Fahrvergnugen October 4, 2012


In twenty-first century America it could be said that our ideas about “freedom” as individuals have parted ways with the sense of “freedom” as a society.  We often toss about the word Freedom as if it has one meaning, a stars and stripes pattern, and cup holders.  As a society, we cling to it like we do our guns and religion; but for each of us it must have a different meaning.  That the two basic senses of freedom often dramatically diverge is never more evident than on our urban streets from the perspective of a bicycle.

The automobile is no doubt a miracle of human ingenuity that has pushed our species to limits of individual mobility.  Never before in the history of civilization has it been so easy for one person to cover 20 miles, 200 miles, or 2,000 miles all while sitting down and listening to their favorite music.  I love a good road trip.  It’s just like They say: Fahrvergnügen.

Its the 2-mile trip across town, however, where the the idea of freedom in the automotive sense begins to fall apart.  In the City, especially the older ones like Providence, good mobility requires the flexibility and scale of two wheels.  There is no better feeling of freedom than crossing through downtown on a friday at 4pm  when the traffic backed up through two or three intersections.  The traffic report calls it “gridlock” as though everyone is stuck in it.  On my bicycle, however, I float freely through it as though above it.  This is not that I am entitled to feeling a moral superiority because I find myself not caged behind the wheel - I have simply made other choices that, at that moment of time, grants me a higher level of freedom.

Of course there is a distinction between this individual sense of freedom and the freedom we feel as a society.  I feel that the entrenchment of the automobile in our urban and suburban spaces brings us all down.  Whether its the disfunction of a road network clogged with heavy traffic or the tax dollars we spend to perpetuate the madness, we as a whole are made less free when we neglect to include the other candidates for our individual transportation vote.

So if you’re in your car on a friday afternoon and you see me buzz by, don’t hate me for my freedoms.  I am benefitting from the foresight of our founding fathers not to have written it:  “life, liberty and the four-wheeled pursuit of happiness”, and you can too.

Join in the discussion of personal vs. public liberties in the realm of our public rights of way with Action Speaks on Wednesday October 10, 5:30pm at AS220 115 Empire Street Providence.