A tip for young travellers: prefer cities of less than 500,000 inhabitants. Better still: cities with no more than one night club. Cities that spoil with choice, have everyone constantly looking for livelier hunting grounds, existing between better options, rather than recognising the good where they are. You will have far more fun in Florence than Rome, and more fun still in Ravenna. To be indulged by Swedish lassies, try Ystad, not Malmo or Stockholm — you will thank me for recommending Starlight Disco (if it hasn’t already closed down)! Oh and yes yes, I must gloat, that it was my little city, Newcastle, with 300,000 inhabitants, that Lonely Planet voted among the world’s top ten cities to visit, overlooking Sydney, and even Woy Woy. I’ve been to San Diego twice now, and could happily die without seeing LA. I like smaller cities.
Precious Ystad, where the pretty girls don't even know they are pretty.
Joel Kotkin, writing in New Geography, see things much the way I do. He envisions a future that won’t have dozens, but thousands of hotspots, none of them big. What interests me from the standpoint of cycling, is that the thousands of smaller cites and satellites we aught to be watching, as the Times Squares of this world lose their appeal, may never become so dense that vehicular transport won’t more-or-less function. Traffic jams in the myriad of great little cities of future import, will rarely last more than 10 minutes. There may always be somewhere to park cheaply. And the problem of bringing so many cars into town every morning, and getting them out before dinner, may never be insurmountable.
The plausibility of private car ownership in small cities and towns, is a death nail, of course, to public transport. Lack of patronage means buses run on the hour, to a timetable, disenfranchising all but the poor, and those psychos who contest the back seat, as though they are still in school. The future for trains may be worse, given they need their own budgets and land; my own city has a train line that—as mad as this seems—is about to be scrapped, and, if voters have their way, turned into car parking.
regular folk who you see on the bus
In contexts like these, cycling is a little like the health food aisle in your supermarket: not very well labeled, tucked away, lacking promotion… for those in the know. And if the right study were done, I suspect it might be found that the people who yell abuse at bike riders from their car windows, sometimes yell the very same words at packets of edible seeds. Cycling becomes the hard choice, its exponents maligned, and the space it relies on found at the margins. And I could be maligned too, for painting such a dim picture. But I see a way out.
An ambassador for bicyclists' rights
The trick to promoting cycling in contexts like mine, is recognising that for which non-cyclists like us. So let’s make a list: we provide passive surveillance, particularly in parks; if not driving cars of our own, we might not be obstructing cars of their own; we will cost less to care for in our old age; we don’t pollute; we have greater expendable incomes; we have more left to spend on our housing; our transportation needs are dirt cheap to provide for; and if we are girls, our dresses might blow up while we are riding. I think that is all. Perhaps it’s worth mentioning that women on track bikes, when their blouses gape open, get some appreciation as well.
It is degrading, but we all have to put on lipstick and heels (I mean, metaphorically), in order to receive the basics we need to survive. That isn’t the case in mega cities where driving is failing. There, cycling seems like the only way to get people to work. But in smaller cities where driving looks set to prevail (at least until the next energy crisis), we must be sure to parade our “externalities
“. When you’re not actually needed, and need to seduce to survive, you turn yourself into a