Monday, July 7, 2014

Editorial: Exploring a new city by bike is just awesome

I really did not realize it until this weekend, but many of my best childhood memories of family trips ultimately involved cycling and bodies of water. Whether it was riding along the perimeter of Lake Tahoe as a family on rented bikes or along the sandy beaches of Santa Barbara in a pedal-powered Double Surrey, some form of human power along the wet stuff manages to ingrain itself deeply into my memory. Most recently, I spent a weekend with my wife and some friends, exploring the Canadian city of Montreal by Bixi, their local bike share system.

A city like Montreal, which is extremely cycling friendly (with over 300 miles of bike paths, including numerous dedicated cycle tracks and designated bike lanes, as well as about 5,000 bike share bikes available), is the perfect place to explore on two-wheels. Due to the proliferation of bike lanes, it was possible to crisscross the city fairly quickly and see a huge variety of sites in the limited amount of time we had. When we got to a place we wanted to explore in greater depth, there were bike share stations for us to park the bikes in and continue by foot. Even on the heavy Bixi bikes, the relatively limited elevation changes were manageable and the mild weather helped make the experience an extraordinarily pleasant one. And at CAD $15 for 72-hours and the ability to get anywhere in the city without worrying about parking, it was an inexpensive (if not quite totally hassle-free) option.

From the weekend in Montreal, I feel like there were two important takeaways for me:

1. Cities that want to improve tourism should invest increasingly more in cycling infrastructure and a bike share program.

2. Cycling is an excellent alternative to other public transit options, such as taxis or even light rail because if offers greater flexibility.

As a tourist, having the option and flexibility to get around a new town on two-wheels encourages me to explore a city more and allows me to spend more time checking out local merchants and restaurants. Plus, given how inexpensive it is as an option, it allows me to have a little more money to spend while I am in town. And the ability to come and go as I please and not be constrained by schedules or bumper-to-bumper traffic is a highly liberating sensation. With a big cross-country, multi-city trip coming up soon, I am looking forward to seeing many Mid-west cities by bike, albeit on my own bike this time.