Monday, April 25, 2011

All I Ask Is a Good Bike and a Post to Lock it To

Over the past seventy years, parking spaces have become so ubiquitous throughout the West that nobody gives them a second thought anymore; their presence is taken as a given now, on par with electricity or running water, in great part a result of building codes that mandated a given number of parking spaces depending on the size and nature of the building. Bicycles can't claim nearly the same degree of infrastructural support. While the tide has been changing in the last couple of decades - witness the proliferation of official urban cycling programs, dedicated bicycle lanes, and bicycle racks on city buses across the country - the relationship is still an unequal one.

Nevertheless, I never really had cause to think about this until Friday, when I rode my bike south to Point Roberts, Washington - a small chunk of the United States surrounded by water on three sides and Canada on the fourth. This was the first time I'd ever taken my wheels into a new country, and it felt rather odd crossing the border that way instead of in a car or through an airport. Now, Point Roberts isn't exactly what you'd call a metropolis; less than 1,500 people live on a peninsula that still retains much of the towering forest that once covered the primeval Lower Mainland. It's the sort of town that lives and dies on the tourist trade, in this case tourists from Metro Vancouver looking for cheap gas and American brand-name goods that aren't for sale in the lands of the maple leaf. You can even rent bikes there, for tooling around on your own terms.

There just wasn't much support that I could see, even given the size of the town. I'm not talking bike lanes here; the only road in Point Roberts I could honestly call "busy" was Tyee Drive, and it has a paved shoulder that does double duty as bike lane and sidewalk - incidentally, no sidewalks in Point Roberts either, so far as I noticed. No, I'm talking about bike racks. Aside from one at the International Marketplace, and a couple bolted to the front wall of the Point Roberts Public Library, I couldn't find anything to lock my bike to - not even at any of the small restaurants or cafes where I really wanted to sit down, relax for a bit, and spend my money. There were hardly even street signs around that I could lock it to for a few minutes - and even then, that's not something I like doing.

Ultimately, the lack of infrastructure meant I didn't spend quite as much time in the Point as I'd imagined - riding around gets tiring after a while, and it had been something on the order of forty kilometers from my apartment to the border. I really knew I was back in Canada once the stores started boasting bike racks again.

A full-up bicycle stand outside a White Spot restaurant in Tsawwassen, British Columbia.

I know Point Roberts isn't exactly a high-crime location, but even so a bicycle is not the sort of thing that should be left standing on its own out of its owner's sight, not if you don't want it to mysteriously pedal away. While major cities have begun to pursue a more bike-friendly posture, this isn't something that should just be limited to major cities; if anything, bikes are an even more sensible way to get around in small communities, where things are close together. The general trajectory for fuel prices has been upward; making it as easy to get around on two wheels as four should be something every community can invest in.


  1. Your sanctimonious, holier-than-thou, Greater Toronto roots are showing.

    Point Roberts doesn't need bike racks because bikes just aren't stolen there. And Point Roberts doesn't want or need bike lanes because there just isn't the traffic to warrant their existence.

    The last thing Point Bob wants or needs is to be an extension of Metro Vancouver - complete with your beloved, Gregor Robertson-sanctioned bike lanes.

    Why does Point Roberts have the towering forests that the Lower Mainland on the Canadian side can only dream of? Because they don't give into the demands for useless infrastructure.

    Oh - and Point Roberts does not "live and die on the tourist trade." In fact, the gas station only employs a few people (same for the grocery store), and some of those people live in Delta!

  2. I appreciate that you've got some worthwhile points, but damn. I don't see where starting off with an insult is necessary. Please explain how I claim to be morally superior to you by wanting to go places that make it more difficult for someone to steal my bicycle.

  3. Hmmm... you make a good point. I did come across as a bit harsh. Sorry about that! It's just that I thought the article was a bit dismissive of Point Roberts as a community.

    However, I appreciate the rebuttal - so keep up the great work on your blog! By the way, you'll be interested in knowing that bike lanes are a possibility for Point Roberts in the future.


  4. Hi - thanks for the follow-up. It wasn't my intention to dismiss Point Roberts; and you're right, claiming that it lives and dies on the tourist trade was overstating the case. What I was thinking when I wrote it was that barring the people that come down from Vancouver, I found it unlikely that a town of 1300 would support an airpark, a marina large enough to be easily visible from descending aircraft, an array of cafes, a winery, a bike rental place, and a big country club otherwise.

    And as for bike lanes, as long as there's a line of paint on the road, that's satisfactory - that's what took me across Delta. What weirded me out about Tyee Drive was that there's such a line on the western side, but not the eastern.