I don't consider myself much of a bike rider anymore. Baton Rouge is partially to blame. Moving back here recently had me thinking how my interest in cycling changed depending on where I've lived.
I grew up in a small Acadiana town. All the neighborhood kids had bikes. Our neighborhood was separated from the rest of town by a busy highway. It took courage to cross that highway just to bike to the park nearby. There weren't any sidewalks and the shoulder was littered with gravel and broken glass. Eighteen-wheelers zoomed by, downshifting as they got into town.
When I started high school, riding a bike meant you didn't have a car. Cars were cool. My school was a town over. I needed a car. I wanted to look cool.
I went to LSU. I remember complaining about cyclists who swerved around pedestrians in the quad. I took the bus to campus until I moved to an apartment outside the route. Then I drove to class. This was the early 2000s, and LSU was unveiling its grand plan to phase out cars from the center of campus. I didn't see that as an issue. I walked everywhere on campus. I parked far away.
After college, I worked in a small mountain town. People there were active. They had endless miles of trails for hiking and biking. A friend bought me a $10 bike from a thrift store. We gave it new tires that cost more than the bike itself. I rode for the first time since 7th grade and discovered places I wouldn't have otherwise. But I didn't take to it as easily as I would've liked.
The bike stayed when I left two years later. I soon found myself living in a city that wasn't bike friendly. It was hilly and had cobblestone streets. I didn't have a car. But the city had an efficient subway and a network of tramlines and buses. It was also incredibly walkable. I walked to work, to the grocery store and home from the bars late at night when the subway shut down. Walking gave me time to explore.
Eventually, I moved to New Orleans and found an apartment only a few blocks from work. I walked when I could, until a friend suggested I buy a bike. I had thought about it plenty, seeing all the bike-riding young folks, the marked bike lanes and shared roads. I was also on a tight budget.
I bought a used green and white bike from a grungy shop on Magazine. I rode it to work, to meet friends for drinks, around City Park. I rode it past traffic jams during Mardi Gras, happy I could easily get to St. Charles in time for a parade. I bought all the necessary bike gear—it was the first time I felt like a true cyclist.
Recently, I moved back to Baton Rouge and brought that bike with me. I live close to downtown, but I work near the 10-12 split. I contemplated biking to work, until I saw cyclists along my route navigating the congested arteries without bike lanes. I've watched them dismount at the odd spots where sidewalks abruptly end or where a bridge only allows a small ledge for pedestrians. I contemplated taking the bus, until I saw the inefficient routes and the intersections I'd have to sprint through on foot because there aren't pedestrian crosswalks.
My comfort is meeting a friend downtown in the afternoons to bike along the levee path. We carry our bikes up a wooden bridge at the end of Florida, over the railroad tracks and up concrete stairs to an otherwise inviting river walk with few easy access points downtown. From there, it's smooth sailing down a levee path I wish went on for miles in either direction.
A few weekends ago, I visited family in my hometown. My parents have left the old neighborhood along the busy highway. The state is having it repaved. There are two schools less than a mile apart along that stretch, and two new subdivisions between them. The highway improvement doesn't include sidewalks.
Those neighborhood kids will learn to bike the same way I did—riding the shoulder and avoiding traffic until they can get a car.
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