Growing Out of Our Cars

changing the way we move takes help from everyone

Eric Rasmussen, illustrated by Ryan Carpentier

Hey. I just wanted to say “hey.” I know we kind of greeted each other on the street, you in your car, me on my moped, with a little head nod, but your window was closed and that really loud motorcycle was across the intersection. Anyway, I was really grateful you pulled up, because I had been sitting at that intersection forever. I don’t know what makes those lights change, but I know they’re not timed. I think it’s weight, and I’m not heavy enough to trigger it or something. I’d been sitting there for what felt like twenty minutes, and as soon as you pulled up, it switched. You must be a lot heavier than I am! Time to lay off the bratwurst! I’m just joshin’ you. You look great.

That kind of brings up an interesting point. The Chippewa Valley is really getting on board with this “alternate forms of transportation” idea. I’m sure you’ve seen them – there are a ton of mopeds out there, lots of bikes, people walking – I even saw a guy on a unicycle going down State Street in Eau Claire not too long ago. I am thinking of investing in one of those pushcarts that ride on railroad tracks, you know, with the big lever you and a friend pump back and forth to make the thing go. We’ll outfit it for the street. I assume we can use the bike lanes, right? Probably not sidewalks, though. And where do I park?

As people start leaving the cars in the garage and hopping on their ridiculous-looking recumbent bicycles (I’m sorry, but it really looks like you should be cradling a bag of chips and a remote while sitting like that, not biking), we’ve got some things to figure out, in quite a few different areas. Let’s start with infrastructure. For all of us moped riding folks, there’s the whole traffic light issue – the ones that switch based on weight or noise or number of cupholders don’t work for the motor scooter sect, and we can’t reach the crosswalk buttons from the street. Also, getting around town on a 35-mile-per-hour-max scooter requires a little creativity, but there are some places that are out of reach no matter how creative you are. Action City, the new Gold’s Gym, the new Gander Mountain, and others are all completely inaccessible if your motorized vehicle can’t hit 45 miles per hour. In addition to the scooter issues, walkers and bikers are facing their own problems. There are more bike lanes and trails then ever, but there are still intersections with no crosswalks, like Hastings Way and Brackett Avenue. If you want to walk to Walgreens, you must go seriously out of your way, or play a giant real-life game of Frogger.


Now, maybe some city worker or planner is reading this and can do something about this issue. Maybe not. Maybe crosswalks will be the basis for the revolution. There are also some policy issues, these for the police, regarding non-car transportation that keep popping up. Two issues ago we reported on the bikers on Hastings Way that were ticketed for their presence, yet there are bikers all the time in the middles of roads, taking their sweet time and failing to hand-signal. Can I park my moped at a bike rack? What if I have to go on the sidewalk to do so? How slow do I have to be going to actually be “impeding traffic” (a ticketable offense)? Are you sure I can’t scooter on the Boyd park footbridge? Please? Pretty please?

The last set of issues is etiquette-related on the parts of both the alterna-riders and the motorists. People, alternative transportation is often slower than your kicky RAV4, and tailgaiting bicyclists or motor-scooters is dangerous, it will not change their speed, and it’s just kind of a jerky thing to do. Also, everyone needs to start looking extra-hard at intersections – bikes, scooters, and people on foot are smaller and less noticeable, and we are all so used to not looking for these people that it can get dangerous. From the alterna-transportation end, there are etiquette issues too. First is all the smugness – you are saving gas and the environment, but getting others on board is not going to happen through guilt and those self-important looks that accompany discussion of your bike route. And, of course, there are plenty of alterna-travelers that forget the rules apply to them as well – stop signs, turn signals, speed limits, etc.

Summer is only half over, and as long as pump prices keep rising, I am sure more and more people will be lacing up the walking shoes, oiling up the bike chains, and polishing the motorcycle helmets. Of course, there will be some growing pains, but if we can get through them, and build, ticket, and drive with a little more consideration of all of our transportation options, then we can all make it out to Action City together, and take out our frustration with the bumper cars.