Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Spandex justifies bicycling in a sprawled city

Whereas dogs make sense of their world by smell, humans make sense of their world by vision.  Therefore image is everything in human environments, as our clothes, hair, and skin help define what tribes we belong to.  Dallas tribes, like any culture, have interesting customs that define us as well as the city itself.

Being a city of consolidated, sprawled suburban areas, Dallas is a metropolis that features few actual city-like areas, which means that typical city-like forms of transportation are certainly underutilized.  In the homeland of the $30k Millionaire, people can't afford to be seen walking or biking from one place to the next.  The way you get around Big D indicates, for the most part, your status in our society.

And yet, people still walk and bike on occasion.  Given the social stigmas attached to such activities, pedestrians and velocipedists justify their choice of transportation by certain accessories.  In Dallas, it's only acceptable to traverse the sidewalks when with a dog.  For example, a person walking from Upper Henderson (near Central) to Lower Henderson (near New Flower Market) is ostensibly a non-Caucasian with no money.  But with a dog, that person is a local resident taking care of his or her pet responsibilities. Similarly, someone walking from Downtown to Uptown is obviously on crack.  But give them a canine, and they're coming back from the dog park.

Likewise, riding a bike in Dallas is justified only as long as you're wearing fluorescent spandex (hipsters notwithstanding).  Conversely, the more plain and baggy your clothes while riding, the lower your salary.  Wearing spandex not only helps reduce chafing, but it also means that the bicyclist rides for fitness and not for transportation.  After all, the well-off bike rider keeps a rack on the trunk of his car to schlepp the bike to and from White Rock Lake.  It's dangerous to a person's well being to ride on the streets of Dallas; being seen and recognized is almost as perilous as being hit by a distracted driver.

These accessories give the average Dallas walker and biker the image of well-to-do recreation.  Real destinations in the Jewel of the Flatlands require automobile transportation, otherwise there is no feasible way to access those places.  Since dogs are never found at the grocery store, a quick jaunt for snacks requires hopping into a car.  Spandex clad people are mainly seen mounting a bike, as opposed to checking out a book at the library or sipping espresso at the café.

Ultimately, this image problem hinders the viability of alternate forms of transportation.  While foot traffic can only be increased with infrastructure and destination rehabilitation, bicycle use can be remedied by having different expectations.  The mission of Dallas Cycle Chic is to do this exactly.  Meeting friends at the restaurant is unadvisable in pastel lycra, and wearing a helmet is such a drag.  The solution?  Make Dallas cycle-friendly.  Leave the helmet.  Wear jeans on your bike.  And watch this Ted Talk (courtesy of Dallas Cycle Chic):