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This week’s Green Tuesday post is really a simple reflection on urban design…

When I first started cycling for recreation, I felt my urban utopia would be a place with miles of smooth-as-glass roadway for my cycling pleasure – the ultimate and never-ending century ride if you will. In Phoenix, I certainly have miles of roadway, but it is cracked, overcrowded, and leads to nowhere except the next Starbuck’s. Having a comfortable surface to ride a bike on is nice, but too often I feel I get spoiled when I have smooth and safe roadways – that is certainly not the overall reality of American urban infrastructure.

The cycling community is faced with a paradox – we want safe thoroughfares, but so long as we have to share them with cars, safety will be minimal. However, the cycling community does not exert enough influence (read: $$$) to have cycling/pedestrian-specific infrastructure built into our cities. It seems any time you hear a city touting some new cycling infrastructure, it is a few miles of narrow pathway through a park or affluent area of town – nothing that is ultimately useful for utilitarian purposes. Sure it stands to offer moments of happiness and recreation to the American family, but that happiness is gone as soon as one gets back into their automobile and sits through hellish traffic.

American cities are not designed to support infrastructure apart from automobiles. We spread our cities out farther and farther because our stores and homes need more and more room. Phoenix is currently considering a proposal to develop state park lands in order to build ANOTHER freeway to help alleviate traffic problems. That makes me sick.

We keep trying to put layer after layer of band-aids/duct tape over our gaping wounds of urban infrastructure, when we could solve the problem by enduring a brief moment of pain and ripping all the old junk off and stitching the wound! We need to revive our urban environments that already exist and push for more centralized and sustainable communities. And that is why I love Richard Register and the Ecocity Builders.

We are a non-profit organization dedicated to reshaping cities, towns and villages for long term health of human and natural systems. Our goals include returning healthy biodiversity to the heart of our cities, agriculture to gardens and the streets, and convenience and pleasure to walking, bicycling and transit. We visualize a future in which waterways in neighborhood environments and prosperous downtown centers are opened for curious children, fish, frogs and dragonflies. We work to build thriving neighborhood centers while reversing sprawl development, to build whole cities based on human needs and “access by proximity� rather than cities built in the current pattern of automobile driven excess, wasteful consumption and the destruction of the biosphere. [text and photos from ecocitybuilders.org]

And there are other people that think the time is right to rip off the band-aid. From Alex Steffen’s essay “My other car is a bright green city:”

Generally, we think of cars as things which are quickly replaced in our society, and buildings as things which rarely change. But that will not be the case over the next few decades. Because of population growth, the on-going development churn in cities (buildings remodeled or replaced, etc.), infrastructure projects and changing tastes, we’ll be rebuilding half our built environment between now and 2030. Done right, that new construction could enable a complete overhaul of the American city.

While I don’t know the exact method of accomplishing a task like this, I trust that the more people are aware of the possibilities, the better off we are.

Besides, now that I think about it, I would much rather ride my bike to work on a decently maintained dirt (or even grass) pathway through a naturally landscaped pathway, enjoying all the fruits of nature, instead of sharing 3 lanes of traffic with speeding SUVs whose drivers are sipping a grande double mocha frappacino latte while talking on their cell phone and looking for a Target.

Safe riding to everyone – it can be a nasty place out there. But does it have to be?…

[Author's note: one of my favorite blogs covered the very same essay this morning and has a very interesting list of thoughts/reactions - check it out on the No Impact Man blog]