You see the neighborhood from a different perspective on a slow bike ride. You see the streets as if they are a whole new world. Houses look different, bigger and more colorful. Details emerge on a slow roll. The neighborhood is all sounds and color on a bike.
There were 80-plus riders through the Vine Neighborhood on a calm 60 degree late April Earth Day. Mostly kids. The youngsters did a great job keeping things smooth and fun. Adults did an all-star job of keeping it safe.
The cars were mostly friendly. Drivers inside cars smiled and waved as we crawled through intersections, our group of somebodies on bikes stretched back more than a city block in places.
Jim Ferner from Complete Streets was a flawless pacesetter. Chris Broadbent aka Dad kept things locked down as safety coordinator. Jeff Carter of Bell's brewery fame was a top notch maintenance coordinator and kept every intersection under control.
Ken P. Quayle, who was really the impetus for this ride thanks to his roll in the neighborhood and smooth and simple bike-riding style, ran on foot the entire 2.5-mile route while pushing a child on a bike with faulty training wheels. He remained cheerful throughout.
At one busy intersection, Forest and Westnedge, we stood for minutes, watching cars race past at what seemed like breakneck speeds. The nearest light was many blocks up and three lanes of one-way traffic raced towards us. Cars speeding into the night. For one night at least, not us.
We had chosen bikes. For transportation and recreation and leisure and just for somethin' to do on a Friday night. For the good feeling you get when you ride your bike like you feel when you eat pizza.
And you have the right to feel safe on your bike in your neighborhood. Well, you should anyhow. What if we encouraged kids to play again in the streets of our neighborhoods? What if we made it safe for them to do so?
It would be a huge gain for the neighborhoods.
Safe streets for all users is an issue of equity considering our streets, for the most part, currently require the use of a car if you want to feel safe.
Car-dominated streets make it even more unsafe for anyone who make a different choice than an automobile for transportation.
It's also a public health issue. Kids deserve the right to get to school car free. Families deserve the right to be active on the streets they live on.
Finally, it's an issue of economic development. Cars and parking take up too much space in popular places. One example, 75 bikes can fit in the same space it takes to park two cars. The more space for bikes the more space for people and the money they can generate.
Safe streets are great investments for communities that want to be equitable, healthy, and prosperous.
For one night, we did feel safe. Keep slow rollin'.
Matt Lechel lives and works in the city of Kalamazoo.
The next ride
"Shops @ Vine Alley Party Slow Roll
6:15-7:15 p.m. Friday, June 3, 511 W. Vine
All bikes welcome. It will be another family friendly slow roll. The ride starts at 6:15 p.m. at the Shops @ Vine (511 W Vine) and there will be a slow one-hour bike ride around the neighborhood. The ride will finish at the Shops @ Vine for a party in the back alley.
Questions on either ride? Email here