It didn’t occur to me very often in the past, but it just occurred to me in one of my last bicycle trips. I’ve made no secret in the past that the suburbs – hell, the greater Buffalo and Erie County area in general – are resoundingly shitty when it comes to bicycle friendliness. The locals outside the cool parts of the city – Chippewa, Allentown, and Elmwood Village – are neanderthals. There’s little sense of curiosity or want of experience expansion in Buffalo, and so adults who ride bicycles are reacted to uniformly with a singular emotion: Scalding hatred. Going out on a bicycle in The City of Good Neighbors is always a risk because no matter what the law says, those who enforce it always side with motorists.
My most recent occurrence happened when I took a nice long ride through some of my usual haunts and noticed something very common to them: With the exception of the library, they ALL lack bicycle racks. There’s no rack at the strip mall, no rack at the real mall, no rack at any of the places I seek a mid-ride snack. At the strip mall, there’s not even a decent place for me to improvise a rack. All the signs are in the parking lot, so I have to throw a tiny wire around a large stone column.
The lack of bicycle racks anywhere is inexcusable. In Buffalo, it proves definitely to outsiders the dangerous aspect of the city’s mindset, which is that Buffalo is obsessed with its past and will never change for the future. Specifically, it’s obsessed with the 50’s All-American vision – the common WASP inhabiting a McHouse and driving a gas guzzler, forgetting – or more likely these days, desperate to ignore – the fact that the world doesn’t revolve around their narrow existence. And that’s what it is, an existence.
There are more bicycles being sold these days than there have in many years. The economy is a wreck, gas prices are sky high, and people are taking a greater interest in their health. What’s the perfect way to get around? Bicycle! So the fact that the area appears to be actively forcing us to drive is another reminder of Buffalo desperately loading up the old time machine and going against its increasingly bicycle-oriented traffic. Not having racks is an implicit form of prejudice against cyclists. Since there are very few other places to attach a bicycle to, what are the cyclists supposed to do?
The Buffalo government, for everything wrong with it, has realized that, and there are city bicycle racks and bicycle paths set up around various points. So the real pain is that it’s not the incompetence of those at City Hall screwing up, for one. It’s the people, on their private business property, who aren’t making the rack investment. For a city which is basically southern and conservative at heart, this doesn’t make any sense. Don’t places lose business without racks because cyclists don’t have anyplace to park? I really get the sense that more bicycle racks would be a win-win situation, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out why there are so few of them.
We can do this, Buffalo. For god’s sake, there are places where bicycle rentals are available in the city. It’s pretty bad that we have places to rent bicycles, but nowhere to park them. Buffalo’s terrain also makes it a challenge to ride for veteran cyclists, so by not having very many bicycle racks, we might be missing out on some potential tourists. The war zone known as Detroit is embracing its recenetly-born image as a cyclist paradise because the city is all flatland, which makes it easy to get around by bicycle. San Francisco, Denver, and Portland, Oregon are also known as cyclist havens despite their respective hills, thin air, and rain. Buffalo – with its high concentration of collegiate institutions – should make it a natural place to promote cycling. The city a good place to promote cycling, not discourage it.