When I arrive in Costa Rica I see almost zero bicycles. This is a country whose relative economic and political stability have yet to translate into much bikeable infrastructure. Highways are no more than two lanes wide and have no shoulder. The rare cyclist that does take to the highways does so at his/her great peril. Because of this, mountain biking is the predominant form of two-wheeled, human-powered adventuring. In San Ramón it would be confusing for someone to say they have a “commuting bike” for example. There are only bicycles. Besides, in a smaller city like this walking will always be the most viable form of transportation.
It is important that we advocate for bicycling interests in the United States, Nebraska, and Lincoln, but for a large portion of the world bicycling isn’t a cause any more than walking is: they are just ways of moving yourself. The starting point is different in our country, because here we suffer growing waistlines and cities, a corporeal and spacial gluttony. We desire to simplify and move inward. So it only makes sense that it intrigues us to see images of hundreds of swarming bicycle commuters in China. We think that would be great to see in our cities, and indeed it would be. But more than likely those hundreds of bicycle riders would rather be in cars. Indeed, China is expected to double its current ownership of autos by 2020 and is now the world’s largest auto market.
Is there a BicyChina?
The point is that our societies appear to be on divergent paths. Here in the United States we are seeing a movement toward more bikeable and walkable infrastructure born mostly out of a necessity to restrain urban sprawl. In more densely populated areas of the world such as Eastern Asia the concern is how to provide infrastructure for a surge of personal automobile ownership and urban sprawl. One country is growingly concerned with restraining sprawl while the other is craving expansion.
It’s important to see bicycling as a world issue as well as a local issue, but equally important is to keep in mind that while the intent of our advocacy touches on universal themes such as health and happiness, these are understood from differing perspectives across the world. For however much we value bicycling and see its benefits for all, there will always be many we pass going the opposite direction from bicycle to automobile.
We take up advocacy for ourselves and for our community, but the big picture offers many contrasts.