer Pollyanna shades (with fabulous rose-tinted lenses!) and peer into a kaleidoscopic future of auto-bicycle peace and harmony.
In this imaginary world, people in cars exercise great caution around bicyclists because they respect them as vulnerable human beings with loving families who don't want them to get squished like a squirrel under a sasquatch for no good reason at all. In my Pollyanna eyes, people who drive big trucks and SUVs are the most careful and considerate.
In this opiate fever dream of mine, bicyclists are seen as assets to society who benefit drivers, since bikes use far less space than cars, which reduces traffic and congestion and frees up lots of parking. Bicycle infrastructure costs a small fraction of what it costs taxpayers to meet the endless demand for more and bigger roads driven by hundreds of millions of cars, and bicycles don't spew harmful substances that threaten everyone's health.
In my autobiketopia, it's also a lot easier for drivers because transportation planners have designed infrastructure that prioritizes safety and the peaceful coexistence of motorists and bicyclists. Gone are the days of dangerously narrow bike lanes that disappear as you approach an intersection and get pinched into oblivion. Gone are faux bike routes that were little more than lines on a map and a few signs telling you which way to turn.
In fact, in my fantastical future, much of the bikeway system in Tucson is separated from cars. Bicyclists have plenty of viable routes and can avoid interacting with cars in ways that slow traffic while endangering their own lives. And there are laws, rules and signage specific to bicycles that make sense and are easy to follow, compared to the bad old days of illogical annoyances and flat-out death traps that made bicycling way more difficult and dangerous than it need be.
A sobering question: Could any of this come true? I consulted "Plan Tucson," also known as the City of Tucson General and Sustainability Plan 2013. Surely you remember this nugget as Proposition 400-and-something on the recent ballot. You know—the City Council election, a few weeks ago? Take my word for it—we the people voted by a wide margin to adopt Plan Tucson as our guide to a rosy future, so surely it must say a thing or two about bicycles.
I searched the document for "bicycle" and "bike", and sure enough, those words were mentioned! The document touts the economic benefits provided by El Tour de Tucson, sports an artsy photo of a beautiful bicycle-parts sculpture in Barrio Anita and features a splashy map, Exhibit LT6, titled "Existing and Planned Bike Routes." The map was kinda hard to decipher, but there were a lot of colorful lines, and that's a start.
I searched the policy recommendations for something a bit more concrete. In the Public Health section, I found some nice language about "pursuing alternate mode transportation systems ... that encourage physical activity, promote healthy living, and reduce chronic illness." What a noble pursuit! I sure do hope they catch some.
But where does the grease hit the gear? Under "Land Use, Transportation and Urban Design Policies," I found this: "Continue to explore and monitor opportunities to increase the use of transit, walking, and bicycles as choices for transportation on a regular basis." Hmm ... I do that every morning, when I explore the shed to monitor my bicycle opportunity—and there it is, every day.
Finally, I found this: "Create pedestrian and bicycle networks that are continuous and provide safe and convenient alternatives within neighborhoods and for getting to school, work, parks, shopping, services, and other destinations on a regular basis." Create—there was the action verb I was seeking! It didn't define "safe" or "convenient" or say anything about funding or political will or what happens when you try to go from one neighborhood to another, but I'm just gonna trust that all of that other stuff is factored in.
Create. What a powerful, comforting word. What a nice dream, that we might create a grouch-free future rather than freeze in the headlights and let it run over us like a zombie bulldozer.