I had just returned from a vacation in Iceland and Germany when I read an article stating that Maine was one of the top biking-friendly states in the nation. I don’t think I am alone in disputing this.
When I used to live in Holden and would ride my bike to work, my life was in jeopardy. And believe me, I did what I could to maximize my visibility by wearing reflective clothing, a reflective vest and a helmet. Drivers didn’t seem to know why I was riding on the minuscule shoulder and they made their displeasure known. No one seems to mind when I run on the shoulder, but put me on a bike and they don’t like it.
Bicycles are all over Europe and it’s the pedestrians that have to watch out. Germany has a high percentage of residents over the age of 65 and many of them are riding bikes to work or for recreation. There are miles of trails all over the countryside that offer serene riding away from cars. In the cities, part of the sidewalk is tinted red which designates a bike path so pedestrians can steer clear. Many seniors have baskets on their bikes for carrying their groceries and flowers home.
As I was running on the waterfront in Iceland, amazingly I caught up to a bicyclist who was also battling a heavy headwind. As I passed her, probably because of the wind, I saw that she was most likely an octogenarian out for her morning constitutional ride. She gave me a big Viking smile and a thumbs up.
You see every type of bicycle in Europe and more often than not, riders are dressed for work, in high heels, in suit and tie, wearing dressy boots, you name it. Europeans are using self-propelled energy for their transit. I cannot help but think we in the United States would all be so much better off if we built our urban and even rural environments so that we could get to and from essential services by foot power.
When I approached the loading area for the flight back to Boston, I could see that I was in the company of Americans. Yes, those folks on the other side of the pond are a bit more fashionable, but based on my impressions, they are also a lot slimmer than we are. I think it’s all the outdoor activities that have been retained as part of the culture. So, city planners and transportation policymakers, please get us some clearly marked, safe bike paths both in town and in Maine’s rural areas, and then we can talk about being a bike-friendly state!
Noelle Merrill is the executive director of the Eastern Area Agency on Aging in Bangor.