Hey, America! Take a Lesson.

As I mentioned in my last post, I recently made my first outing outside the good ol’ U. S. of A. I spent two weeks in Europe with my boyfriend Patrick and had the opportunity to visit some of the world’s most iconic cities: Paris, Zurich, Venice, and Amsterdam. Of course life on the other side of the Atlantic, while in many ways very similar to that in America, has quite a few differences. One of the biggest differences I noticed is the healthiness of the lifestyle. Europeans in general go shopping more often so that they can buy fresh produce instead of stock up on processed junk that can sit on the shelves for months. But, the most obvious difference is how Europeans get around: namely, biking.

I have been interested in biking as a means of commuting (not just as a sport) since I read “Shifting Gears” in June 2011’s issue of Urbanite. While Baltimoreans are making progress in cycling—the number of people who travel to work on their bikes went up 75 percent from 2000 to 2008—the city itself still has a ways to go in making bikers feel safer and more welcome. The city only has 42 miles of biking lanes, a paltry figure when you realize that Charm City has roughly 2,000 miles of roadway. This means that only two percent of Baltimore streets are safe for bike riders.

Needless to say, as someone who has spent the last four years in a city where cycling commuters are a vast minority, and the previous eighteen in a medium-sized rural town without a single designated bike lane, I was absolutely amazed by the number of people utilizing the copious bike lanes in Eindhoven, the Dutch city where Patrick lives. One day while he was working and left me to my own devices, I did a bit of wandering around the city, snapping stalker-esque pictures of normal people on bikes. They were wearing jeans and boots, with handbags resting on their shoulders. They were going to work, going to the city center (where the majority of Eindhoven’s shops are), and going to the supermarket. For the Dutch, running errands on a bike is just as commonplace as doing the same in a car is for us. I do not have any statistics on bike use in Eindhoven, but I think the pictures do a good job of conveying the commonality of cycling in this beautiful small city.

Another highlight of my trip was an afternoon of biking in Lyon, France. Many of the larger European cities actually have areas where residents and visitors can rent bikes for up to 24 hours. These posts are all over the cities, and we were able to pick up bikes near the Saone River and ride them for a couple of hours before finally leaving them at another location by our hotel on the square. This fun feature is definitely well taken advantage of; I estimated that half of the bikers I saw in Lyon were on rented bikes. I love the idea of making biking a part of my everyday life, though I am a bit hesitant to do so in a city like Baltimore. Biking is so common in Europe because it is so easy to do. Bike lanes and rentable bikes make commuting on bicycles safe and convenient. I would love to see more U.S. cities take a cue from their counterparts on the other side of the ocean. Doing this can benefit the environment, and of course our health and well-being.

Note: You can find a digital copy of Urbanite’s June 2011 issue and read "Shifting Gears" for yourself on issuu.com.