Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What women want

As I steered my bike off the road and onto the MKT trail this morning, on my daily commute to work, I was struck with a fairly depressing thought that this would be the best part of my day.  It was all going to be downhill from the moment I arrived at my job and had to climb out of the saddle and park her for the day.  It's unfair really - to compare my day job to the actual process of riding to it.  Whereas one is permeated with the feelings of freedom and speed, the other is mired in minutiae and tedium.

As I pass and ride alongside other commuters each morning, I can't help but wonder how many of them are sharing my pain.  According to one 2008 study, 8.7% of people in Columbia report to at least occasionally ride to work or school in Columbia by bicycle. (Incidentally, this figure was up from the 2007 figure of 3.4%).   In 2008, the estimated population of Columbia was roughly 100,000.  Thus 8,700 individuals are estimated to get where they're going (at least part of the time) on a bike in COMO.  Now, in a recent survey, 4 out of 5 individuals (80%) in today's society do not have their dream job.  By my estimation, that means that just shy of 7,000 cycling commuters may be disgruntled just like me on their morning commute to work.  For whatever sick and twisted reason, I take pleasure in this fact.  I like knowing I'm not grumpy and alone on my morning commute.  It is perplexing to me, therefore, that so many people I pass in the morning look so damned happy and want to say 'hi'.  Yes - I love my morning ride as well, as I have indicated above.  But people, the research shows that 80% of you feel just like me: we are lemmings, only able to revel in the feeling of the wind in our fur for mere fleeting moments as we haul ass to the edge of the cliff where we inevitably and blindly fling ourselves into the gaping maw of our soul-crushing jobs every single morning.  Why, then, are you smiling at me?  Maybe I'm just not a morning lemming...

The North American disgruntled Brown Lemming (aka PooBah)

I'm also perplexed by why there aren't more cycling commuters in Missouri.  Some evidence suggests that as a state, Missouri is 7th from the bottom of the list of all states with respect to percentage of individuals commuting to work by bicycle.  Perhaps it's due to the average bike commuter's concern for the environment.  What I'm referring to is an op-ed piece appearing in the Toronto National Post yesterday penned by Mr. Terence Corcoran which describes how biking commuters are polluting the  environment and should therefore be taxed.

States Mr, Corcoran, "...drivers'...metabolisms are more or less flat-line.  They just sit there, burning up little energy personally but paying for the cost of their automobile's carbon footprint via taxes and fees.  Bike riders grinding up the same route burn up a lot more carbohydrates, which their bodies convert into carbon dioxide and exhale, adding to their carbon footprint.  The volumes are small, but it all adds up, and bicyclists don't pay."  Here, ladies and gentlemen, is a bona fide genius.

For the average cyclist to be able to exhale a comparable amount of carbon to what exits the exhaust system of a car in the form of carbon monoxide (not to mention the particulate matter, the sulfur dioxide and formaldehyde) would require that individual to have a lung capacity equal in volume to that of the Hindenburg.

Terence Corcoran

douche (can you see the resemblance?)

No, to answer the question of why there are not more bike commuters, we need not look any further than trying to understand what the average woman wants.  So says an article released in the October Scientific American, in which author Linda Baker contends that to get more bicyclists on the road, we must learn what women want.

"If you want to know if an urban environment supports cycling, you can forget about all the deailed 'bikeability indexes' - just measure the proportion of cyclists who are female."

Ms. Baker makes the argument that women have a natural aversion to risk paired with perpetuating gender roles in child care and homemaking.

 Thus, female cyclists that commute, typically do so for more reasons than just getting to work.  They are taking children to school and making trips to the store more so than men.  These tasks, paired with their disenchantment with dangerous riding situations means that they don't want to ride their bikes on errands in or around traffic.  This article attempts to prove this fact by quoting the results of a study which tracked cyclists in Portland to compare the routes woman take to get to their points of destination versus men.  Here's what they found:

"The project, which used GPS positioning to record individual cycling trips in Portland, compared the shortest route with the path cyclists actually took to their destination....Women diverted from the shortest routes more often."

In addition to risk aversion, the other explanation of why women cyclists divert from the shortest possible routes to their destinations when compared to male cyclists is because they don't have penises and thus have no sense of direction.  At least that is what my father would say.  But I disagree.  I have a penis and yet I have absolutely no sense of direction.  I've been known to get lost in parking lots before.  So clearly this article is on to something.

The paper continues, "Women are considered an "indicator species" for bike friendly routes need to be organized around practical urban destinations to make a difference."  In other words, bike paths along rivers, and lakes and converted railway lines (like our beloved MKT and KT trails) are beautiful and fine - but to truly enhance bike commuting, safe routes must have destinations of real utility and practicality like schools and stores - not just be aesthetically pleasing.

I will try to suppress the faint aroma of irony tomorrow morning when I ride my metaphorical trail to nowhere as I bike to work.  If you should see a lemming pedaling frantically down the MKT, do me a favor and look disgruntled.

Pedal on!

1 comment:

  1. What? Trails that go somewhere useful? Crazy talk.