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Location: TUCSON, Arizona, United States

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Desert Trash

The photo is of me summiting Alpe d'Huez, but I'm not in France. I'm in Tucson Arizona, here to extend the cycling season through the winter and adjusting to an unexpected change in my outlook. I find I'm struck by the waste. Not the desert itself. It's always pristine, in it's way. More about that in a moment. What gets me is the way in which the excess created with cities is in sharper relief when set in this austere landscape. Our month here last year was spent in a "senior community" rental well north of town. The place had a fine pool and plenty of cyclists, but was an enclave--like MANY others here--of old white people, remote from both the city and it's pleasures: more movies, lots of coffee shops, good restaurants, and so on. So this year we chose a spot between the town and the foothills of the Catalina Mountains. It's got, or is close to, all of the above attractions, not to mention right on the extensive (45 miles and counting) bikepath called "The Loop." The latter was Jane's priority, as she doesn't like riding in traffic. So far so good. But "traffic" brings me back to my problem. Tucson is sprawling, around ten by fifteen miles in area, but not at all huge by the standards of the "developed" world. The current population is near a million. The street grid is extensive and the municipal and Pima County policies are devotedly "bike friendly." The Loop is the prime example, but the bike lanes are numerous and functional and the drivers are--by personal observation--more attentive and less hostile than any city I've ridden in. And I've ridden in a lot, including not only Portland Oregon and Madison Wisconsin but ones all over Europe as well: Paris, London, Munich, Berlin, Rome, Florence...etc. So what attracted me back to test life here more fully also dismays me. The enormous investment of time and energy in personal transit--private cars--stands out like nowhere else. And its barely a measurable fraction of places like Tokyo or Mexico City or Shanghai. Why does the waste of our worldwide attraction to cars impress me more here? I think it's because the desert sets off or exposes what a teeming mass of expensive transit humans--particularly humans lucky enough to live "developed"--have constructed. Did you know paving roads began because of bicycles? At the turn of the 20th century there weren't any cars yet. But there were lots of bicycles. Chain-drive bikes were the latest technology and over half the populations of Europe and North America--women as well as men--were r  iding by 1903. And wanting better surfaces to ride on. So the roads got paved. But"After Ford"--as Aldous Huxley characterized the 20th century in Brave New World--people got into cars and got off their bikes. A century later this is what we've got. I ride more miles than I drive, even including the 2000 it took to get here from Wisconsin. My dilemma is not resolved, but maybe you see the problem, too...


Blogger Jim said...

Given that this winter is cold and harsh here in Minneapolis and elsewhere, we've been driving more. The expense to plow the streets alone is mind-boggling, let alone build or maintain. The subsidy provided to the automobile is incredible. I feel guilty at times for not directly paying our share. Its been 20 years since we were in Tucson. I can't even imagine the sprawl at this point. Enjoy the winter down there.

Jim Kruzitski

9:16 PM  

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