Back Pedal­ing

Pedal­ing for Re­silience

Pedal Magazine - - Contents - BY WIL­LIAM HUMBER

ires in Fort McMur­ray, Alta., wa­ter­logged base­ments in Mon­treal,

Que., GO trains stranded in Toronto, Ont.’s Don Val­ley and build­ings brought to a stand­still by power ou­tages are daily re­minders that as more of us work and live in dense ur­ban places, our vul­ner­a­bil­ity to un­ex­pected weather and en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions is now rou­tine.

For in­stance, our trav­el­ling ex­pec­ta­tions, once com­fort­ably aimed at day-to-day pre­dictabil­ity, are now in­creas­ingly chal­lenged by road grid­lock. Even the avail­abil­ity of gas for our car can be im­pacted by an unan­tic­i­pated calamity pre­vent­ing its de­liv­ery to a nearby ser­vice sta­tion. It doesn’t take much wis­dom to con­clude that failed elec­tri­cal ser­vice, heat­ing sys­tems en­gulfed by wa­ter, sud­denly in­op­er­a­ble fire sprin­klers or ten­ants un­able to reach their 45th-floor res­i­dence or work­place can of­ten mean the best line of de­fense is to es­cape from the prob­lem.

Re­silience is the new watch­word not only in build­ing de­sign and on­go­ing main­te­nance, but also in­creas­ingly in how we an­tic­i­pate the ac­tions, needs and safety of our fel­low hu­mans.

If we look back to the 19th cen­tury, we of­ten see it as a far more flex­i­ble mo­ment in time with re­gard to re­spond­ing to unan­tic­i­pated trauma. Peo­ple lived in more in­ti­mate com­mu­ni­ties in which they knew their neigh­bours and could help out if nec­es­sary. Most peo­ple were not far from a coun­try­side re­plete with nec­es­sary food­stuffs. Fi­nally the newly pop­u­lar bi­cy­cle in the last decade of that cen­tury was an ef­fec­tive, rel­a­tively cheap means of get­ting about.

Of course, one would be re­miss in look­ing back to those days if they ig­nored the in­ci­dents of child­hood mor­tal­ity, the cat­a­strophic ef­fects of in­fec­tion without to­day’s life-sav­ing med­i­ca­tion and the so­cially re­stricted life choices many faced.

Still there are some things from those days we can learn, and at their cen­ter was the bi­cy­cle.

The bi­cy­cle is the ul­ti­mate de­cen­tral­ized, or dis­trib­uted, means of tran­sit. If other forms fail, one has at least this op­tion. There are, of course, lim­i­ta­tions. Flooded streets make the act of pedal­ing al­most im­pos­si­ble, de­pend­ing on depth. In New York City, how­ever, with its re­cently land­scaped High Line right-ofway, at least one op­tion is avail­able. The

High Line was once an el­e­vated freight line pass­ing through Man­hat­tan, but it faced an un­cer­tain fu­ture af­ter its de­com­mis­sion­ing, that is un­til the bril­liant rec­om­men­da­tion that it be turned into a lin­ear park in the sky. To­day it’s one of New York City’s mar­vels, but also a handy means of get­ting peo­ple about if flood con­di­tions threaten be­low.

El­e­vated bike paths might just be a handy model for other places and a par­tic­u­larly novel, safe way of en­cour­ag­ing reg­u­lar city use.

A sec­ond chal­lenge is the in­ap­pro­pri­ate­ness of the bi­cy­cle for many phys­i­cally leery se­niors, but here again we err in as­sum­ing one ei­ther is or is not a can­di­date for bi­cy­cling. The in­creas­ing po­ten­tial of elec­tric bikes at least widens the scope of its use.

The en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits of such bikes shouldn’t be ig­nored ei­ther. Granted they are not as en­vi­ron­men­tally be­nign as the solely hu­man-pow­ered wheel, but the small size of the recharge bat­tery pack makes them ideal can­di­dates for re­new­able re­sources such as so­lar en­ergy.

Sanyo took ad­van­tage of this pos­si­bil­ity by set­ting up what are de­scribed as “so­lar park­ing lots,” in which e-bike rid­ers can recharge their bi­cy­cles un­der pho­to­voltaic pan­els while parked dur­ing the day.

The po­ten­tial of link­ing such so­lar-pow­ered bikes with at least a min­i­mal ca­pac­ity to trans­port the truly im­mo­bile per­son caught up in the mael­strom of weather-re­lated dis­as­ter should not be ig­nored. And once a safe place is reached, what about us­ing the tiny bit of en­ergy a per­son on a sta­tion­ary bike might gen­er­ate to at least pro­vide some light­ing or back-up ra­dio sup­port.

The bi­cy­cle will not keep us from dis­as­ter, though it might go a long way to mit­i­gat­ing some of its harm, and with a lit­tle imag­i­na­tion, it just might be one tool of the many re­quired in the event of those al­most cer­tain weather and en­vi­ron­men­tal calami­ties sure to oc­cur in this cen­tury.

David Viney com­pet­ing in cy­cle-cross event, 1975.

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